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!

Michigan Archaeological Society Meeting, 4 May 2017

The May meeting of the Saginaw Valley Chapter of the Michigan Archaeological Society will be held 4 May 2017 at 7:00 PM at the Castle Museum. This will likely be the final meeting before the summer break, so you won’t want to miss it! Chapter member Don Simons will be the featured speaker. He will discuss the prehistoric use of Flint Ridge, a colorful type of flint/chert (stone) found in central Ohio and widely used across the region. In the Saginaw Valley, Flint Ridge is found most frequently, though not exclusively, on sites from the Early and Middle Woodland time periods. Here is an example of a few random  Flint Ridge artifacts from the Saginaw Valley:

Early and Middle Woodland Flint Ridge Artifacts from Saginaw County.

As always, the public is invited and encouraged to attend the meeting…it’s FREE! There will be artifacts made of Flint Ridge on display at the meeting. If you have artifacts that may be made of Flint Ridge, please bring them to show the group!

The official announcement from the Saginaw Valley Chapter is copied below.


Saginaw Valley Chapter
Thursday, May 4, 2017

7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m., in the Morley Room of the Castle Museum of Saginaw County History, 500 Federal Avenue, Saginaw, Michigan 48607.

We will have a short business meeting before the program.

Don Simons will present an overview of Flint Ridge artifacts and related subjects from sites in the Saginaw Valley to the bedrock mines in southern Ohio.

Flint Ridge chert is the state gemstone of Ohio. For Thousands of years it’s exceptional quality as a stone tool material and colorful beauty made it a major item which served in many ways the needs of the ancient cultures of the Midwest and beyond.

Bring in your Flint Ridge artifacts for display to the chapter members.

More from the lab…

The piles are getting smaller!

The Castle Museum Archaeology lab crew (Jana, Nick, Rachel, and Roxanne) had a productive week processing artifacts from last year’s excavations at the Steltzriede Farm site. Here is a bit of their handiwork…

Freshly washed artifacts and faunal remains from the 19th century midden at the Steltzriede Farm site.

The 19th century midden area at Steltzriede produced a number of large mammal bone fragments and some smaller items including a few fish bones and even some egg shell fragments! Many of the bone fragments show butchery marks and a few show gnaw marks – likely from the family dog(s). This snapshot also shows a couple of ceramic sherds, a cinder, a brick fragment, and a piece of a white clay smoking pipe… enough variety to keep any historically-minded archaeologist happy!

Michigan Archaeological Society Meeting Thursday, 2 March 2017

The Saginaw Valley Chapter of the Michigan Archaeological Society will hold their monthly meeting here at the Castle Museum on Thursday, 2 March 2017 at 7:00 PM. Glen Boatman, an avocational archaeologist from Toledo, Ohio, will present recent research on the Middle Woodland Hopewell “Mound Builders” of the northern Ohio region. When it comes to archaeology of the Midwest, it doesn’t get much more iconic than Ohio Hopewell! This will no doubt be an interesting program that you won’t want to miss!

The Saginaw Valley, of course, has its own expression of Hopewell Middle Woodland culture. There are several known Middle Woodland sites in the Saginaw Valley and between 2001 and 2004 the Castle Museum conducted test excavations at two of them. Here are a couple of photos from site 20SA1251 to whet your appetite for the upcoming program.

Middle Woodland Bifaces from 20SA1251

Middle Woodland Bifaces from 20SA1251

Middle Woodland Ceramics from 20SA1251

Middle Woodland Ceramics from 20SA1251

As always, the Saginaw Valley Chapter meetings are free and open to the public. Everyone is invited and encouraged to attend! The official meeting announcement from the Archaeological Society is copied below.

Date: Thursday, March 2, 2017
Time: 7:00 – 9:00 p.m.
Location: Castle Museum of Saginaw County History, 500 Federal Ave., Saginaw, MI 48607
Glen Boatman will give a presentation on results to date, of his research on the development and range of the Hopewell, “Mound Builder” Middle Woodland in the northern Ohio region.

Glen Boatman is an avocational archaeologist from Toledo, Ohio. He is the current president of the Western Lake Erie Archaeological Program, and a very active member of the Sandusky Chapter of the Ohio Archaeological Society. For 17 years, he assisted in many research projects directed by both avocational and professional archaeologists. His education includes 26 classes in archaeological related subjects. His work with Dr. David Stothers, and Dr. Brian Redmond was predominantly with Woodland era sites in the northern Ohio area.
Recently he co-authored a paper, “Metz Transitional Ware:  A Case for Continuity in North Central Ohio from the Leimach Culture to the Sandusky Tradition” published in volume 44, of the Archaeology of Eastern North America, on the findings of the Sandusky Chapter’s work on sites in that region.

Michigan Archaeological Society Meeting 1 September 2016

The Saginaw Valley Chapter of the Michigan Archaeological Society will resume their monthly meeting schedule at 7:00 pm on Thursday, 1 September 2016 at the Castle Museum. Come find out what chapter members have been up to this summer and feel free to share your own adventures and discoveries! I spent the summer in the wilds of Saginaw Township exploring a 19th century farmstead with Ashleigh and Travis. What did you do?

Ashleigh and Travis

Ashleigh and Travis digging a shovel-test at the Steltzriede Farm site.

Meetings are free, open to the public, and visitors are always welcome. A copy of the meeting announcement follows:


Saginaw Valley Chapter

September Meeting Notice

Date: Thursday, September 1, 2016

Time: 7:00 p.m.

Location: Castle Museum of Saginaw County History,

500 Federal Avenue, Saginaw, MI 48607


Please join us for our annual Show and Tell meeting. Artifacts in cases are always welcome.

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!)