Early Woodland

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.

Michigan Archaeological Society Meeting Thursday, 5 November 2015

The November meeting of the Saginaw Valley Chapter of the Michigan Archaeological Society will be held at the Castle Museum of Saginaw County History on Thursday, 5 November 2015, at 7:00 PM. In what is certain to be a fascinating program, Dr. Scott Beld will present research related to his excavations at the Early Woodland Arthusburg Hill site in Ionia County. With a construction date of around 400 B.C., the earthwork enclosure at Arthursburg Hill is the earliest earthwork enclosure known in Michigan (other earthwork enclosures in Michigan are from the Late Woodland Period). As always, the public is invited and encouraged to attend.

To whet your appetite for the program, here are a few Early Woodland projectilepoint types from the various sites in the Saginaw Valley.

Some Early Woodland Projectile Point Types

Some Early Woodland Projectile Point Types

Prehistoric “Portable Art” from the Saginaw Valley

Ashley Lemke’s upcoming presentation (see previous post) for the Saginaw Valley Chapter of the Michigan Archaeological Society on “Early Art in North America: Engraved artifacts from the Gault Site, Texas” got me thinking about similar types of “portable art” from the Saginaw Valley. Although I am not aware of any incised objects or other forms of portable art from Paleoindian contexts in the Saginaw Valley, such material is certainly present from later time periods. Without implying any sort of cultural relationship or functional equivalency between the Gault site Paleoindian material and much later local material, I thought it might be fun to share a few examples from the Castle Museum’s and other Saginaw County collections.

Ceramics are the most obvious and familiar example of local prehistoric artifacts that we could consider portable art. However, because the inspiration for this post is incised/engraved stone and bone objects, I’ll limit myself to those materials. Likewise, unembellished gorgets, pendants, birdstones, bannerstones, beads, and similar objects could certainly be considered portable art, but I’ll disregard those as well. Having said that, gorgets and pendants are probably the types of artifacts most frequently decorated or otherwise embellished with incised/engraved lines, hash marks, tally marks, etc. and they comprise the majority of the examples I came up with.

The first example is a ground slate object made into a shape reminiscent of a stemmed projectile point. Given its thick rounded edges, it likely would not have functioned as such. It may have served as a pendant. The only embellishment is a single incised line extending longitudinally along the center of each face from the “shoulder” area to, and around, the tip. This specimen was found on the surface of a multicomponent site with material spanning the Middle Archaic through the Late Prehistoric periods.

Engraved slate pendant from 20SA357. Private collection.

Engraved slate pendant from 20SA357. Private collection.

The second specimen is a green banded slate gorget or pendant fragment originally from the Golson collection. (Golson is noteworthy for the fact that in the late 19th century she kept a journal, which we have at the museum, describing many of the sites and artifacts she found. Probably a good subject for a future post!) Remnants of a drilled hole are present along the broken edge. Although grinding marks (striations) are present on all surfaces except the break face, the incised decoration is present only on one face. It is pictured here as photographed and with the incised lines traced over in black for better visibility. Unfortunately, although we can assume it was found in Saginaw County, we do not know which site this artifact came from. It could date anywhere from the Late Archaic through early Late Woodland time periods.

Engraved slate gorget originally from the Golson Collection. HSSC collections.

Engraved slate gorget originally from the Golson Collection. HSSC collections.

Another gorget or pendant fragment was found on the surface at site 20SA1254 in the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge. This example is made out of a relatively soft, earthy hematite/limonite material. Like the previous example, it displays remnants of a hole along the broken edge. In this case the hole is biconical – it was drilled from both faces and the drill holes are cone-shaped, becoming narrower towards the middle. Also like the previous example, decorative elements are confined to one face. With the exception of the beginnings of a possible drill hole, the face opposite the decoration appears unmodified. Given the soft, weathered, raw material, the incised design is difficult to make out. I traced the lines I could see in black, but others may have originally been present. This site contains Late Archaic through Historic period material in a mixed surface context. Therefore, a more precise date cannot be given.

Engraved hematite/limonite gorget from 20SA1254. USFWS collections curated at HSSC.

Engraved hematite/limonite gorget from 20SA1254. USFWS collections curated at HSSC.

The fourth example of portable art is a pendant made from a cut, ground, and engraved Black Bear (Ursus americanus) mandible – a left mandible to be exact. The mandible was modified by cutting and grinding away the ramus and the inferior margin of the body. The medial surface of the body and the lingual surface of the remaining teeth (M2 and M3) have been ground flat. The anterior portion of the mandible is broken away and it is not clear what portion would have been present on the complete pendant. A hole was drilled from the lateral surface of the body near the posterior end into the marrow cavity. Grinding of the medial surface on this end of the pendant exposed the marrow cavity so the drilled hole did not need to penetrate the medial surface. Incising is confined to the lateral surface adjacent to the surviving M2 and the no longer present M1. This pendant, which is currently in a private collection, was found on the surface of a site near the Saginaw River in Saginaw County. A  canine tooth from a Black Bear was found in the same vicinity, but it could not be refit with the pendant. Late Woodland and Middle Woodland artifacts and at least one Meadowood point are also reported from the site. Several cut and ground bear teeth and mandible fragments, interpreted as the remains of pendants, were recovered from the Middle Woodland levels at the nearby Schultz Site (Murray 1972). I suspect this pendant dates to the same period.

Engraved Black Bear mandible pendant. Private collection.

Engraved Black Bear mandible pendant. Private collection.

Although its function is not clear, an engraved antler artifact excavated from a trash pit (Feature 11) at the Clunie site (20SA722) may also be a pendant. This object is perforated with a biconical hole 4.40 mm from one end. The other end is missing. The curve of this relatively thin (3.34 – 5.33 mm), strap-like piece of antler follows the natural curve of the tine from which it was split. It tapers slightly outward from the narrow (9.46 mm wide), squared off, perforated end to the wider (13.53 mm) broken end. Decoration consists of three roughly parallel engraved lines extending 60.00 mm from the perforated end to 15.48 mm from the broken end. The perforation goes through the central engraved line. Centered approximately 3.6 mm from the end of the engraved lines there is a transverse row of three “dots” spaced approximately equal to the engraved lines. A second row of dots is centered approximately 6.4 mm further towards the broken end. Remnants of a third row of smaller dots are visible approximately 2.5 mm further towards the end along the break face. This final row of dots is obscured by an incised line extending perpendicular across the artifact. The break face is at/below this line. It is not clear if the artifact was accidentally broken at this weak point or if the transverse incised line was actually an effort to score the antler so it would snap at this point in a controlled manner. In either case, there was no subsequent modification of the break face. Multiple radiometric dates and typological associations place the Clunie site (including Feature 11) securely into the Late Prehistoric/Protohistoric time period.

Engraved antler object from 20SA722. USFWS collections curated at HSSC.

Engraved antler object from 20SA722. USFWS collections curated at HSSC.

The final example is, perhaps, the most intriguing. It is an engraved, relatively flat, hard stone (possibly diabase) approximately 7.3 cm long and 1.8 cm wide. Two eye-like spots are pecked into each face of the stone on the same end. Each face of the artifact is also decorated with a pattern of lightly incised lines. The lines were rubbed with chalk in an effort to make the design more visible. Though modified for this image, both the photographs and drawings were originally done several years ago. The artifact is in a private collection and is not currently available for reanalysis. It was found on the surface of a site located near the Cass River in Saginaw County. The full range of occupation of the site is not known, but a number of Late Archaic/Early Woodland (Meadowood) artifacts have been recovered and this artifact may well go with that component.

Engraved stone object. Private collection.

Engraved stone object. Private collection.

This is by no means a comprehensive set of portable art objects from the Saginaw Valley. However, even though the selected sample is biased by containing only artifacts (or photos) to which I happened to have easy access, I think it is broadly representative of the types of local, nonperishable objects that were at least occasionally embellished with incising and other forms of decoration.

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.

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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.

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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.