Fieldwork Update

Fieldwork Update – Work Continues at the Steltzriede Farm Site

The Castle Museum archaeology crew continues to make progress at the Steltzriede Farm site in Saginaw Township. We have been working on exposing more of the north side of the cellar and at the 70 cm floor can clearly see a portion of the north wall. At this point, the wall appears to have been lined with horizontal wood planks. However, the nature of the wall is obscured by what seem to be rotted tree roots that grew parallel to and through the wall. The roots were probably attracted to the organic content of the rotting wall boards. It is also becoming obvious that we will need to extend the excavation a bit to the west to expose the northwest corner of the cellar. Unfortunately, to do so will require working around buried utility wires and a large shrub. A hassle to be sure, but much better than the eastern side of the cellar, which appears to be entirely covered by the paved driveway!

The edge of the cellar at 70 cm floor.

As expected, we have not been finding a lot of artifacts in the cellar fill. Material we have found includes several square nails, a few fragments of window glass, plaster/chinking fragments, and several ceramic sherds. The ceramics appear to be from early to mid-19th century vessels including a black transferware plate, a blue edgeware bowl or soup plate with an embossed (beaded) rim, and a blue edgeware plate with a scalloped rim and curved impressed lines. Based on what we found in adjacent units last year, we can expect artifact density to increase as we approach the floor of the cellar.

Ceramics from the cellar fill.

Meanwhile, we have also been working in an area of the site where 19th century midden (trash) deposits were previously identified. We have progressed through the upper layers of 19th and 20th century fill that cap the area and are now into the 19th century midden deposits. Artifact density is much higher in this portion of the site, which means lots of measuring, mapping in artifacts, and recording notes!

Nick and Julia measuring and recording data.

Artifacts from the midden area include bricks, ceramics, bottle fragments, animal bones, lead shot, and even a couple of glass beads. One of the glass beads (shown) is a dark blue faceted bead. The other is a tiny clear glass “seed” bead. Similar beads were found in early 19th century contexts at the Cater Site in Midland County (Beld 2002), but these styles likely persisted through the mid and late 19th century. Fragments of two small aqua glass bottles were found including the neck and shoulder portion of a rectangular medicine bottle and the base of a slightly melted round (cylindrical) bottle with an open pontil scar. Ceramics include fragments of both green and blue edgeware vessels with scalloped rims and both red and black transferware vessels. The red transferware vessel shown below is a bowl or other hollow vessel decorated on both the interior and exterior surfaces. The pattern has not yet been identified, but there may be enough for one of the ceramic gurus out there to figure it out.

Selected artifacts from the midden area.

We will continue working at the Steltzriede Farm site throughout the summer and into the fall, so stay tuned for more updates!

Fieldwork Update – Getting Started at the Steltzriede Farm Site

Nick and Roxanne ready to get started.

The Castle Museum Archaeology team has been busy and the 2017 field season at the Steltzriede Farm Site (20SA562) is now well underway. During the 2016 field season we located a mid-19th century midden zone (trash deposit) and what we believe is the cellar of the original house/cabin built on the site. Readers familiar with the project will remember that the Steltzriede family is said to have built a log cabin when they settled at the site in 1838. They moved to a frame house, which still stands on the property, in 1848. New readers can learn more about the project here, here, here, and here. Our work this year will, at least initially, focus on uncovering more of the cabin/cellar to learn what we can about the size and nature of the structure. We will also expand our excavation in the midden area to obtain a larger sample of artifacts and subsistence remains from the early decades of the Steltzriede’s occupation.

Julia, Nick, and Brad excavating in the cabin/cellar area.

We have opened up three 1X1 meter units in the cabin/cellar area and are slowly working our way through the upper fill layers toward the cellar floor. Two of the units contain clusters of mortar/chinking, but little else, and no sign yet of the expected wall of the cellar. This is probably due to the way the cellar deteriorated, collapsed, and was filled in – a process that, through careful excavation, we may be able to tease out. The third excavation unit in this part of the site was previously excavated (in 2015)  down to 40cm in north half and 50 cm in the south half. At that point there was no clear sign of a structural feature so the excavation was halted and backfilled. Given what we learned last year about the location of the cellar and what the collapsed and filled in area above the cellar looks like, I decided to reexamine the previously excavated unit and go a bit deeper to see if we had given up on it too soon. This may have been a good decision because at the 60cm floor we can now see what appears to be the north edge of the cellar!

Probable north wall of cellar. A rotted root runs along the edge.

Artifacts have been pretty sparse in all three units. Other than the previously mentioned mortar/chinking, we have found a few nails, bone fragments, one or two small ceramic sherds, and a couple of glass fragments. One glass fragment is from a pressed glass goblet or tumbler with the “Wildflower” pattern by Adams and Co. More research is needed, but a quick internet search indicates that the Adams and Co. began producing the pattern in the 1870s and it was widely reproduced well into the 20th century. Regardless of whether this is a 19th or 20th century example, it clearly post-dates the occupation of the cabin.

Pressed glass – “Wildflower” pattern.

Monday, we also opened up two excavation units in the area above the 19th century midden. This part of the site is capped with approximately 50cm of sod and topsoil and clay and gravel fill. We shoveled out these relatively recent (probably mid-20th century) fill layers and are now ready to begin excavation of the 19th century deposits.

Fieldwork Update – Beginner’s Luck at Swan Creek!

Over the past two weeks, the Castle Museum archaeology team has spent several days continuing our survey in the Swan Creek study area. As reported in the previous update, we are revisiting Areas 1 and 2 (portions of the overall study area) to obtain a larger, more representative sample of the range of archaeological materials present. Although we have focused primarily on the 19th century components found in the study area, we have also noted the presence of much earlier prehistoric material. Unfortunately, with a few notable exceptions (reported here and here), most of the prehistoric material we have found consists of flakes (waste products from making stone tools) and fire-cracked rock (FCR). These items are not particularly diagnostic in a temporal sense.

Last week as Nick Bacon, Brad Jarvis, and I were plodding (and plotting) along in Area 2 recording artifact locations, including several flakes and FCR, I mentioned (probably several times… it was a long couple of days) that we had yet to find any artifacts that could help date the prehistoric component. Certainly, we were due for something diagnostic. We just needed a bit of luck… and no one has more luck than a beginner!

Nick, Brad, and Roxanne surveying Swan Creek Area 2.

So, on Thursday, Nick, Brad, and I were joined by Roxanne Adamczyk. Roxanne has been a volunteer in the lab for several weeks now, but Thursday was her first ever field experience. I don’t think she was at the site for more than five minutes before she found a really nice corner-notched/expanding-stemmed biface! Although the age of this projectile point or knife is not exactly clear-cut, it probably fits with Feeheley-like or similar late Archaic period  material from approximately 3000-4000 years ago (Lovis and Robertson 1989; Taggart 1967). Other prehistoric material from Area 2 includes another biface fragment (top row, right), two unifacially retouched flake “scrapers” (bottom row, left and center), and a bipolar core (bottom row, right).

Flaked stone artifacts from Swan Creek Area 2.

Nick must have been inspired by Roxanne’s biface-finding prowess because, after moving over to Area 1 this week, he proceeded to find another late Archaic corner-notched Feeheley point (top row, center) and the base of a Middle Archaic side-notched Raddatz point (top row, right). We also found the base of a Late Woodland/late prehistoric triangular Madison point (top row, left). The Raddatz point likely dates between approximately 4500 and 6200 years ago (Lovis and Robertson 1989). Madison points and other similar triangular points were being used in this area from at least 1000 years ago right up to the Historic period. Other prehistoric items from Area 1 include a unifacially retouched flake “scraper” (bottom row, left) and two utilized flakes (bottom row, center and right).

Flaked stone artifacts from Swan Creek Area 1.

We went from having no diagnostic prehistoric artifacts in either Area 1 or 2 to having Late Archaic material in both and, in addition, Middle Archaic and Late Woodland material in Area 1. Definitely a productive couple of weeks! We wrapped up our fieldwork in the Swan Creek study area earlier this week and are now looking forward to resuming our excavations at the Steltzriede Farm site in Saginaw Township. We expect to begin working at Steltzriede next week, so stay tuned for updates as that project gets underway!

Fieldwork Update 3 May 2017

Nick Bacon and I took advantage of a window of nice weather and spent Wednesday working in the Swan Creek study area. We revisited one of the 19th century artifact clusters we initially found two years ago. Previous posts about the study area can be seen here, here, here, and here. We spent the morning flagging artifacts and the afternoon plotting coordinates and collecting the specimens. Here’s Nick hard at work recording provenience data on the collection bags.

Nick filling out collection bags.

Despite making two previous “total” collections of this artifact cluster (in 2015 and 2016), we continue to find new classes of artifacts, and new styles of previously collected artifact classes. We may eventually  reach a point of diminishing returns in terms of broadening our understanding of the range of materials present in this cluster, but I don’t think we’re there yet.

A selection of artifacts from Area 2, Cluster 1.

Structural debris was limited to window glass, nails and one or two small brick fragments. Household/domestic and personal items were more varied. We found several types of decorated ceramics including blue, black, green, and purple transfer-printed wares; blue edgeware; red, blue, and red and blue sponge-decorated (including one sherd with a green hand-painted band around the rim); and hand-painted polychrome (sprigware). We found a few white clay smoking pipe fragments including one with a cross-hatched bowl and a circle of stars. Although it’s missing the initials, this pipe is probably a fragment of a “Patriotic T.D.” pipe, which was a common style during the third quarter of the 19th century (Anderson 1982). We found one molded, white, four-hole, prosser button.  Prosser buttons post-date 1840 and were still being made into the mid-20th century (Sprague 2002). We also found one bead, a black glass, or jet, specimen, rectangular in outline, flat on one face and rounded on the other, and beveled on both ends. The bead has two holes, one on each end of the long edge. Finally, we found a French “blade” gunflint. According to Beld (2002), by 1850, most guns in the Saginaw Valley had been converted over to the percussion cap firing mechanism, so this artifact probably dates to the first half of the 19th century.

All in all, it was great start to the 2017 field season! Stay tuned for more updates as the season progresses.

HSSC Archaeology Update 15 August 2016

The past two weeks at the Steltzriede Farm site in Saginaw Township have been productive and, dare I say, exciting for the Castle Museum Archaeology team! So, what, you may ask, has piqued our interest and raised the level of excitement at the site? Believe it or not, initially it was this unassuming lump of sand and lime…

Chinking from Feature 4.

One of our primary goals has been to locate the original cabin built by the Steltzriedes in 1838 and it’s quite possible we have succeeded! In the previous update (here), I shared a picture of Feature 3, the corner of a square/rectangular pit, visible at the 55 cm level in the northeast corner of unit 535N 489E. As we continued excavating, it became apparent that Feature 3 is intruding into a much larger feature with a fairly straight edge cutting across the entirety of the unit. The larger feature, which we’ll call Feature 4, contained a few square nails, fragments of flat glass, a few ceramic sherds, and, in the 85-90 cm level, a few small pieces of the sandy, limey material pictured above. A close look reveals wood impressions on the face of at least one fragment, indicating that it may well be chinking from the wall of a cabin. The 90-95 cm level revealed larger fragments of chinking, some brick fragments, two nails, a piece of window glass, patches of grey clay, and three pieces of rotting wood. One piece of wood forms the west wall of the feature, the other two lie parallel on the 95 cm floor. Because they are so poorly preserved, it is not clear if the wood fragments are from split logs, whole logs, or cut boards.

Feature 4 showing rotting wood, chinking, bricks, and clay.

Feature 4 showing rotting wood, chinking, bricks, and clay.

Warning, premature and unwarranted speculation follows!

So, what is this whole Feature 3 – Feature 4 mess? Hard to say, but we could point out that what we have found matches pretty well with the oral history we have for the site. We’ll remember that the location of the original cabin was reported by Ralph Stroebel, who, at some unspecified date, is said to have confirmed the location of the cabin by digging a test pit and finding the wall and/or cellar of the cabin along with a few artifacts, including several fragments of chinking. Mr. Hoover, the current owner of the site, retains several fragments of chinking and other artifacts given to him by Stroebel, who stated they were from his test pit. A comparison of the chinking found by Stroebel to our recent finds reveals a  match in the material. Clearly, Feature 3 intrudes into Feature 4 and thus post-dates it. In fact, though it is difficult to see in the photograph, the north end of the wood fragment located along the east wall of the unit appears to have been cut through by Feature 3. If we wanted to go way out on a limb we could suggest that Feature 3 is the edge of Ralph Stroebel’s test pit and Feature 4 is the 1838 cabin/cellar we have been searching for. (We could even note the curved shape of the rotted wood where Feature 3 cuts through it and suggest that Stroebel used a round, rather than square-bladed shovel!) Or, we could be more appropriately cautious and remember that we have only uncovered a small part of the edge of two features. So, while the preceding interpretation is possible, and perhaps even plausible, we’ll need to gather a bit more evidence to support the claim.

Meanwhile, work also continued in another area of the site where we have been busy uncovering more of the Feature 2/midden/fill zone. As of the end of July, it appeared that Feature 2 may actually be a midden/fill zone on top of the former land surface, rather than large pit of some sort. We have not found anything during the past two weeks to change that interpretation. We have found some interesting material though, including a few items that help to date the deposit. One such item is a fragment of a hair comb impressed […RS PATENT MAY 6 1851]. This refers to Nelson Goodyear’s patent for improvements in the manufacture of “India rubber,” a  hard, plastic-like substance commonly used to make combs, buttons, and other objects in the mid to late 19th century.

Hard rubber comb with impressed Goodyear Patent 6 May 1851.

Hard rubber comb impressed with Goodyears Patent May 6 1851.

We also recovered a number of ceramic sherds including at least three varieties of molded blue-edgeware with scalloped rims, a hand-painted polychrome sherd with dark green leaves and red flowers, a brown transferware vessel, and a dark blue transferware paneled plate.  The latter sherd, pictured below on the bottom right, has been tentatively identified by Tim Bennett as the “Athens” pattern made by William Adams and registered in 1849.

Ceramic sherds from the Feature 2 midden/fill zone.

Ceramic sherds from the Feature 2 midden/fill zone.

Other material from the Feature 2 midden zone includes a couple of charred corn cupules, numerous animal bones (many of which exhibit butchery marks), brick fragments, nails, a few pieces of glass, and slag.

Faunal remains in Feature 2 midden zone.

Faunal remains in Feature 2 midden zone.

Given the finds of the past two weeks, it appears that the Feature 2 midden zone probably accumulated between 1838, when the site was first occupied, and ca. 1870 when the area was capped with relatively sterile sand fill – probably derived from digging a basement for an addition to the frame house.

Although we are beginning to develop a few tentative interpretations, at this point we are generating far more questions than answers. Have we found the cabin, or cellar? If a cellar, was it under the cabin or a separate structure? How large was cellar/cabin? How was the dwelling constructed? How has the landform changed/been altered since the initial settlement? Was all food grown/raised on site, or was it brought in from elsewhere? Were wild foods important in the early years? These and many other questions will guide our research as we continue to work to understand the Steltzriede family and their place in the early development of the Saginaw community.

 

HSSC Archaeology Update July 2016

Throughout July, the Castle Museum Archaeology crew continued working at the Steltzriede Farm site (20SA562), in Saginaw County. In the June update (here) I described our excavations that were getting underway in two areas of the site: 1) a 1X2 meter excavation block over a possible feature (dubbed Feature 2); and 2) a 1X1 meter unit near the area where oral history suggests the 1838-1848 log cabin was located. During the month of July, we continued working in both of these areas.

Your's Truly, plotting artifacts.

Your’s Truly, plotting artifacts in Feature 2.

In order to avoid damaging (and constantly tripping over) an as yet unidentified utility line we found running across the center of unit 530N 505E (the west half of the 1X2 meter excavation block), we halted excavation at 70 cm below the surface. While this made excavation of unit 530N 506E more difficult, as we got deeper it did provide a way to climb out of the hole! Excavation of unit 530N 506E progressed slowly as we carefully troweled out one five centimeter level after another until we finally reached the bottom of Feature 2 at 128 cm below the surface. Our understanding of what Feature 2 represents continues to evolve. At this point, it appears most likely to be a midden and/or fill layer resting on what is probably the original land surface. Because of rather extensive mixing (bioturbation) at the base of the deposit, this conclusion remains tentative.

Ashleigh excavating Feature 2.

Ashleigh excavating Feature 2.

 

530N 506E East Wall

530N 506E East Wall

Cultural material was present throughout the feature/fill matrix, but at a rather low density. Artifacts include brick fragments, two lumps of malleable red clay that may be unfired (or very poorly fired) brick fragments, a few nails, animal bone fragments, two “eyes” from hook-and-eye closures, a few pieces of window glass, a white clay pipe stem fragment, and several white paste earthenware sherds.

Pig teeth, ceramic sherds, and tobacco pipe fragment from Feature 2.

Pig teeth (molar and incisor), ceramic sherds, and tobacco pipe fragment from Feature 2.

Decorated ceramics include blue transfer and red transfer-printed vessels, at least one sherd with a hand-painted polychrome design, blue-edgeware with a scalloped lip, and one sherd with a thin green line around the rim. The white clay pipe stem is decorated with a peculiar scale-like pattern. It appears to be from a “Sir Walter Raleigh” pipe. If so, the complete specimen would have depicted a bearded man being swallowed by a crocodile, toothed whale, or similar creature. There are several variations, but a nearly complete example from England and stories about the origin of the style can be seen here. The story involves Raleigh falling overboard and being latched onto by a crocodile. However, Raleigh is so completely imbued with foul-smelling tobacco smoke that the reptile immediately spits him back out! Walter Raleigh pipes were first made by the Dutch in the 17th century and the style was copied by English pipe makers in the 19th century “but the inferior moulding is usually easily recognizable” (Oswald 1975:116). We found a similar pipe fragment several years ago in our excavations at site 20SA1251 in the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge, so the style may have been popular in the Saginaw Valley.

Travis excavating Feature 3.

Travis excavating Feature 3.

We expanded our work in the reported cabin area from one square meter to three. This part of the site continues to produce nails, ceramic sherds, window glass, and brick fragments.  The white paste earthenware assemblage includes fragments of blue-edgeware with impressed and scalloped rims and a vessel decorated with a thin green line around the rim. Both of these styles are matched in the assemblage from Feature 2. One of the units, 535N 489E, contains the rotting remains of two or three wooden posts and evidence of another feature, Feature 3. The feature is a small stain on the east edge of the NE 1/4 of the unit extending into the wall. The angular shape suggests a square or rectangular hole, but not enough is exposed to be certain. The posts are parallel to the driveway, but appear too close together for a typical fence. Their function is currently unknown.

Feature 3.

Feature 3.

 

Artifacts from unit 535N 489E.

Nail, ceramic sherds, and window glass from unit 535N 489E.

At this point it is too early to speculate about the identity of Feature 3, or its relationship, if any, to the rotting posts in the same unit. In the coming weeks we will continue to investigate Feature 2 and Feature 3 and expand our excavations in both areas of the site.

 

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!)