Over the past few weeks the Castle Museum archaeology crew has been busily working at the Steltzriede Farm site in Saginaw Township. Followers of this blog may remember that the Steltzriede family reportedly settled at this location in 1838. According to family history, their initial dwelling was a log cabin, in which they lived until constructing a frame house in 1848. We began our archaeological work in 2015 with the goal of locating the cabin and associated features. While we didn’t find the cabin itself, we did find some interesting material including a cobble and mortar foundation of another building probably unrelated to the cabin. You can read about some of our 2015 work here.
This year, we are renewing our efforts to locate the 1838 cabin and we’ll also further investigate the stone foundation found in 2015. Our efforts so far in 2016 have included digging shovel test pits (STPs) and conducting a magnetic susceptibility survey over the project area. The magnetic susceptibility survey is a remote sensing technique that uses a machine to determine the relative magnetism of the soil across the site. These data can then be depicted on a map that shows how the soil magnetism varies. This can be useful information because human activities and objects can have long-lasting effects on the magnetism of the immediate area. For example, metal objects and burned materials tend to have higher magnetism. By examining the maps, we may be able to identify activity areas, structural remains, or other objects on the site. Patrick Lawton, a CMU graduate student, is heading up the magnetic susceptibility survey. He has posted several maps from Steltzriede Farm on his blog.
Because we did not find the 1838 cabin in 2015, this year we are digging STPs over an extended area to narrow down its possible location. I am pleased to say we are having great success in identifying cabin-free zones! Unfortunately, this means we have been digging lots of STPs containing little to no cultural material. We have found a few things… In our first STP of the year, dug because of a very high magnetic reading, we found a gardening tool, probably dating from the mid-20th century. Coins are always fun, so it was a nice surprise to find an 1865 3 cent “nickel”. A brass button was found in the same level as the nickel. In one of our STPs, thought to be near the location of the cabin, we found an embossed bottle fragment and a few sherds of a blue edgeware plate with an impressed and scalloped rim.
And finally, in the last STP we dug yesterday, Patrick and I found a feature containing ash and charcoal buried below 40+ cm of hard-packed clay and gravel fill and about a million tree roots. There were several blue transferware sherds, a few square nails, a couple of bottle fragments, and a pig tooth in, or immediately above, the top of the feature. At the 70 cm floor the feature appeared to cover at least the west half of the STP. I returned to the site this morning and used a coring tool to assess the depth of the feature below the 70 cm floor. It extends at least another 40-50 cm down and covers the entirety of the STP, not just the west half. The top of the feature probably coincides with the bottom of the clay and gravel fill zone, but it is hard to tell given the numerous roots and the small exposure in the STP.
And now for what may be the best news… I sent a picture of one of the sherds to 19th century ceramics guru Tim Bennett and, in his opinion, the rim design is at least consistent with material from the early 1840s. More of the design is needed to be certain, but there is at least a good chance this sherd, and therefore the feature, is associated with the 1838 cabin occupation. We will definitely be uncovering more of the feature in the future!