Month: May 2016

Monitoring Sites in the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge

Last week, between working at our Swan Creek Area and Steltzriede Farm projects, I found time to visit the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge, where we have been conducting fieldwork annually since 1999. Although our efforts in the Refuge have been scaled back somewhat in recent years, we continue to monitor areas known to contain sensitive archaeological sites. Because some of the sites in the Refuge are located along waterways, artifacts are occasionally exposed through riverbank erosion. When we encounter such material, we map in the location and collect the artifacts to preserve as much information about the site as possible.

Erosion in progress.

Erosion in progress.

One site where artifacts are sometimes exposed is 20SA1251. We found the site in 1999 and between 2000 and 2002 conducted shovel-testing and test excavations. Our previous work revealed that the site contains material dating from the Late Archaic/Early Woodland Period through the Historic Period. The primary occupation, however, was during the Middle Woodland Period (roughly between 100 B.C. and A.D. 400). We obtained a single AMS date of 1960+/-40 BP (2 Sigma cal. 40 BC to AD 120) from a sample of charred organic residue scraped from the interior of a ceramic sherd (Sommer 2003).

2002 excavations at 20SA1251.

2002 excavations at 20SA1251.

One of the more diagnostic hallmarks of at least some Middle Woodland sites in the Saginaw Valley is the presence of rocker-stamped ceramics. Rocker-stamping refers to the method by which the ceramics were decorated. Rocker-stamping was accomplished by pressing the edge of a mussel shell (or similarly shaped object) into the wet clay of a pot (before it was fired) and rocking it back and forth to create a curved zig-zag pattern. If small notches were cut into the edge of the shell, the resulting pattern would be “dentate rocker-stamping.” Rocker-stamping can be found on the rim, neck, and/or body of a vessel. It can be used to fill zones delimited by incised lines, or it can be free and unconstrained by zonal boundaries.  During last week’s visit to 20SA1251, two rocker-stamped sherds were found and recorded. The sherd on the left exhibits zoned dentate rocker-stamping, while the sherd on the right has plain rocker-stamping without zones. These sherds would be classified as types of Green Point ware, as defined by Fischer (1972) at the nearby Schultz site.

Rocker-stamped sherds from 20SA1251.

Rocker-stamped sherds from 20SA1251.

In addition to the ceramic sherds, two flaked-stone artifacts were recorded. The one on the left in the following image (both faces depicted) is a retouched flake knife made from a large Bayport chert decortication flake. The one on the right (both faces depicted), also Bayport chert, is a core, or preform, with a bifacially flaked edge. Neither of these is temporally diagnostic.

Retouched flake knife and core/preform from 20SA1251.

Retouched flake knife and core/preform from 20SA1251.

Aside from the great archaeology, an added benefit of working in the Refuge is the chance to see lots of wildlife – sometimes up close and personal! While hiking out at the end of the day I nearly stumbled across this fawn doing its best to become invisible. I took a quick snap with my cell phone and continued on my way and this little guy never moved a muscle!

White-tailed deer fawn.

White-tailed deer fawn.

HSSC Archaeology Update – 22 April through 11 May 2016

It has been a few weeks since the previous update and much has been accomplished in the Swan Creek study area. With an indefatigable crew consisting at various times of Nick Bacon, Brad Jarvis, Ken Kosidlo, Patrick Lawton, and Maynard Lockwood, we have completed our survey work for the year at Swan Creek. We revisited most of the areas surveyed in 2015 to obtain a larger sample of artifacts and better define the locations of the artifact clusters we mapped last season. As expected, we found a nice variety of mid to late 19th century artifacts in two large, dense clusters and one smaller, less-dense cluster. Artifacts consisted primarily of flat and curved glass fragments and white paste ceramics with a few pipe fragments, buttons, and other artifacts mixed in. A gunflint, probably British, is likely one of the earlier 19th century items from one of the clusters. Also significant, and something I don’t recall seeing last year, was the presence of numerous small calcined (burnt) bone fragments (I noticed both fish and mammal) in one of the clusters. If trash pits or other features remain intact below the plowzone, there may be some good subsistence data preserved.

Gunflint from Swan Creek Area.

Gunflint from Swan Creek Area.

Working off a tip from one of the landowners, we also surveyed a new area reported to be yet another location of a school, or perhaps some other structure (we have received conflicting reports from the locals), that was still standing in the early 20th century. This location revealed two clusters of late 19th/early 20th century debris, at least a couple of early to mid 19th century items, and a wide scatter of prehistoric material. One of the more interesting historic period items we recovered is a badly worn token bearing the date of 1812. Just enough of the design remains that we are able to match it with half penny tokens produced in Canada with King George III on obverse and a seated woman representing commerce on the reverse. So, it may appear that a War of 1812 era token made its way from Canada to Swan Creek. Or, perhaps not! According to at least one website, in the 1830s, a Montreal grocer named Tiffin produced half penny tokens that were imitations of the earlier 1812 tokens. Tiffin’s tokens, which became quite popular, were much lighter and made of copper or brass. More research is needed, but the Swan Creek example is quite thin, crudely stamped, and possibly made of brass. It appears to be one of Tiffin’s imitations.

Half Penny "Tiffin" Token from Swan Creek Area.

Half Penny “Tiffin” Token from Swan Creek Area.

Prehistoric material in the new survey area included a wide scatter of flakes and fire-cracked rock, a celt fragment, and two bifaces, both made of Bayport chert. One biface is a small, Late Woodland, triangular point. The other biface is corner-notched/expanding-stemmed example that closely matches the Middle to early Late Woodland Schultz expanding-stemmed type (Fitting 1972).

Celt fragment from Swan Creek Area. Both faces shown, bit to the left.

Celt fragment from Swan Creek Area. Both faces shown, bit to the left.

Bifaces from Swan Creek Area.

Bifaces from Swan Creek Area.

Last week, Patrick brought the magnetic susceptibility meter from Central Michigan University out to Swan Creek and the Steltzriede Farm site. We’ll have more on those surveys in a future update.