Late Woodland

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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Michigan Archaeological Society Meeting Thursday, 1 October 2015

The October meeting of the Saginaw Valley Chapter of the Michigan Archaeological Society will be held at the Castle Museum of Saginaw County History on Thursday, 1 October 2015, at 7:00 PM. Kate Frederick will present recent experimental archaeology research on storage pits. As always, the public is invited and encouraged to attend. The full meeting announcement is copied below.

Saginaw Valley Chapter October meeting:

Date: Thursday, October 1, 2015
Time: 7:00 p.m.
Location: Castle Museum of Saginaw County History, 500 Federal Ave,. Saginaw, MI 48607
Please join us for our October meeting.
Kate Frederick will give the presentation “Holes: A Beginners Guide to Food Storage”.

The Michigan State University Subterranean Storage Research Experiment (MSU SStoRE) employed experimental archaeology to better understand the storage efficiency, capacity, and reliability of hunter-gatherer food storage pits. Drawing on archaeological, ethnographic, and ethnohistoric information the project accurately recreated below ground storage pits for the late Late Woodland period (A.D. 1000-1600) of northern lower Michigan. Over three consecutive yearly cycles, subterranean storage pits were constructed with appropriate lining materials, filled with dried blueberries, acorns, and corn, and cached from November until late March. During the five month period the pits were monitored for temperature and humidity multiple times daily. Revisions were made each annual cycle, culminating in a successful storage episode. The most recent caching of foodstuffs was tested for mycotoxins, pathogens, and water activity level in order to determine food safety.

This paper discusses the lessons learned, resulting degree of success, and the importance of MSU SStoRE for archaeological research.

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).

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.

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.

Just when we thought the field season might be over…

Two weeks ago, a good friend of the Castle Museum’s Archaeology Program stopped by with news that he had encountered several fire-cracked rocks (FCR) while starting to dig a drainage trench on his property. Since the area had been farmed in prior decades, his digging was confined to the previously disturbed plowzone. However, when finished, the trench was expected to extend below the plowzone into potentially undisturbed levels. We were invited to check out the site and, if we wished, do some testing prior to completion of the trench.

An extant collection from the farm contains several artifacts dating from the Early Archaic through Late Woodland Period (including, I think, a couple of the bifurcate points pictured in the now available 2015 MAS Calendar). The farm collection had previously been assigned the state archaeological site number 20SA1374. Any intact archaeological deposits would be significant, an Early Archaic component especially so. Therefore, the opportunity to test the area before it was trenched was one we didn’t want to pass up.

Last Wednesday, Ken Kosidlo and I began excavating the drain trench in one meter long by 50 centimeter wide segments. On Thursday we were joined by Dave Hamilton. We are excavating in 10 cm levels and screening everything (including the sod/topsoil previously dug) through ¼ inch mesh screen.

Ken and Dave excavating the trench.

Ken and Dave excavating the trench.

The soil profile in the north end of the trench shows evidence of a dark, buried, former land surface, which appears to have been dug into, or scraped, with lighter-colored soil subsequently deposited on top. The buried surface slopes up to south, eventually merging with the plowzone. The buried surface, the plowzone, and the redeposited material above the buried surface all contain FCR. A small number of Bayport Chert flakes and possible quartzite flakes, a few calcined bone fragments, and few glass fragments and other historic period items have also been recovered. A few small FCR were found in the B-horizon soil below the buried surface/plowzone. However, these may be displaced in burrows or other areas of bioturbation. We have not yet recovered any temporally diagnostic prehistoric artifacts.

North end of Drain Trench showing buried surface.

North end of Drain Trench showing buried surface.

 

South end of Drain Trench showing plowzone and B-horizon.

South end of Drain Trench showing plowzone and B-horizon.

Unless we come up with something unexpected, we should be able to wrap up our testing this week. Even though we haven’t yet found any intact archaeological deposits, we are grateful for the opportunity to test this site and ensure that important archaeological materials will not be disturbed.

HSSC Archaeology Fieldwork Update May-June 2014

The 2014 field season has gotten off to a bit of a slow start as we have yet to put a shovel in the ground. We have, however, managed to spend a few days conducting surface surveys and monitoring previously documented sites along the Shiawassee and Tittabawassee Rivers in the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge.

Ken Kosidlo and I surveyed a roughly 30 acre agricultural field located near the Shiawassee River and can say with confidence that most of the area contains no significant cultural resources! We did find a small scatter of approximately 20 fire-cracked rocks (FCR), one Bayport chert flake, and a tiny bipolar core made on Pebble/Bayport chert along one edge of the field. This will likely be a newly recorded site for the county.

We also surveyed 10-15 acres of a nearby field in which a site (20SA315) had been previously recorded. We were hoping to better define the overall boundaries of the site and map the locations of artifacts and artifact clusters across the site. We relocated the site but, unfortunately, when we returned after a couple of days absence, we found that the field had been planted and we were unable to complete our survey. Determining the site boundaries will have to wait for another day. In the portion of the site we were able to cover there were numerous small grit-tempered ceramic sherds, animal bone fragments, FCR, several Bayport chert flakes, a few bipolar cores, and one biface.

The ceramics appear, for the most part, to date to the Late Woodland period, though the small size of most of the sherds makes any temporal assessment difficult. The rimsherd on the left side of the photograph (showing the exterior, interior, profile, and top of lip) has a cord-roughened exterior surface and is decorated with cord-wrapped stick impressions on the interior and top of the lip and on the exterior of the rim. The lower rim/neck sherd on the upper right of the photo has a smooth exterior decorated with S-shaped tool impressions. A body sherd (not shown), apparently from this vessel, exhibits a cord-roughened exterior. The rim/neck sherd on the lower right portion of the photo has a cord-roughened exterior and is decorated with cord-wrapped stick impressions.

 Late Woodland Ceramics from 20SA315.

Late Woodland Ceramics from 20SA315.

The biface from 20SA315 is a fairly large, triangular knife made of Bayport chert. The non-symmetrical shape of the blade is due to re-sharpening. The blade narrows approximately 1/3rd of the way up from the base. This indicates that the blade was re-sharpened while still attached to a haft/handle. The wide lower portion of the blade was covered by the haft and not subject to the process of re-sharpening. Though small triangular projectile points (arrowheads) are usually diagnostic of the Late Woodland period, larger bifaces like this example could date to any time within the Late Archaic through Late Woodland periods.

 Biface from 20SA315.

Biface from 20SA315.

Finally, I spent a couple of days monitoring previously recorded sites located along and between the Shiawassee and Tittabawassee Rivers within the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge. I can report that local populations of poison ivy and mosquitoes are thriving! Most of the sites appear to have suffered only minor erosion from Spring flooding. At site 20SA1251, which previous work has shown to date primarily from the Middle to early Late Woodland periods, I recovered a bifacial knife/preform made of Bayport chert and a core made from what is either a variety of bedded Bayport chert or pebble chert.

 Biface and core from 20SA1251.

Biface and core from 20SA1251.

We are still planning on doing some testing at one or more sites in the Saginaw area this summer, so stay tuned for updates on when that work will take place.