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!


Archaeological Society Meeting, 1 February 2018

The February meeting of the Saginaw Valley Chapter of the Michigan Archaeological Society will be held at the Castle Museum of Saginaw County History on Thursday, 1 February 2018, at 7:00 PM. Dr. Scott Beld will share his research related to excavations at the Early Woodland Arthursburg Hill site in Ionia County. The title of Dr. Beld’s talk is: The Arthursburg Hill Earthwork Enclosure: An Early Woodland (ca. 400 B.C.) Fortified Village in central Michigan.  With a construction date of around 400 B.C., this enclosure is the earliest known in Michigan (other earthwork enclosures in Michigan are from the Late Woodland Period).

To whet your appetite for the program, here are a few Early Woodland biface types (projectile points and knives) from various sites in the Saginaw Valley.

Early Woodland bifaces found in Saginaw County.

And we can’t talk about the Early Woodland Period without showing an example of some Early Woodland ceramics…

Early Woodland ceramics from Saginaw County.

As always, the public is invited and encouraged to attend.

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.

HSSC Archaeology Fieldwork Update 15-21 April 2016

The Castle Museum Archaeology crew enjoyed another week of survey in the Swan Creek study area. Last Friday (after I posted the previous update), Nick Bacon, Ken Kosidlo, and I completed the second half of Swan Creek Area 8, a 16 hectare (40 acre) parcel we had started the previous day. We hadn’t gone ten steps down our first transect when Nick picked up a fragment of a serrated corner-notched biface made of a pebble chert. It probably dates to the Archaic Period, but it’s tough to be sure with a fragmentary specimen. Overall, there was little material, prehistoric or historic, in the survey area.

Corner-notched biface from Swan Creek Area 8.

Corner-notched biface from Swan Creek Area 8.

This week, Ken, Maynard Lockwood, and I began working on Swan Creek Area 6, a 24 hectare (60 acre) parcel. As we found in Area 8, cultural material was exceedingly sparse. Aside from a few FCR, the entire prehistoric assemblage consists of one quartzite flake with bifacial “trimming,” one Bayport chert decortication flake, and one fragment of a Late Archaic/Early Woodland Meadowood point made on Onondaga chert.

Prehistoric items from Swan Creek Area 6.

Prehistoric items from Swan Creek Area 6.

After spending a wet Thursday morning slogging through the remaining portion of Area 6, Ken and I revisited one of the mid-19th century artifact clusters we had located during the 2015 survey. You can read about our 2015 efforts here. Despite a steady light rain for much of the afternoon, we recovered a substantial sample of artifacts from the area including a variety of transfer-printed, hand-painted, sponge-decorated, and blue-edged ceramics, as well as flat glass, bottle glass, pipe fragments, and a button. We also found a single blue seed bead, which, at 1.33mm in diameter, is certainly the smallest artifact I’ve ever located while doing surface survey!

Tiny seed bead.

Tiny seed bead.

Equally surprising, given the paucity of prehistoric material in this part of the survey area, is this nicely polished bit fragment from a celt.

Celt from Swan Creek Area 1.

Celt fragment from Swan Creek Area 1.

We returned to the Swan Creek area today and, if the weather cooperates, expect to finish up our surface survey next week.

HSSC Archaeology Fieldwork Update – July 2015

Over the past couple of weeks the Castle Museum Archaeology Team has once again found itself waist-deep in the poison ivy fields of the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge. Throw in some nearly impossible-to-screen clay soils, clouds of mosquitoes, and an occasional drenching downpour and you’ve got all the makings of a spa-like Summer retreat! Conditions may be difficult, but we get to do fieldwork, so no complaints here!


Ken, Mike, and Monica digging STPs.

Ken, Mike, and Monica digging STPs.


We have been shovel-testing between two previously documented archaeological sites, 20SA315 and 20SA214, near the Shiawassee River. During the Spring of 2014, we conducted a surface survey of a portion of 20SA315. That work is briefly discussed here. 20SA315 is multi-component but appears to date predominately from the Late Woodland time period. A guess, based on highly fragmented ceramics, puts a likely date in the AD 1000-1200 range. 20SA214 is a site we began monitoring in 1999. It, too, is a multi-component site and a number of biface types spanning the Late Archaic through the Late Woodland have been recovered. It no doubt temporally overlaps 20SA315, but the majority of the occupation debris appears to be a bit earlier – likely Middle to early Late Woodland.


Bifaces from 20SA214

Bifaces from 20SA214


Our current project has two goals. The first is to test the area between the known distribution of artifacts at 20SA214 and 20SA315 to determine site boundaries. The second is to test for the presence of intact archaeological deposits below the plowzone. So far our shovel-test pits (STPs) have revealed a very thin scatter of prehistoric artifacts in the area between the two sites. Three of our eight 50cm X 50cm STPs have yielded single bayport chert flakes. One of the three also contained a few possible quartzite flakes and/or FCR. So, it looks like, while 20SA315 and 20SA214 have definite artifact concentrations, the area between them is not completely sterile.


STP 6 South Wall Profile.

STP 6 South Wall Profile.


The stratigraphy has been fairly consistent in each of the STPs. A dark, 25-30cm, silty clay plowzone is followed by a mottled, but mostly dark, 10-20cm thick zone of silty clay and clay. This is followed by a mottled, progressively lighter-colored zone of clay and silty clay. In a couple of the STPs small pockets (<3-4cm) of silty fine sand are intermixed with the clay in the lower mottled zone. In STP 6, the water table was encountered at about the 70 cm level. The other STPs were not dug deeper than 60 cm. Artifacts were found in the plowzone in STPs 6 and 8 and below the plowzone in STPs 3 and 6. Although no distinct former land surfaces are visible in the sediment profiles, the presence of artifacts below the plowzone leaves open the possibility for stratified archaeological deposits and intact features. The heavy mottling is likely due to bioturbation (mixing caused by roots and animal burrows).

HSSC Lab and Field Update – 27 May 2015

Nearing the end of May, I think we’re long past due for an update on what the Castle Museum archaeology crew has been up to…

Swan Creek Township Survey
Fields in the Swan Creek area were being planted during the first week of May, thus ending our surface survey for the season. Lab work on the material we recovered is progressing. In fact, even as I type this, new volunteer Samra Akhtar is busily washing material from one of the mid to late 19th century artifact scatters we documented. As the artifacts get washed and catalogued, I’ll provide another update with some photos of what we found.

Samra, Ken, and John working in the Lab.

Samra, Ken, and John working in the Lab.


Shiawassee NWR Survey
We spent a couple of weeks working on various aspects of a survey project in one of the farm units located in the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge. The survey area is slated for a future wetland restoration project. Of the few cultural items we encountered, none was temporally diagnostic.

Field Trip!
Last week we spent a day with CMU graduate student Patrick Lawton helping with his shovel-testing project located near Chesaning. It was great to dig some shovel-tests and hang out with Dr. Surface-Evans and the 2015 CMU Field School class. Cultural material was tough to come by, at least while we were there, but we did find a nice clay marble.

In the Lab…
In addition to working on the Swan Creek Township material we’ve been continuing to make headway sorting the 2<4 mm size flot. samples from the Clunie Site (see Ken and John in the photo above) and labeling artifacts from the Stadelmeyer site. We’ve also been fortunate to receive some new donations including another batch of material from the Stadelmeyer site and several flaked stone and ground stone artifacts from a site on the Cass River. Among the flaked stone artifacts in this assemblage is the mid-section of an Agate Basin-like point made of Bayport chert. These late Paleoindian/Early Archaic points are quite uncommon in the Saginaw Valley so finding this one in the assemblage was a nice surprise.

Agate Basin-like point from Saginaw County.

Agate Basin-like point from Saginaw County.

Our comparative faunal collection also received a boost in recent weeks. The first addition was a black bear (Ursus americanus) skull and mandibles with a complete set of dentition. Our other black bear skull is missing both mandibles and several teeth, including all of the canines and incisors, making this donation a welcome and needed addition. (We are completely lacking any black bear post-cranial material so if you have an extra bear skeleton laying around, we would love to have it!)

Black bear (Ursus americanum) skull and mandible.

Black bear (Ursus americanus) skull and mandible.

Finally, just yesterday, we received the generous gift of a mostly decayed and desiccated beaver (Castor canadensis) carcass. This specimen is not quite ready for prime time and will require a bit of soaking, cleaning, and other TLC before joining the comparative collection!