artifact

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!

Mystery Object from Swan Creek

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.

Mystery Object from the Swan Creek Study Area

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!

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. 

Saginaw Valley Archaeologists: Contributors to the Field IV – Eliza L. Golson

Note: As the title implies, this series of occasional posts is intended to highlight individuals who have made significant contributions, in one way or another, to the archaeology of the Saginaw Valley. Subjects of previous posts in the series include Fred Dustin, Harlan I. Smith, and Ralph Stroebel.

Eliza Golson is less well-known in local archaeological circles than the previous subjects of this series, but she exemplifies the contributions that avocational archaeologists have so often made to the field. And she did so at a very early date! Much of the following biographic information was compiled by the Castle Museum’s Chief Curator, Sandy Schwan and can be sourced to the introduction to a transcription of Eliza Golson’s diary prepared by Golson’s granddaughter, Theo Alice Klisch and great-granddaughter, Margaret Klisch and to conversations with Margaret Klisch.

Born Eliza Martin on December 9, 1853 in Buffalo, New York, she moved to Saginaw with her family in 1863 where they took up residence on a houseboat. Though formal education was precluded by family responsibilities, young Eliza had a curious mind and a desire to learn and she managed to educate herself.

Eliza Golson

In 1871, Eliza Martin married Frank Golson. They resided in South Saginaw and had six children. While raising her family, Eliza developed an avid interest in the prehistoric artifacts she found near her home – many from right in her own flower beds, others from elsewhere in the neighborhood. Although she had no formal training in archaeology, she recognized the significance of her finds and the importance of documenting them.

Eliza Golson’s Journal

Between 1881 and 1906, Eliza Golson kept a journal of her archaeological activities. Entries describe outings with her children and other family members to search for artifacts. They record what the family found and where. She also describes various classes of artifacts in her collection and speculates on how they were made and their possible functions. The journal entries paint a picture of a woman not simply content to amass a collection of objects, but rather, interested in learning about what those objects might mean.

Selected artifacts from the Golson Collection.

One of Eliza’s children, Edward (Edd), was a schoolmate and good friend of Harlan I. Smith. [Smith, of course, later became a celebrated archaeologist/ethnologist most widely known for his work in the Pacific Northwest.] Edd is mentioned several times in Golson’s journal and seems to have been rather adept at finding artifact caches. Edd’s first cache, consisting of 83 Bayport chert cores and/or preforms, was found 26 April 1890 and was donated to the Peabody Museum at Harvard University that same year.

Edd discovered six bifaces from a second cache on 1 May 1892. Over the next two days, he and Eliza recovered 53 additional specimens from the cache. They sent a report on the cache to the Smithsonian Institution on 8 May 1892 and on 28 June 1892, Harlan I. Smith arrived to photograph the cache.

This image is a copy of Harlan I. Smith’s photo of the Golson Cache #2, found in Saginaw in 1892 by Edward and Eliza Golson and exhibited by Smith at the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893.

In 1893, the archaeology of the Saginaw Valley was presented to an international audience when Smith chose to exhibit this cache and several additional items from the Golson collection at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Eliza made note of the loan in a 21 March 1893 journal entry.

March 21st 1893
Today Harlin I Smith came for some of my specimens to take to the Worlds Fair for Exhibition. I let him have in Edds name
1 Cache of 59 Implements
1 Copper Axe
1 Copper Awl
103 Bone Points
4 Deer Horns (Pieces of Deer Horns)
1 large tooth
15 Bear Teeth
58 Horn Points

Her 7 December 1893 entry documents that the artifacts were well taken care of and all were returned in good condition.

Dec the 7th 1893
Mr H I Smith Returned my specimens all of them in good condition

Eliza Golson died on 23 February 1923 in South Saginaw. Her memory endures through her continuing contribution to the body of knowledge about the archaeology of the Saginaw Valley. In 1980-1981, her descendants honored her memory and efforts by transcribing Eliza’s journal and distributing copies to various institutions including the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard University, the University of Michigan Museum of Anthropology, the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History, and the Historical Society of Saginaw County. In 2012, Eliza Golson’s original journal was donated to the Historical Society of Saginaw County. Although much of her collection seems to have been dispersed, portions can be found today at the Peabody Museum, the Smithsonian Institution, and in the archaeological collections of the Castle Museum of Saginaw County History.

Michigan Archaeological Society meeting Thursday, 2 November 2017

The November meeting of the Saginaw Valley Chapter of the Michigan Archaeological Society will be held Thursday, 2 November 2017 at 7:00 pm here at the Castle Museum of Saginaw County History. Long-time chapter member Bernie Spencer will be presenting a program on the Ike Davidson site. Bernie describes the program as follows:

“Reflections on the Ike Davidson Site, a mixed Late Woodland site adjacent to the Cass River, occupying the bottom of the floodplain from two to four feet above the present water level. The entirety of my collections from the site will be available for observation at the meeting. This site was totally removed as part of the Cass River Dike Project in 2011. My collections began in 1957 and ended with the total destruction of the site in 2011.”

One of many Late Woodland Rimsherds from the Ike Davidson Site, Saginaw County, Michigan.

Bernie’s collection from this site includes an impressive array of Late Woodland (and some probably earlier) ceramics, projectile points and other flaked stone tools, and ground stone artifacts, all of which will be on display at the meeting.

As always, the public is welcome and encouraged to attend. You won’t want to miss this one!