Archaeology Meeting Thursday, November 1, 2018

Please join us for the November meeting of the Saginaw Valley Chapter of the Michigan Archaeological Society to be held next Thursday, November 1st, here at the Castle Museum. Dr. Scott Beld will present a wide-ranging talk covering 50 years of archaeological work at Chippewa Nature Center in Midland County. The sites he will discuss span the Archaic through Historic periods so there will be much of interest for everyone! And, there will be treats! The program is free and, as always, the public is invited and encouraged to attend. The official announcement from the chapter is copied below.


Saginaw Valley Chapter of the Michigan Archaeological Society

November meeting notice

Thursday November 1, 2018

At the Castle Museum of Saginaw County History

7:00 p.m.

50 Years of Archaeology at Chippewa Nature Center 1968-2018

Dr. Scott Beld will present an overview on various sites they’ve excavated at the nature center (Naugle, Sumac Bluff, Cater, Ponton, Sias East)

Dr. Beld is the staff archaeologist at the Chippewa Nature Center in Midland and the Research Assistant to Dr. Daniel Fisher, Paleontologist at the University of Michigan, Museum of Paleontology, Ann Arbor.

Bring an artifact to share with the group.


Steltzriede Farm Site – End of 2018 Field Season Wrap-Up

Well, we’ve wrapped up another field season at the Steltzriede Farm site in Saginaw Township and, in terms of area excavated, it was the biggest one yet! This year, the Castle Museum archaeology team excavated 13 1X1 meter excavation units. This compares with 11 in 2015, 10 in 2016, and six in 2017.

During the 2018 field season, we worked in two areas of the site. We spent the first part of the field season expanding our excavation in the “cabin area” where we had previously found the cellar of the Steltzriede’s original house/cabin. You can read updates from the first part of the field season here, here, and here.

Kiersten and Andy excavating at the Steltzriede Farm site.

The second half of the field season was spent excavating a 2X5 meter excavation block in yard area between cellar and the still-standing 1848 frame house. Shovel-testing in 2017 indicated the presence of early to mid-19th century (and more recent) material in the general area. We were hoping to find midden deposits or a well, privy, or other feature associated with the early-mid 19th century period of the Steltzriede occupation. In addition, we were hoping to learn more about the timing and extent of landscape modification / fill deposition across the site. We were only partially successful in meeting these goals.

Nick excavating at the Steltzriede Farm site.

Unfortunately, features and dense midden deposits were not to be found. Instead we uncovered a light scatter of mid-19th through 20th century debris across the area. Bricks and nails were especially common, but we also found ceramics, bottle fragments, lead shot, a slate pencil, a button or collar  stud, and lots of bone fragments from cows, pigs, and even a cat! Ceramics included a few red paste and yellow paste earthenware sherds, but most were white paste wares. Decorative types present in the white paste ceramic assemblage include blue and green shell-edged, painted polychrome floral, dipt/annularware, and transfer printed.

Slate pencil and button or collar stud from the Steltzriede Farm site.

Ceramics from the Steltzriede Farm site.

In terms of identifying changes in site’s landscape during the 19th and 20th centuries, we had some success – assuming our current interpretations prove correct. Wall profiles in the yard area show the extent of a probable mid-20th century deposit of clay and gravel fill that appears to have been used to level the yard. Immediately below the clay and gravel fill layer is thick layer of sand, possibly derived from digging the basement under the frame house in the mid-late 19th century. The surface of this second fill layer was stable long enough to begin forming an A-horizon (a dark, organic-rich zone in the soil). The bottom of the second fill layer merges with what is probably the disturbed (plowed?) early to mid-19th century surface over a natural, relatively undisturbed, soil profile.

East Wall Profile of units 522-523N 501E.

Our attention now turns to the lab where we have already begun processing artifacts from this year’s excavation. We have many hours of sorting, washing, cataloguing, and analysis ahead of us. A lot to look forward to!

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!

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!

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!

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 1891 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.