Historic

Fieldwork Update – more from the Steltzriede Farm site.

Progress has been slow but sure at the Castle Museum’s archaeological investigations at the Steltzriede Farm site in Saginaw Township, so I think we are due for another update. We noted previously (here) a need to expand our excavation in order to expose the northwest corner of the presumed cabin cellar. The hassle of dealing with bushes and utilities notwithstanding, we have expanded the excavation block and the corner of the cellar is now clearly visible.

The northwest corner of the cellar at 90 cm. Note brick fragments and abundant chinking.

Other than hundreds of fragments of chinking, several brick fragments, and a few square nails, artifacts have been sparse in the cellar fill. This brass buckle is one of the few non-structural items so far recovered within the cellar. Unfortunately, unlike some 19th century buckles, this one does not appear to have a patent date impressed into it.

Brass buckle found in the cellar.

One of our goals has been to determine the overall size of the cellar. Using a small coring tool, we have attempted to trace the extent of the dark cellar fill. It appears that both the north and west walls of the cellar extend to the edge of, or under, the asphalt driveway. Cores show no evidence that the cellar extends all the way across the driveway. Therefore, if we assume the cellar maintains a rectangular shape, and assume our interpretation of the core samples is accurate, the cellar must measure approximately 12′ X 16′.

Projected size of the cellar.

Work has also continued in what we refer to as the “midden” area of the site. This is a trash disposal area in what at the time was a fairly steep slope leading down to a small pond. The pond has long since been filled in (sometime prior to 1954). Recent finds in the midden area include fragments from several ceramic vessels and numerous animal bones. Ceramic types include blue-edgewares, red transferware, black transferware, and hand-painted polychrome, all of which fit well in an early to mid-19th century context. Many of the animal bones appear to be from pigs, but cow (including most of a skull) and duck have also been identified.

Fragments of a small blue-edgeware plate from the midden area.

Assorted ceramics from the midden area.

Fragments of a cow skull in situ in the midden area.

That’s it for now, but for those interested and in the area, I will be sharing the results our work at the Steltzriede Farm site as part of the Thirty-Seventh Annual Saginaw Humanities Lecture Series on Tuesday, Oct. 3rd, at the Saginaw Arts and Sciences Academy (SASA), 1903 N. Niagara Street, in Saginaw. SASA students will perform a musical prelude beginning at 7:00 PM with the lecture beginning at 7:30 PM. There is no admission fee.

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Fieldwork Update – Work Continues at the Steltzriede Farm Site

The Castle Museum archaeology crew continues to make progress at the Steltzriede Farm site in Saginaw Township. We have been working on exposing more of the north side of the cellar and at the 70 cm floor can clearly see a portion of the north wall. At this point, the wall appears to have been lined with horizontal wood planks. However, the nature of the wall is obscured by what seem to be rotted tree roots that grew parallel to and through the wall. The roots were probably attracted to the organic content of the rotting wall boards. It is also becoming obvious that we will need to extend the excavation a bit to the west to expose the northwest corner of the cellar. Unfortunately, to do so will require working around buried utility wires and a large shrub. A hassle to be sure, but much better than the eastern side of the cellar, which appears to be entirely covered by the paved driveway!

The edge of the cellar at 70 cm floor.

As expected, we have not been finding a lot of artifacts in the cellar fill. Material we have found includes several square nails, a few fragments of window glass, plaster/chinking fragments, and several ceramic sherds. The ceramics appear to be from early to mid-19th century vessels including a black transferware plate, a blue edgeware bowl or soup plate with an embossed (beaded) rim, and a blue edgeware plate with a scalloped rim and curved impressed lines. Based on what we found in adjacent units last year, we can expect artifact density to increase as we approach the floor of the cellar.

Ceramics from the cellar fill.

Meanwhile, we have also been working in an area of the site where 19th century midden (trash) deposits were previously identified. We have progressed through the upper layers of 19th and 20th century fill that cap the area and are now into the 19th century midden deposits. Artifact density is much higher in this portion of the site, which means lots of measuring, mapping in artifacts, and recording notes!

Nick and Julia measuring and recording data.

Artifacts from the midden area include bricks, ceramics, bottle fragments, animal bones, lead shot, and even a couple of glass beads. One of the glass beads (shown) is a dark blue faceted bead. The other is a tiny clear glass “seed” bead. Similar beads were found in early 19th century contexts at the Cater Site in Midland County (Beld 2002), but these styles likely persisted through the mid and late 19th century. Fragments of two small aqua glass bottles were found including the neck and shoulder portion of a rectangular medicine bottle and the base of a slightly melted round (cylindrical) bottle with an open pontil scar. Ceramics include fragments of both green and blue edgeware vessels with scalloped rims and both red and black transferware vessels. The red transferware vessel shown below is a bowl or other hollow vessel decorated on both the interior and exterior surfaces. The pattern has not yet been identified, but there may be enough for one of the ceramic gurus out there to figure it out.

Selected artifacts from the midden area.

We will continue working at the Steltzriede Farm site throughout the summer and into the fall, so stay tuned for more updates!

Fieldwork Update – Getting Started at the Steltzriede Farm Site

Nick and Roxanne ready to get started.

The Castle Museum Archaeology team has been busy and the 2017 field season at the Steltzriede Farm Site (20SA562) is now well underway. During the 2016 field season we located a mid-19th century midden zone (trash deposit) and what we believe is the cellar of the original house/cabin built on the site. Readers familiar with the project will remember that the Steltzriede family is said to have built a log cabin when they settled at the site in 1838. They moved to a frame house, which still stands on the property, in 1848. New readers can learn more about the project here, here, here, and here. Our work this year will, at least initially, focus on uncovering more of the cabin/cellar to learn what we can about the size and nature of the structure. We will also expand our excavation in the midden area to obtain a larger sample of artifacts and subsistence remains from the early decades of the Steltzriede’s occupation.

Julia, Nick, and Brad excavating in the cabin/cellar area.

We have opened up three 1X1 meter units in the cabin/cellar area and are slowly working our way through the upper fill layers toward the cellar floor. Two of the units contain clusters of mortar/chinking, but little else, and no sign yet of the expected wall of the cellar. This is probably due to the way the cellar deteriorated, collapsed, and was filled in – a process that, through careful excavation, we may be able to tease out. The third excavation unit in this part of the site was previously excavated (in 2015)  down to 40cm in north half and 50 cm in the south half. At that point there was no clear sign of a structural feature so the excavation was halted and backfilled. Given what we learned last year about the location of the cellar and what the collapsed and filled in area above the cellar looks like, I decided to reexamine the previously excavated unit and go a bit deeper to see if we had given up on it too soon. This may have been a good decision because at the 60cm floor we can now see what appears to be the north edge of the cellar!

Probable north wall of cellar. A rotted root runs along the edge.

Artifacts have been pretty sparse in all three units. Other than the previously mentioned mortar/chinking, we have found a few nails, bone fragments, one or two small ceramic sherds, and a couple of glass fragments. One glass fragment is from a pressed glass goblet or tumbler with the “Wildflower” pattern by Adams and Co. More research is needed, but a quick internet search indicates that the Adams and Co. began producing the pattern in the 1870s and it was widely reproduced well into the 20th century. Regardless of whether this is a 19th or 20th century example, it clearly post-dates the occupation of the cabin.

Pressed glass – “Wildflower” pattern.

Monday, we also opened up two excavation units in the area above the 19th century midden. This part of the site is capped with approximately 50cm of sod and topsoil and clay and gravel fill. We shoveled out these relatively recent (probably mid-20th century) fill layers and are now ready to begin excavation of the 19th century deposits.

Fieldwork Update 3 May 2017

Nick Bacon and I took advantage of a window of nice weather and spent Wednesday working in the Swan Creek study area. We revisited one of the 19th century artifact clusters we initially found two years ago. Previous posts about the study area can be seen here, here, here, and here. We spent the morning flagging artifacts and the afternoon plotting coordinates and collecting the specimens. Here’s Nick hard at work recording provenience data on the collection bags.

Nick filling out collection bags.

Despite making two previous “total” collections of this artifact cluster (in 2015 and 2016), we continue to find new classes of artifacts, and new styles of previously collected artifact classes. We may eventually  reach a point of diminishing returns in terms of broadening our understanding of the range of materials present in this cluster, but I don’t think we’re there yet.

A selection of artifacts from Area 2, Cluster 1.

Structural debris was limited to window glass, nails and one or two small brick fragments. Household/domestic and personal items were more varied. We found several types of decorated ceramics including blue, black, green, and purple transfer-printed wares; blue edgeware; red, blue, and red and blue sponge-decorated (including one sherd with a green hand-painted band around the rim); and hand-painted polychrome (sprigware). We found a few white clay smoking pipe fragments including one with a cross-hatched bowl and a circle of stars. Although it’s missing the initials, this pipe is probably a fragment of a “Patriotic T.D.” pipe, which was a common style during the third quarter of the 19th century (Anderson 1982). We found one molded, white, four-hole, prosser button.  Prosser buttons post-date 1840 and were still being made into the mid-20th century (Sprague 2002). We also found one bead, a black glass, or jet, specimen, rectangular in outline, flat on one face and rounded on the other, and beveled on both ends. The bead has two holes, one on each end of the long edge. Finally, we found a French “blade” gunflint. According to Beld (2002), by 1850, most guns in the Saginaw Valley had been converted over to the percussion cap firing mechanism, so this artifact probably dates to the first half of the 19th century.

All in all, it was great start to the 2017 field season! Stay tuned for more updates as the season progresses.

More from the lab…

The piles are getting smaller!

The Castle Museum Archaeology lab crew (Jana, Nick, Rachel, and Roxanne) had a productive week processing artifacts from last year’s excavations at the Steltzriede Farm site. Here is a bit of their handiwork…

Freshly washed artifacts and faunal remains from the 19th century midden at the Steltzriede Farm site.

The 19th century midden area at Steltzriede produced a number of large mammal bone fragments and some smaller items including a few fish bones and even some egg shell fragments! Many of the bone fragments show butchery marks and a few show gnaw marks – likely from the family dog(s). This snapshot also shows a couple of ceramic sherds, a cinder, a brick fragment, and a piece of a white clay smoking pipe… enough variety to keep any historically-minded archaeologist happy!

HSSC Archaeology Update 15 August 2016

The past two weeks at the Steltzriede Farm site in Saginaw Township have been productive and, dare I say, exciting for the Castle Museum Archaeology team! So, what, you may ask, has piqued our interest and raised the level of excitement at the site? Believe it or not, initially it was this unassuming lump of sand and lime…

Chinking from Feature 4.

One of our primary goals has been to locate the original cabin built by the Steltzriedes in 1838 and it’s quite possible we have succeeded! In the previous update (here), I shared a picture of Feature 3, the corner of a square/rectangular pit, visible at the 55 cm level in the northeast corner of unit 535N 489E. As we continued excavating, it became apparent that Feature 3 is intruding into a much larger feature with a fairly straight edge cutting across the entirety of the unit. The larger feature, which we’ll call Feature 4, contained a few square nails, fragments of flat glass, a few ceramic sherds, and, in the 85-90 cm level, a few small pieces of the sandy, limey material pictured above. A close look reveals wood impressions on the face of at least one fragment, indicating that it may well be chinking from the wall of a cabin. The 90-95 cm level revealed larger fragments of chinking, some brick fragments, two nails, a piece of window glass, patches of grey clay, and three pieces of rotting wood. One piece of wood forms the west wall of the feature, the other two lie parallel on the 95 cm floor. Because they are so poorly preserved, it is not clear if the wood fragments are from split logs, whole logs, or cut boards.

Feature 4 showing rotting wood, chinking, bricks, and clay.

Feature 4 showing rotting wood, chinking, bricks, and clay.

Warning, premature and unwarranted speculation follows!

So, what is this whole Feature 3 – Feature 4 mess? Hard to say, but we could point out that what we have found matches pretty well with the oral history we have for the site. We’ll remember that the location of the original cabin was reported by Ralph Stroebel, who, at some unspecified date, is said to have confirmed the location of the cabin by digging a test pit and finding the wall and/or cellar of the cabin along with a few artifacts, including several fragments of chinking. Mr. Hoover, the current owner of the site, retains several fragments of chinking and other artifacts given to him by Stroebel, who stated they were from his test pit. A comparison of the chinking found by Stroebel to our recent finds reveals a  match in the material. Clearly, Feature 3 intrudes into Feature 4 and thus post-dates it. In fact, though it is difficult to see in the photograph, the north end of the wood fragment located along the east wall of the unit appears to have been cut through by Feature 3. If we wanted to go way out on a limb we could suggest that Feature 3 is the edge of Ralph Stroebel’s test pit and Feature 4 is the 1838 cabin/cellar we have been searching for. (We could even note the curved shape of the rotted wood where Feature 3 cuts through it and suggest that Stroebel used a round, rather than square-bladed shovel!) Or, we could be more appropriately cautious and remember that we have only uncovered a small part of the edge of two features. So, while the preceding interpretation is possible, and perhaps even plausible, we’ll need to gather a bit more evidence to support the claim.

Meanwhile, work also continued in another area of the site where we have been busy uncovering more of the Feature 2/midden/fill zone. As of the end of July, it appeared that Feature 2 may actually be a midden/fill zone on top of the former land surface, rather than large pit of some sort. We have not found anything during the past two weeks to change that interpretation. We have found some interesting material though, including a few items that help to date the deposit. One such item is a fragment of a hair comb impressed […RS PATENT MAY 6 1851]. This refers to Nelson Goodyear’s patent for improvements in the manufacture of “India rubber,” a  hard, plastic-like substance commonly used to make combs, buttons, and other objects in the mid to late 19th century.

Hard rubber comb with impressed Goodyear Patent 6 May 1851.

Hard rubber comb impressed with Goodyears Patent May 6 1851.

We also recovered a number of ceramic sherds including at least three varieties of molded blue-edgeware with scalloped rims, a hand-painted polychrome sherd with dark green leaves and red flowers, a brown transferware vessel, and a dark blue transferware paneled plate.  The latter sherd, pictured below on the bottom right, has been tentatively identified by Tim Bennett as the “Athens” pattern made by William Adams and registered in 1849.

Ceramic sherds from the Feature 2 midden/fill zone.

Ceramic sherds from the Feature 2 midden/fill zone.

Other material from the Feature 2 midden zone includes a couple of charred corn cupules, numerous animal bones (many of which exhibit butchery marks), brick fragments, nails, a few pieces of glass, and slag.

Faunal remains in Feature 2 midden zone.

Faunal remains in Feature 2 midden zone.

Given the finds of the past two weeks, it appears that the Feature 2 midden zone probably accumulated between 1838, when the site was first occupied, and ca. 1870 when the area was capped with relatively sterile sand fill – probably derived from digging a basement for an addition to the frame house.

Although we are beginning to develop a few tentative interpretations, at this point we are generating far more questions than answers. Have we found the cabin, or cellar? If a cellar, was it under the cabin or a separate structure? How large was cellar/cabin? How was the dwelling constructed? How has the landform changed/been altered since the initial settlement? Was all food grown/raised on site, or was it brought in from elsewhere? Were wild foods important in the early years? These and many other questions will guide our research as we continue to work to understand the Steltzriede family and their place in the early development of the Saginaw community.

 

HSSC Archaeology Update July 2016

Throughout July, the Castle Museum Archaeology crew continued working at the Steltzriede Farm site (20SA562), in Saginaw County. In the June update (here) I described our excavations that were getting underway in two areas of the site: 1) a 1X2 meter excavation block over a possible feature (dubbed Feature 2); and 2) a 1X1 meter unit near the area where oral history suggests the 1838-1848 log cabin was located. During the month of July, we continued working in both of these areas.

Your's Truly, plotting artifacts.

Your’s Truly, plotting artifacts in Feature 2.

In order to avoid damaging (and constantly tripping over) an as yet unidentified utility line we found running across the center of unit 530N 505E (the west half of the 1X2 meter excavation block), we halted excavation at 70 cm below the surface. While this made excavation of unit 530N 506E more difficult, as we got deeper it did provide a way to climb out of the hole! Excavation of unit 530N 506E progressed slowly as we carefully troweled out one five centimeter level after another until we finally reached the bottom of Feature 2 at 128 cm below the surface. Our understanding of what Feature 2 represents continues to evolve. At this point, it appears most likely to be a midden and/or fill layer resting on what is probably the original land surface. Because of rather extensive mixing (bioturbation) at the base of the deposit, this conclusion remains tentative.

Ashleigh excavating Feature 2.

Ashleigh excavating Feature 2.

 

530N 506E East Wall

530N 506E East Wall

Cultural material was present throughout the feature/fill matrix, but at a rather low density. Artifacts include brick fragments, two lumps of malleable red clay that may be unfired (or very poorly fired) brick fragments, a few nails, animal bone fragments, two “eyes” from hook-and-eye closures, a few pieces of window glass, a white clay pipe stem fragment, and several white paste earthenware sherds.

Pig teeth, ceramic sherds, and tobacco pipe fragment from Feature 2.

Pig teeth (molar and incisor), ceramic sherds, and tobacco pipe fragment from Feature 2.

Decorated ceramics include blue transfer and red transfer-printed vessels, at least one sherd with a hand-painted polychrome design, blue-edgeware with a scalloped lip, and one sherd with a thin green line around the rim. The white clay pipe stem is decorated with a peculiar scale-like pattern. It appears to be from a “Sir Walter Raleigh” pipe. If so, the complete specimen would have depicted a bearded man being swallowed by a crocodile, toothed whale, or similar creature. There are several variations, but a nearly complete example from England and stories about the origin of the style can be seen here. The story involves Raleigh falling overboard and being latched onto by a crocodile. However, Raleigh is so completely imbued with foul-smelling tobacco smoke that the reptile immediately spits him back out! Walter Raleigh pipes were first made by the Dutch in the 17th century and the style was copied by English pipe makers in the 19th century “but the inferior moulding is usually easily recognizable” (Oswald 1975:116). We found a similar pipe fragment several years ago in our excavations at site 20SA1251 in the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge, so the style may have been popular in the Saginaw Valley.

Travis excavating Feature 3.

Travis excavating Feature 3.

We expanded our work in the reported cabin area from one square meter to three. This part of the site continues to produce nails, ceramic sherds, window glass, and brick fragments.  The white paste earthenware assemblage includes fragments of blue-edgeware with impressed and scalloped rims and a vessel decorated with a thin green line around the rim. Both of these styles are matched in the assemblage from Feature 2. One of the units, 535N 489E, contains the rotting remains of two or three wooden posts and evidence of another feature, Feature 3. The feature is a small stain on the east edge of the NE 1/4 of the unit extending into the wall. The angular shape suggests a square or rectangular hole, but not enough is exposed to be certain. The posts are parallel to the driveway, but appear too close together for a typical fence. Their function is currently unknown.

Feature 3.

Feature 3.

 

Artifacts from unit 535N 489E.

Nail, ceramic sherds, and window glass from unit 535N 489E.

At this point it is too early to speculate about the identity of Feature 3, or its relationship, if any, to the rotting posts in the same unit. In the coming weeks we will continue to investigate Feature 2 and Feature 3 and expand our excavations in both areas of the site.