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The Bear Bones of Field Notes from 20SA1251

Recently, I spent the evening perusing my field notes from the Castle Museum’s 2002 excavations at site 20SA1251.1,2  Although 20SA1251 is a multi-component site with Late Archaic through Historic Period occupations, most of the excavated material is derived from Middle Woodland contexts. A single radiocarbon date places a Middle Woodland component at the site between 40 B.C. and A.D. 120 (Sommer 2003a).

For this particular trip down memory lane, I was looking for unrelated information when I came across the following reference from 19 September 2002:

“… 2 bear teeth from 40-45 cm level of 495N 555E – 1 canine & 1 molar – prob. cut & ground roots.”

It immediately occurred to me that cut and ground bear teeth are not included in my report on the modified faunal remains from the site (Sommer 2007). Either I had missed the evidence of modification during the cataloguing process or my initial in-the-field assessment was incorrect. Clearly, I needed to investigate further…

The two teeth listed in the field notes are a canine (C) and first molar (M1) from the right maxilla of a Black Bear (Ursus americanus). A search through the other faunal remains from unit 495N 555E revealed a right maxillary fourth premolar (P4) and second molar (M2), as well as two small right maxilla fragments and an equally tiny fragment of a right palatine. One of the maxilla fragments contains the socket into which the lingual/medial root of the M1 fits. No additional maxillary teeth or other conjoining fragments were found in the eight surrounding excavation units.

This photo shows the Black Bear teeth, palatine, and maxilla fragments found at 20SA1251 (lower) and their corresponding locations on a modern comparative specimen (upper).

While the C shows no evidence of modification, the lingual/medial root of the M1 has clearly been cut or ground to a flat facet. A close examination of the additional specimens revealed that the two buccal/lateral roots of the M2 are eroded, but appear to have been cut or ground to the same angle. Further, traces of grinding can be seen on the interior surface of both maxilla fragments. When articulated, the ground surface of the M1 root is flush with the ground surface of the conjoining maxilla fragment. No grinding is evident on the P4 or palatine fragment.

This photo shows the locations of modification on the Black Bear teeth and maxilla fragments from 20SA1251.

While not common, modified bear and other predator maxillae do show up elsewhere in the archaeological record (modified mandibles seem to be more frequently encountered). Cut bear maxillary sections from the “Hopewell-influenced” Rector Mound in Wayne County, New York are interpreted as “probably representing animal headdresses (Ritchie 1969:224-225, Plate 778-9). No functional interpretation is given for two halves of a dog maxilla from Knight Mound C°2 in Calhoun County, Illinois. They are described as having been “cut or ground so that the roots of the teeth and associated bone have been removed” (Griffin et al. 1970:28, Plate 20a). Closer to home, in fact less than a mile from 20SA1251, more than 20 ground black bear teeth from both mandibles and maxillae and a cut wolf maxilla were recovered during excavations at the Schultz site (Murray 1972:235-236, Figure 77b,c). The bear teeth “probably represent pendants prepared from ground mandibles and sections of cut maxillae bearing teeth” (Murray 1972:234). The wolf maxilla, too, is thought to have been worn as a pendant (Murray 1972:236). Murray (1972:242) describes the ground carnivore mandibles and teeth (and presumably maxillae) from the Schultz site excavations as “impressively Hopewellian.”

Unfortunately, we can arrive at no firm conclusion regarding the function of the modified black bear maxilla from 20SA1251. Unlike the examples from the Rector Mound in New York and the Knight Mound group in Illinois, there is no evidence that both halves of the maxilla were originally present and conjoined. However, given the highly fragmented nature of the recovered specimens, the missing left half of the maxilla could be a result of taphonomic (preservation) issues. As with all of the examples given, the maxilla from 20SA1251 probably dates to the Middle Woodland (Hopewell) Period.

If nothing else, this exercise highlights the importance of careful field observation and note-taking. It also demonstrates that, despite my tongue-in-cheek warning (see Note #2), field notes are most useful if you actually read them!

Notes

1 See Sommer ( 2003b) for a preliminary report on the 2002 excavations at 20SA1251. It can be accessed (here) from the Archaeology section of the Castle Museum’s website.

2 Perusing old field notes, while possibly an aid to insomniacs, can be an arduous activity and is not recommended for the faint-of-heart.

 

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Steltzriede Farm Update, June and July 2018

Despite some periods of inactivity, much has been happening at the Steltzriede Farm site. Since our previous update in May, we completed the final excavation unit in the cellar, we excavated two additional units adjacent to the cellar, and we have opened a new block of excavation units in an area we shovel-tested last season.

Wood, bricks, and a few sherds were the most noteworthy items encountered in the lower levels of unit 536N 490E in the Steltzriede cellar.

Bricks, wood, and a blue-edgware sherd on the 105 cm floor of unit 537N 490E.

 

Brad working on the final level of the Steltzriede cellar excavation.

Given the presence of shrubbery and utility lines, there is not a lot of space left to test in the vicinity of the cellar. However, we were able to squeeze in two additional excavation units (536N 486E and 536N 487E) just over a meter  west of its west edge. Although we did find the usual array of nails, flat glass, glass vessel fragments, brick, bone, etc., the amount of 19th century material was surprisingly low. A few small flakes of Bayport chert were a nice supplement to the meager prehistoric assemblage from the site.

After completing our work in the cabin/cellar area, we shifted our focus to an area between the extant house and the cabin/cellar area. Shovel-testing last season indicated the presence of mid-late 19th century debris in this area. Our initial units (522-523N 497E) confirmed the presence of 19th century material in the area. However, much of the material appears to date to the late 19th or early 20th century. Some of the artifacts we have recovered in this area of the site include machine-cut square nails, brick fragments, slag/cinders, coal, a plain brass button with a missing/broken loop shank, faunal remains, glass, and ceramics.

Tooth and ceramics from unit 523N 497E.

Pictured above are a badly worn tooth, probably from a cow, part of an unglazed flower pot, two blue transfer-printed sherds, and the back of a plate showing part of the maker’s mark. The mark is from Glasgow Pottery of Trenton, New Jersey, founded by John Moses in 1863 (Barber 1893:213). Starting around 1895, the company used several marks featuring the British Coat of Arms (Barber 1904:51). The surviving portions of the mark, including the initials J. M. and what appears to be part of a unicorn and shield, closely match depictions of the late 19th century marks from this company.

Nick and Julia working on unit 523N 498E.

As the field season marches on, we will continue expanding this excavation block to the east. Check back often for updates on what we find as we explore this new area of the site.

Steltzriede Farm Site Update, May 2018

After more than a week away, I am catching up in the lab and looking forward to getting back out to the Steltzriede Farm Site. In the meantime, here is a brief update on what we accomplished at the site through the end of May…

Since the previous update, Brad, Nick, and I have continued working in unit 537N 490E, slowly working our way through the cellar fill. We have been finding the usual array of corroded machine-cut (square) nails, chinking, and brick fragments along with a few ceramic sherds, flat and curved glass fragments, bone fragments, a brass tack, and even a slate pencil.

Brad exposing a large piece of unburnt wood in unit 537N 490E.

Starting in the 80-85 cm level, we began to find fragments of both charred and unburnt logs/boards. By the time we reached the 90-95 cm level, much of the floor was covered with wood remnants. A blue transfer-printed sherd with a scalloped rim and a red and black hand-painted sherd were found immediately below the charred board in the western portion of the unit in the 90-95 cm level. Just a bit deeper, in the 95-100 cm level, we recovered a blue-edgware sherd with a scalloped and impressed rim and a nearly complete bowl from a white clay smoking pipe.

Charred and unburnt wood in the 90-95 cm level of unit 537N 490E.

 

Ceramics from the 90-100 cm levels of unit 537N 490E.

 

Pipe bowl from the 95-100 cm level of unit 537N 490E.

Next time out, we will continue working on the 95-100 cm level. Based on what we found in previous field seasons, we should be within a level or two of getting to the bottom of the cellar. Check back often for additional updates as season progresses!

2018 Field Season Underway, Finally!

After a cold start to spring and a delayed start to the field season, The Castle Museum Archaeology Crew has finally made it back out to the Steltzriede Farm site! For those of you new to the blog, the Steltzriede Farm site was settled by Henry and Katherine Steltzriede in 1838. According to family tradition, they lived in a log cabin/house for 10 years before moving into a frame house on the same property. Our work at the site has focused on locating the original structure and associated material from the initial decade or two of the Steltzriede occupation. In 2016 we first identified a cellar thought to be associated with the cabin. Previous accounts of our work at the Steltzriede Farm site can be seen here, here, here, and elsewhere on this blog.

Last Friday, Brad Jarvis and I began excavation of 537N 490E, a 1 meter X 1 meter excavation unit located above the previously identified cellar. Unfortunately, we were only able to complete two levels before a last gasp of winter-like weather (sleet and rain) forced us to close up for the day.

Location of Unit 537N 490E

Despite the inclement conditions, we started off the season with an unexpected find… an Early Archaic bifurcate point! Although we have previously found a few flakes, FCR, and a biface fragment, this is the first diagnostic prehistoric artifact we have found on the site. Having been recovered directly above the cellar, we can be certain that the point is not in its original depositional context. However, there is no reason to think the cellar was filled with material brought in from off-site after the structure was abandoned. To the contrary, many other (Historic Period) items previously found in the cellar fill closely match the 19th century artifacts found elsewhere on the site. So, it is quite possible, even likely, that the cellar fill is derived from the immediate surrounding area and that an Early Archaic component is present at the site.

Early Archaic Bifurcate Point from fill above cellar.

We also encountered two large cobbles along the south edge of the excavation unit. They, too, were a bit of a surprise as we haven’t previously found similar material in this part of the site. Given their context in the cellar fill, the cobbles may have been structural debris, or they may have been found elsewhere on the site and simply buried here to get them out of the way.

Unit 537N 490E, 20 cm floor

Other than a few square nails and some slag/cinders, little additional material was found in the first two levels. However, we are just getting started, so check back often for additional updates as the field season progresses!

Michigan Archaeological Society Meeting Thursday, 5 April 2018

The April meeting of the Saginaw Valley Chapter of the Michigan Archaeological Society Will be held Thursday,  5 March 2018, at 7:00 pm, here at the Castle Museum. See the official announcement, copied below, for details on what is certain to be an interesting and informative program. As always, the public is welcome and encouraged to attend.

 

Saginaw Valley Chapter of the Michigan Archaeological Society

April Chapter meeting, Thursday, April 5, 2018, 7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.

The Morley Room, Castle Museum of Saginaw County History, 500 Federal Avenue, Saginaw, MI 48607

Current Research Status of the Hipwater Locale: A Parkhill Phase Paleoindian Retooling Location

Presented by:
William A. Lovis, Michigan State University

Abstract: The Hipwater Locale is a small Parkhill phase Paleoindian site, or one part of a larger site, located in south central Michigan. There is a limited assemblage of fluted Barnes bifaces, unfluted bifaces, core fragments, and fire cracked rock, with at least one major group of refits. The site location and the small assemblage were subjected to a range of different analyses, including interpretation of site location and integrity, stages of organization of lithic reduction, protein residue analysis, microwear analysis, and pXRF elemental analysis of tool stone sources. Current outcomes of these various analyses are reported and a preliminary synthesis will be undertaken.

The March meeting was canceled due to weather. The decision to cancel was made late in the day, and while steps were taken to contact members, several persons did not receive notification. We apologize for the inconvenience that this caused. A gentle reminder: if you have not submitted an email address or telephone number we will not be able to contact you in the event of a future cancellation.

Michigan Archaeological Society Meeting Thursday, 1 March 2018

The March meeting of the Saginaw Valley Chapter of the Michigan Archaeological Society is fast approaching. Thursday, March 1st, Dr. William Lovis of Michigan State University will present an overview of current research on the Hipwater Locale: A Parkhill Phase Paleoindian retooling location in south central Michigan. See the official announcement, copied below, for more details on what is certain to be an interesting and informative program. As always, the public welcome and encouraged to attend.
Saginaw Valley Chapter of the Michigan Archaeological Society March Chapter meeting, Thursday, March 1, 2018, 7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m. The Morley Room, Castle Museum of Saginaw County History, 500 Federal Avenue, Saginaw, MI 48607

Current Research Status of the Hipwater Locale: A Parkhill Phase Paleoindian Retooling Location  
Presented by: William A. Lovis, Michigan State University
 
Alphabetically coauthored by:  Alan F. Arbogast, Michigan State University,  Dillon H. Carr, Grand Rapids Community College,  Randolph E. Donahue, Bradford University,  G. William Monaghan, Indiana University  Jenny L. B. Milligan, PaleoResearch, Inc., Frank J. Raslich, Michigan State University.   
 
Abstract:  The Hipwater Locale is a small Parkhill phase Paleoindian site, or one part of a larger site, located in south central Michigan.  There is a limited assemblage of fluted Barnes bifaces, unfluted bifaces, core fragments, and fire cracked rock, with at least one major group of refits.  The site location and the small assemblage were subjected to a range of different analyses, including interpretation of site location and integrity, stages of organization of lithic reduction, protein residue analysis, microwear analysis, and pXRF elemental analysis of tool stone sources.  Current outcomes of these various analyses are reported and a preliminary synthesis will be undertaken. 

Archaeology Volunteer Recognized!

And the highly coveted Historical Society of Saginaw County Volunteer of the Year award goes to………………..

NICK BACON!!!

Archaeology volunteer extraordinaire Nick Bacon, along with two others, received the award during  the Historical Society’s Annual Meeting on Saturday. At an institution with a roster of 180 volunteers who donated over 7,800 hours of service last year, this is no small accomplishment!

Nick filling out collection bags during the Swan Creek Survey.

For those who don’t know Nick, over the past three years he has become a valued member of the archaeology team. Since 2015 he has logged over 500 hours in the field and many more in the lab. Nick can always be counted on to lend a hand when needed, bringing his experience from working on numerous archaeological projects in Michigan, several states in the Eastern U. S. and as far away as Belize.

Nick and Jana hard at work in the lab.

As any archaeologist can attest, field work is not always easy, or pleasant. Conditions are often cold and wet, or hot and dry. Mud, mosquitoes, poison ivy, and thorny vegetation are frequent companions. Nick meets such conditions with a shrug and a smile and gets the job done. A memorable outing last fall consisted of walking more than two miles off-trail to a remote part of the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge, salvaging two important features that were eroding into the river, and then hiking back out with backpacks and buckets stuffed full of wet soil samples! Not many would return after that “adventure”, but Nick was back the next week ready for more! (That in itself probably merits this award!)

Nick, with Roxanne, giving the “thumbs up” at the Steltzriede Farm site.

In 2017 Nick expanded his range of contributions to the museum to include working with the museum’s historical collections, digitizing photographs and entering collection records into the database. Over the past two decades, we’ve had some truly extraordinary individuals donate their time, effort, and expertise to the archaeology program at the Castle Museum. Nick is continuing that tradition and definitely deserves this recognition as a Volunteer of the Year!

CONGRATULATIONS NICK!!!