Clunie Site

Two Storage Pits from the Clunie Site

In light of Kate Frederick’s upcoming presentation “Holes: A Beginners Guide to Food Storage” at the October meeting of the Saginaw Valley Chapter of the Michigan Archaeological Society (announced here), I thought I would share photos of two large pit features from the Clunie site (20SA722). The Clunie site is a late Prehistoric/Protohistoric site, ca. AD 1400-1650, located along the Tittabawassee River in Saginaw County. Excavations conducted by the Castle Museum of Saginaw County History between 2005 and 2013 revealed a number of features including two interpreted as having initially functioned as a storage pits with subsequent use as hearths and/or trash pits.

Feature 5 was a large deep pit extending 130 cm in length, 90+ cm in width, and 126 cm deep. It was likely circular in plan view, but it was not fully excavated so the exact size and shape is unknown. The bottom and perhaps sides of the pit were lined with thick bark, which was later burned. The burning process may have served to sterilize the pit for reuse. Reddened and blackened soil along the walls of the pit is evidence of the intense heat caused by burning the bark lining and subsequent use of the pit as a hearth. The question of what was stored in Feature 5 during its initial phase of use may be answered in part by the presence of two or three charred aquatic tubers identified as Fragrant Water-Lily (Nymphaea odorata).

Feature 5

Feature 5 at the Clunie Site (20SA722)

Feature 29 appeared quite similar to Feature 5 in form and, presumably, function. Like Feature 5, Feature 29 was only partially excavated so full dimensions are not known. The excavated portion extended 150 cm in length, 50 cm in width, and 115 cm deep. Botanical remains from the flotation samples have not been analyzed and no tubers or other possible stored items were noted during excavation.

Feature 29

Feature 29 at the Clunie Site (20SA722)

It should be interesting to see how insights from Kate Frederick’s experimental work may inform our interpretation of these features from the Clunie site.


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!

Michigan Archaeological Society Meeting Thursday, 2 April 2015

The April meeting of the Saginaw Valley Chapter of the Michigan Archaeological Society will be held April 2nd, 2015 at the Castle Museum of Saginaw County History. Don Simons will discuss late Prehistoric material from Saginaw County and elsewhere in Michigan. Don always provides an interesting and informative presentation and this one will be especially relevant to the Museum’s recent work at the Clunie site. As always, all are welcome to attend.

I don’t think Don ever made it out to the Clunie site, but here is a picture of him working at another museum project (20SA1251) in 2002. Although predominately Middle Woodland, we did find a bit of late Prehistoric material at this site!

20SA1251 field crew 11 July 2002. from left to right Don Simons, Mike Puffpaff, Bob Clunie, John Heintz

20SA1251 field crew 11 July 2002. from left to right Don Simons, Mike Puffpaff, Bob Clunie, John Heintz

Here is the Chapter’s official meeting announcement:

The Saginaw Valley Chapter April meeting will be on Thursday, April 2, 2015 at 7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m., at the Castle Museum of Saginaw County History, 500 Federal Avenue, Saginaw, MI 48607.

A presentation by Don Simons will compare and discuss artifacts from Saginaw County site #106 in the Simons site record, and the Dumaw Creek Site near Pentwater Michigan reported on by George Quimby in 1966.
In the 1993 “Michigan Archaeologist”, Dr. Scott Beld published his report on excavations he directed at the Late Woodland site, 20SA665.
Most familiar to most of our MAS members are the many years of reports / programs on the “Mississippian”, Late Woodland Clunie Site by Saginaw’s Castle Museum Staff Archaeologist, Jeff Sommer.
The above sites date close to the end of the prehistoric era and share various elements of their technologies. This presentation is intended to add yet another part to the Late Woodland record in Michigan.

Sorting the Small Stuff

Far more than any other members of the Castle Archaeology team, Ken Kosidlo and John Heintz have spent countless hours sorting the “heavy fraction” of flotation samples from our excavations at the late Prehistoric Clunie site. (The heavy fraction includes all of the stuff that sinks to the bottom during the flotation process – typically bones, sherds, flakes, shell, etc.) The samples derive from features such as trash pits, storage pits, and hearths. To make the process easier, samples are first size-sorted into three grades – >4mm, 2<4mm, and <2mm. Having caught up on all of the >4mm material, they are now engaged in sorting the 2<4mm grade. This stuff is tiny! It takes a practiced eye (and a tolerance for tedium) to separate a pile of miniscule fragments into categories of like materials. Yet this is the only way to ensure that the fullest possible range of material is recovered from an archaeological deposit. Items like beads, retouch flakes (made while sharpening the edge of a stone tool), seeds, and the bones of small animals could easily be missed without employing a fine-grained recovery technique like flotation.

A typical 2<4mm sample prior to sorting.

A typical 2<4mm sample prior to sorting.


A find earlier this week demonstrates the utility of this approach for recovering rare items that would otherwise have been missed. A close examination of a tiny shell fragment found in a sample from Feature 9 (a trash pit) revealed it to be from a marine gastropod in the Prunum (formerly Marginella) genus. The most likely candidate appears to be Prunum apicinum, the Common Atlantic Marginella. A bit of web-sleuthing reveals that this species ranges from the tidal flats and coastal waters off the Carolinas through the Caribbean, and the Gulf of Mexico to the Yucatán Peninsula (Smithsonian Marine Station at Fort Pierce website). From the Archaic through the early Historic Period, shells of this species were traded across much of eastern North America in the form of beads fashioned by grinding an oblique facet across the apex of the shell.


Feature 9. A trash pit in mid-excavation.

Feature 9. The trash pit in mid-excavation.

The shell assemblage. Do you see the bead fragment?

The shell assemblage from one of the Feature 9 flotation samples. Do you see the bead fragment?

A complete Marginella shell bead was recovered during the excavation of Feature 28, another trash pit located in a different area of the Clunie site, and a fragment of a second Marginella bead was previously found in a flotation sample from Feature 28. Although the two fragments are small, they each exhibit structural traits not shared by any of the local gastropod species. By comparing the fragments with the complete specimen, you can see the traits used to clinch the ID.

Marginella shell bead and two fragments.

Marginella shell bead and two fragments from the Clunie Site.

Clunie Site Copper Artifacts to be Featured at this year’s SAA Conference

Last summer, I had the good fortune to spend a couple of days (including a day at the Clunie Site) with Heather Walder, PhD candidate from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. As part of her dissertation work, Heather is using Laser Ablation-Inductively Coupled Plasma-Mass Spectrometry (LA-ICP-MS) to do some really cool research into the chemical makeup and chronology of certain early blue glass beads and she agreed to incorporate a bead from the Clunie site into her sample. And because one project is never enough, she, along with Laure Dussubieux from the Field Museum, Chicago, was also involved in a study using LA-ICP-MS and portable x-ray fluorescence (pXRF) to differentiate between native copper and European smelted copper. Having long-wondered about the origin of the copper beads and scraps from our Clunie site excavations, I was eager to contribute a sample to their research.

I am happy to announce that, in a poster titled Identifying American native and European smelted coppers with pXRF: a case study of artifacts from the Upper Great Lakes region, the results of their study will be presented this week at the Society for American Archaeology 79th Annual Meeting in Austin, TX. To quote from their poster, this study “assesses the reliability of portable x-ray fluorescence (pXRF) as a fast and effective method of identifying cold-worked native versus European smelted coppers without any sample preparation.” Their sample includes a series of 11 copper beads and scraps from the (protohistoric) Clunie site and 32 similar artifacts from the (protohistoric and later historic) Rock Island site in Wisconsin. Prior to using pXRF, an attempt was made to categorize each artifact as native or European copper based on archaeological context and visual inspection. As a test of the accuracy of the pXRF assessments, eighteen of the artifacts were further analyzed using LA-ICP-MS.

Briefly, they found the completely non-destructive pXRF technique reliably, and relatively inexpensively, differentiated between native and European smelted copper. There was no disagreement between the pXRF and LA-ICP-MS results. Further, they found that visual assessment alone, especially from the earlier protohistoric contexts, was quite unreliable. The big news for the Clunie site is that while most of the beads and scraps are cold-hammered native copper, one of the scraps is, indeed, smelted European copper!

One of several cold-hammered native copper beads from the Clunie site.

One of several cold-hammered native copper beads from the Clunie site.

If you’re attending the SAAs this year you should definitely stop by, say hello to Heather, and check out the poster! It will be given in Austin on Thursday, April 24th in the session titled: Compositional Analyses and Sourcing Studies in Archaeology.

News from the Archaeology Lab

With the arrival of spring (according to the calendar if not the meteorologist), it’s a good time to provide an update on recent activities of the Castle Museum Archaeology team. Much of our time over the winter was spent processing artifacts from last summer’s work at the Hill House and the Clunie site. “Processing” includes the sorting, washing, cataloguing and data entry that must be accomplished before the artifacts can be analyzed and written up. We catalogued more than 11,000 objects from our 2013 work at the Clunie site alone… and this didn’t include the “small stuff” recovered in flotation samples! Sorting flot. samples from 2013 and previous seasons is a huge project, but Ken Kosidlo, John Heintz, Mike Mauer, Dave Hamilton and others continue to make tremendous progress. I completed a report on our 2013 work in the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge, which includes last season’s work at the Clunie site, but it has not yet been posted online. However, reports from previous years can be found under the Archaeology tab on the Castle Museum website.

In addition to processing artifacts generated by our fieldwork, we have been working on recently donated collections from several archaeological sites in Saginaw County. These collections, which range from a single artifact to hundreds of objects, are especially important because we know the precise location of the sites from which they were derived. Five of the sites represented in these collections had not previously been recorded. Now that we’ve documented them, they push the number of recorded archaeological sites in Saginaw County over the 1,400 mark! Temporally, the donated artifacts span the Early Archaic (ca. 6000 B.C.) through the Historic periods.

We are currently cataloguing material from the Stadelmeyer site (20SA195). Excavations were conducted at this site by members of the Saginaw Valley Chapter of the Michigan Archaeological Society in 1965 and 1966 and by the University of Michigan in 1967. The recent donation is from the 1965 and 1966 excavations and it supplements previously donated material from these excavations already in our collection. A report on U of M’s work at the site was published in 1970 in the Michigan Archaeologist (Vol. 16 No. 3-4) by Beatrice A. Bigony. This report describes a predominately Late Woodland occupation (ca. A.D. 800-1100) with a small amount of Late Prehistoric (ca. A.D. 1200-1400) and Late Archaic material. Copies of this volume are still available from the MAS website. The collections now held at the Castle Museum add evidence for an Early Woodland component and significantly more Late Prehistoric material.


Our comparative faunal collection recently received an upgrade in the form of a wolf skull (Canis lupus) donated by Ken Kosidlo. After briefly puzzling over a large canine tooth found back in 2005 at the Clunie site we realized wolf was a likely candidate. However, with no comparative material on hand we couldn’t be sure of a match. Ken’s generous donation solved that problem! While we still can’t rule out a very large dog, the tooth is a good match for wolf and is much larger than any other Canid remains recovered from this late Prehistoric site.


Data, including catalogue records, are only useful if they are organized and accessible. Entering our catalogue records into the museum’s Past Perfect database has been a long term goal towards which we had made only moderate progress. That is until Jana “Queen of Data Entry” Irving took up the challenge! Thanks to Jana’s hard work (and fast fingers) we are now caught up with this important task!

So, we have accomplished much during the past few months. There is, of course, always more to do. Over the next few weeks, while we wait for the snow to melt and the ground to thaw, we will continue to make progress in the lab and prepare for the coming field season. Watch this space for future updates, announcements and reports from the Archaeology Lab and Field.