Late Archaic

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!

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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).

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.

Notes on a Donated Collection

Recently, the Historical Society of Saginaw County received a donation of ten flaked stone tools collected from the surface of archaeological site 20SA789. These items supplement a collection of five stone tools from this site previously donated to the museum. For those unfamiliar with the site numbering system used in Michigan, 20 stands for Michigan, SA for Saginaw County, and 789 is the sequential number of sites recorded in the county.

Site 20SA789 is located near the Cass River in Bridgeport Township, Saginaw County, Michigan. It is situated on a terrace adjacent to an intermittent stream and a relict channel of the Cass River at an elevation between ca. 600 and ca. 615 feet (182.9-187.5 meters) above mean sea level (amsl). Given the elevation, at least a portion of the site would have been available for human habitation even during the highest mid-holocene level of the Great Lakes. The Nipissing I lake stage reached an elevation of ca. 605 feet (184.4 m) amsl sometime between 4500 and 4800 BP (Monaghan and Lovis 2005).

Note: BP, or B. P., stands for Before Present. By convention, “present” is considered to be A.D. 1950. Note also that radiocarbon years are not exactly equivalent to calendar years and as you go back in time they become progressively too young. For example, 4000 radiocarbon years BP is roughly equivalent to 2500 B.C. and 5000 radiocarbon years BP is roughly equivalent to 3700 B.C. For this reason, radiocarbon years need to be calibrated to match “calendar years” and a variety of calibration curves have been devised to do just that. Uncalibrated dates are often presented using the lower case b.p.

The recent donation, pictured here, includes six bifacial projectile points/knives (A-F), three unifacially retouched flakes (G-I), and a bipolar core (J). Only the projectile points/knives are temporally diagnostic.

20SA789 artifacts

Artifact A, in the above photo, is made of Bayport chert. Although the base is damaged, it appears to be one of the Early Archaic bifurcate types. This assessment is based on the overall shape of the blade and the flattened lenticular cross-section. Unfortunately the base, much of which is missing in this example, is the diagnostic element of bifurcates so this determination must remain tentative. If it is indeed a bifurcate it likely fits in with the LeCroy, Lake Erie and Kanawha Stemmed group, thus dating to around 8500-7800 BP (Justice 1987). With a dearth of radiocarbon dates from sites/components yielding bifurcate points in Michigan these dates are necessarily based on similar-looking material from other states. One of the blade edges of this specimen (left edge in the photo) exhibits moderate grinding/usewear, perhaps indicating use as a knife on a hard surface.

Artifacts B and C are Raddatz-like points diagnostic of the Middle Archaic (ca. 6200-4500 BP) Dehmel Road Phase (Lovis 1989). They are made of Bayport chert (B) and Norwood chert (C). The pinkish color of the Norwood chert example likely indicates the stone was heat-treated to enhance its knapping properties. The Dehmel Road Phase was defined on the basis of material excavated at the Weber I site (20SA581) located less than 10 km (6 miles) upstream along the Cass River. A Raddatz-like point was also recovered from Stratum 4 at the Bear Creek site (20SA1043), which has been dated to ca. 4250 BP (Branstner and Hambacher 1994). The Bear Creek occupation may mark the transition from the Middle Archaic Dehmel Road Phase into the Late Archaic period. Similar large side-notched points with heavily ground bases have been found in small numbers at many sites in the Saginaw Valley.

Specimens D-F are examples of corner-notched Feeheley or Brewerton-like points. There is some ambiguity about the temporal placement of this type in Michigan. Similar broad-bladed, corner to side-notched points assigned to the Feeheley or Brewerton constructs in Michigan encompass a great deal of morphological variability and seem to span much of the Late Archaic period from ca. 5000 BP to 3600 BP (Justice 1987). To further complicate matters, certain corner-notched Middle Woodland points may be nearly indistinguishable from Late Archaic specimens (Lovis and Robertson 1989:233).

Specimens G-I are unifacially retouched flakes/scrapers. Each is made of Bayport chert. The final artifact in this collection, specimen J, is a bipolar core or wedge (sometimes referred to with the term piece esquillee). This specimen is likewise made of Bayport chert. These items are not diagnostic of any particular time period, but are not uncommon on Middle or Late Archaic period sites.

This newly donated material is a welcome addition to our extant collection from 20SA789. None of the five stone tools already present in the museum’s collection from this site is diagnostic. These items, pictured below, consist of a unifacially retouched flake/scraper and four bifacial implements.

20SA789 acc 27

Specimen A in this photo is a unifacially retouched flake, likely used as a scraping or cutting tool. Edge retouch is present on the dorsal surface of the top, bottom and left edge and on the ventral surface along the right edge (as oriented in the photo). This tool is made on a Bayport chert flake.

Specimen B is a bifacial tool that closely resembles certain “end scrapers” frequently found in terminal Archaic Meadowood assemblages. The rounded point of this artifact is actually the ground striking platform of the flake from which this biface was manufactured. The raw material is an unidentified, banded chert (possibly a pebble chert). It appears to have been heat-treated.

Artifacts C and E respectively are stage 2 and 3 bifaces made of Bayport chert. These represent stages along the continuum of an artifact manufacturing process that starts with a core or flake “blank” and ends with the finished tool.

Artifact D is a well-made biface with a constricted, parallel-sided (and snapped off) blade that likely served as a drill. The edges of the constricted blade exhibit heavy usewear/grinding. The yellowish-orange patina of the Bayport chert and the semi-collateral flaking pattern hint that this may be an early (Early Archaic?) piece. However, neither trait is definitive.

It is only because we have the crucial provenience information that this assemblage of artifacts from 20SA789 is an important piece of Saginaw’s archaeological record. Without this information, these objects would be little more than curiosities, or pretty stones. Diagnostic artifacts among the recently donated specimens span much of the Archaic Period. As we continue to refine our knowledge of the local Archaic chronology collections such as this will become even more important markers of the changing distribution of people across the landscape through time. The Historical Society of Saginaw County is grateful that these items were preserved and entrusted to our care.

More information and examples of Archaic Period artifacts can be found here on the Castle Museum website and in the Museum’s archaeology exhibit Revealing our Buried Past: Archaeology of the Saginaw Valley. Sources cited in this post are listed on the References page of this blog.