Month: November 2015

HSSC Archaeology Fieldwork Update – October and November 2015

Other than one day of surface survey in the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge, field time in October through mid-November was spent at the Steltzriede Farm site (20SA562) in Saginaw County. Oral tradition, passed on by the late Ralph Stroebel, indicates that a log cabin was built at the site in 1838, followed by a frame house in 1848. The 1848 structure, with subsequent additions, still stands. Stroebel, a noted local avocational historian (and charter member of the Michigan Archaeological Society) had strong personal ties to the property. The Steltzriedes, who founded the farm, were his maternal grandparents and he spent much time there in his youth. Further, Stroebel reportedly dug into and found traces of the 1838 cabin including chinking with split log impressions and remnants of a wall or foundation. Interestingly, neither the 1877, 1896, nor the 1916 plat maps show a house in this location. The farm has since been subdivided.

Nick and Ken excavating at Steltzriede Farm site.

Nick and Ken excavating at Steltzriede Farm site.

We focused our efforts on two areas of the present property, one being the reported location of the 1838 cabin. Unfortunately, despite digging a 1X9 meter trench across the area where the cabin was thought to have been located, we were unable to find any direct evidence of the structure. We did, however, find several square nails, thin window glass fragments, brick fragments, saw-cut bone, and a few ceramic sherds, all of which are consistent with an early to mid-19th century dwelling.

During drought conditions several years ago, the current landowner noticed a rectangular pattern of dead lawn in the yard on the west side of the 1848 house. This was our second area of focus. Using probe rods, we were able to locate a solid structure and trace three sides of what appeared to be a foundation. We excavated a shovel test over the structure, which we later expanded into a 1X1 meter excavation unit, and revealed a cobble and mortar construction. A harrow spike was found lying directly on top of the foundation.

Harrow spike resting on top of cobble and mortar foundation.

Harrow spike resting on top of cobble and mortar foundation.

A harrow is a farming implement used to break up clods and smooth the soil after plowing. The harrow could be pulled by animals or a tractor. Here is a close-up of the harrow spike. Like most of the iron objects from the site it is heavily corroded.

Harrow Spike

Harrow Spike

We excavated two square meters along the inside of the foundation. The top of the foundation is capped by approximately 20-30 cm of fill. The fill is likely derived from excavating the basement of one of the additions to the 1848 house. Artifacts found in and below the fill include nails, brick fragments, mortar, corroded iron scraps, and a few pieces of glass and ceramics. The base of the foundation is approximately 70 cm below the present land surface. At the time of construction it would have been closer to 40 cm below the surface.

Profile of cobble and mortar foundation.

Profile of cobble and mortar foundation.

The final excavation unit in this location was placed on the “open” side of the structure where we were unable to trace the foundation with the probe rods. Here we found a deeper layer of sand, clay, and gravel fill, extending 50+ cm below the present surface. This material contained an abundance of brick and mortar fragments, nails, glass, bone, a whetstone, and a “mystery object”  consisting of a 4 cm diameter lead disk with iron loops set perpendicular to each other on each face. Any suggestions for a possible ID? Please share in the comments below!

Whetstone

Whetstone

 

Mystery Object

Mystery Object

True to form, on what was supposed to be the final day of fieldwork, we encountered a feature in the excavation unit. Starting in the 55-60 cm level, we began to see the corner of a rectangular pit dug into the subsoil. The feature contained material very similar to the fill from the upper portions of the unit. The bottom of the feature was reached at a depth of 83 cm below the present surface. Near the bottom of the feature we recovered a portion of a clear glass bottle. The bottle exhibits a “tooled finish” and what appears to be an air vent mark just below the neck. According to information provided in the “Historic Glass Bottle Identification and Information Website” developed by the Bureau of Land Management and hosted by the Society for Historical Archaeology, this bottle probably post-dates the 1880s. [This website is a great resource for anyone interested in identifying bottles.]

Feature 1 Plan View at 70 cm.

Feature 1 Plan View at 75 cm.

 

Flask from Feature 1.

Flask from Feature 1.

It is not clear what relationship, if any, this feature has to the structure represented by the cobble and mortar foundation. In fact, at this point not much at all is clear about the structure. Like so often happens, our preliminary work at the Steltzriede farm site raised more questions than we answered. We do not know what the structure was, or when it was built. A circa 1890s photo of the area shows no indication of the structure, nor do any more recent photos that we have seen. This, along with the fact that Ralph Stroebel was apparently unaware of a former structure at this location, may indicate that it is early in the occupation sequence. Having only traced three sides of the foundation, we don’t know the actual size of the building. It may have been a three-sided barn or shed-like structure, or perhaps the south wall was dismantled – the current position of the driveway makes this a distinct possibility. In any case, we’ll have the winter to ponder these questions. We’ll almost certainly return to the site next year to see if we can come up with some answers.

HSSC Archaeology Fieldwork Update – August and September 2015

I’m not sure where the time went, but somehow I haven’t managed to produce a fieldwork update since July. Rest assured, the Castle Museum archaeology team did not take the past three months off! As readers may remember, we started the 2015 field season conducting a surface survey in the Swan Creek area of Saginaw County – described here. During that survey we located three dense clusters of mid-19th century habitation debris, as well as later 19th and 20th century material and a few scatters of prehistoric items. Fast forward to August and we found ourselves returning to the Swan Creek study area. This time we were hoping that shovel-testing might reveal a midden, or other additional evidence of the mid-19th century community in the floodplain areas of Swan Creek adjacent to the surface scatters.

Ken and Nick digging Shovel-Tests in the Verdant Swan Creek Floodplain

Ken and Nick digging Shovel-Tests in the Verdant Swan Creek Floodplain

 

We were testing the idea that residents in the area may have disposed of their trash by dumping it along the edge of the terrace. This is a pattern of midden formation that has been noted in other areas including at the early to mid-19th century Cater Site in Midland County (Beld 2002). Unfortunately, over much of our study area, the terrace slopes gently down to the floodplain and there is no obvious bank over which trash may have been deposited.

Our shovel-testing efforts, conducted throughout August and September, were largely unsuccessful. We found a few flakes and FCR from one of the prehistoric components and a handful of relatively recent historic items. Among the historic period items was a ca. 1970s-era beer bottle fragment found lying on the surface with its embossed civic message apparently having gone unheeded.

 

PLEASE DO NOT LITTER

Please Do Not Litter

 

Also of interest in the floodplain area is  an iron wheel that is slowly being swallowed by a maple tree.

 

A subtle reminder to keep moving!

A subtle reminder to keep moving!

 

We wrapped up our shovel-testing efforts in the Swan Creek study area at the end of September. An update on our October and November fieldwork will be forthcoming.