Month: July 2016

HSSC Archaeology Update – June 2016

Work on the Steltzriede Farm site in Saginaw Township continues. In the previous update (here) I described a potential feature we encountered in shovel-test pit (STP) 33. We have spent the past few weeks opening up a 1X2 meter excavation unit over STP 33 in hopes of determining what the feature might be. After working through the upper levels of  clay and gravel fill and fighting through the abundance of roots from the nearby maple tree, we are now well into the “feature”, but the mystery is yet to be solved.

Ashleigh, Travis, and Patrick excavating units 530N 505-506E.

Ashleigh, Travis, and Patrick excavating units 530N 505-506E.

The feature consists of mottled and intermixed lenses, or layers, of sandy fill, sometimes including ash and charcoal, but relatively few artifacts. The deposit covers the entirety of the 1X2 meter block, so the overall size and shape is unknown. An STP dug two meters north of the excavation block contained the clay and gravel fill layer, but had no indication of the feature-like deposits below. And, just to keep things a little more interesting, there is a utility trench running north/south through the excavation block.

Units 530N 505-506E, 55 cm floor.

Units 530N 505-506E, 55 cm floor.

Although artifacts are not abundant, the deposits are not devoid of cultural material. In addition to the objects described previously from STP 33, we have found small fragments of at least three additional ceramic vessels including a blue-edgeware vessel with a scalloped rim and impressed straight lines, a blue-edgeware vessel with a moulded beaded design, and a red transfer-printed vessel – all of which are consistent with a pre-1850 date. Other items include several animal bone fragments, part of a slate writing board, two or three white clay pipe fragments, a few pieces of flat (window) glass, square nails, several brick fragments, one lead shot, and a percussion cap. Percussion caps are part of the gun-firing mechanism that replaced flint locks. Beld (2002:35) notes that the first known use of a percussion gun in the Saginaw Valley was the one carried by Alexis de Tocqueville during his visit from France in 1831 and that by the 1840s the percussion mechanism had become popular in the Saginaw Valley.

Ceramic sherds and percussion cap (flattened) from unit 530N 506E.

Ceramic sherds and percussion cap (flattened) from unit 530N 506E.

None of the large mammal bone fragments from the feature fill have cut-marks from a saw. Rather, the animals appear to have been butchered/dismembered with an ax, or hatchet.

Cow tibia showing chopping marks from an ax or hatchet.

Cow tibia showing chopping marks from an ax or hatchet.

We have also begun excavating additional units closer to the reported location of the 1838 cabin. Our 2015 tests in this location revealed a number of probable early to mid-19th century artifacts, but no direct evidence of the cabin itself. Our first 2016 unit in this part of the site yielded  a few ceramic sherds (including a blue-edgeware vessel fragment with a scalloped lip and impressed lines and part of an annular, or dipped-ware, vessel), square nails, and the top and neck of a bottle with an applied lip. A second unit in this location is just getting underway.

Travis, Brad, and Quinn working on unit 535N 488E.

Travis, Brad, and Quinn working on unit 535N 488E.

Bottle top and neck from unit 535N 488E.

Bottle top and neck from unit 535N 488E.

Finally, with all the excitement and notoriety generated by the excavation, it’s good to know the site is being protected by our new mascot… the Reddish-brown Stag Beetle (Lucanus capreolus), also known as Pinching Beetle. This ferocious-looking creature is sure to intimidate even the most stout-hearted ne’er-do-well!

On guard, protecting the site from vandals, hoodlums, and other miscreants.

On guard, protecting the site from vandals, hooligans, and other miscreants.

(Don’t tell any would-be invaders of the site, but these are actually quite harmless!)

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