The October meeting of the Saginaw Valley Chapter of the Michigan Archaeological Society will be held this Thursday, October 4th, here at the Castle Museum. As always, the public is invited and encouraged to attend! The official announcement from the Chapter is copied below.
First brought to light by avocational archaeologist Bernie Spencer in the late 1950s, the Schmidt site (20SA192) garnered considerable archaeological attention in subsequent decades. Excavations were conducted by Spencer and Fairchild ca. 1962, the University of Michigan in 1964, by Saginaw Valley State College in 1971, and by Western Michigan University in 1973. Accounts of some of this work were published by Harrison (1966) and Fairchild (1977). Although Late Woodland occupations were noted at the site, most of the excavated material is derived from Late Archaic components. Fairchild (1977) argues for a pre-Nipissing Middle Archaic age for at least some of the material, but this interpretation is questioned by Lovis and Robertson (1989).
Recently, some of the material excavated by Spencer was donated to the Castle Museum. Among the donated objects is an interesting cache of three ground stone celts/adzes. The cache was found in the lower (Archaic) level of the excavation (Spencer personal communication August 2018). Although briefly described by Harrison (1966:60), to my knowledge measurements and photos or illustrations of the specimens from the cache have not been published.
The first specimen is a celt/adze made of diabase. It has a well- polished bit, damaged with a single chip, and a lightly battered poll. It is biconvex in cross-section and is slightly flattened on one face. Measurements are as follows: L. 98.41 mm, W. 48.13 mm, Th. 23.39 mm, and Wt. 193.52 g.
The second specimen is an adze, also made of diabase. Both the bit and poll are heavily battered. The adze is triangular in cross-section with a prominent ridge on one face. Measurements for this specimen are: L. 89.84 mm, W. 49.15 mm, Th. 25.40 mm, and Wt. 178.70 g.
The third specimen from the cache appears to be an unfinished celt/adze. I am uncertain of the material, but it may be porphyritic basalt. The preform has a convex/irregular cross-section and is flaked around its margins. It is made on a spall struck from the outer surface of a cobble. The convex face of the preform is the (mostly) unmodified original surface of the cobble. Measurements are as follows: L. 103.87 mm, W. 55.22 mm, Th. 21.38 mm, and Wt. 164.49 g.
Despite containing only three specimens, the celt/adze cache from the Schmidt site provides evidence for the the diversity of forms of these tools produced and used contemporaneously. The Historical Society of Saginaw County is grateful these items were entrusted to our care. Curated in the Archaeology Lab and Repository of the Castle Museum, they will be preserved for current and future generations as part of Accession 2018.029. More information and examples of Archaic Period artifacts can be found here in the Archaeology section of the Castle Museum website and in the Museum’s archaeology exhibit.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Regular readers of this blog are aware that, over the past three years, the Castle Museum has conducted an archaeological survey in the Swan Creek Area of Saginaw County. For those who may be interested, you can read more about our work in the Swan Creek Study Area here, here, and elsewhere in the blog. We found the “Mystery Object” pictured below during the 2017 survey. Like other material from the site, it probably dates between the early 19th and late 20th centuries.
The artifact is made of iron. It was badly corroded, but after cleaning appears to be complete. It is 103.32 mm long with a 19.23 mm wide by 21.94 mm thick conical/triangular point on one end and a flat tab expanding from 19.23 mm to 26.93 mm on the other end. The tab is 5.73 mm thick and comprises more than half the length of the object. The conical/triangular end appears to be mostly solid, but has an elliptical hole extending 4.57 mm towards the point. The hole, which can be seen in top view in the image above, may have been deeper originally. If so, it is now filled with corroded material. Other than the hole, there are no perforations or apparent additional means of attaching this object to another.
So, readers, any ideas about what this mystery object might be? Part of some 20th century farm machinery? A foot from a 19th century surveyor’s transit/tripod? Something else entirely? Please comment with your ideas or guesses and help us solve the mystery!
Current Research Status of the Hipwater Locale: A Parkhill Phase Paleoindian Retooling Location
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.