Middle Woodland

Michigan Archaeological Society Meeting, 4 May 2017

The May meeting of the Saginaw Valley Chapter of the Michigan Archaeological Society will be held 4 May 2017 at 7:00 PM at the Castle Museum. This will likely be the final meeting before the summer break, so you won’t want to miss it! Chapter member Don Simons will be the featured speaker. He will discuss the prehistoric use of Flint Ridge, a colorful type of flint/chert (stone) found in central Ohio and widely used across the region. In the Saginaw Valley, Flint Ridge is found most frequently, though not exclusively, on sites from the Early and Middle Woodland time periods. Here is an example of a few random  Flint Ridge artifacts from the Saginaw Valley:

Early and Middle Woodland Flint Ridge Artifacts from Saginaw County.

As always, the public is invited and encouraged to attend the meeting…it’s FREE! There will be artifacts made of Flint Ridge on display at the meeting. If you have artifacts that may be made of Flint Ridge, please bring them to show the group!

The official announcement from the Saginaw Valley Chapter is copied below.

 

Saginaw Valley Chapter
Thursday, May 4, 2017

7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m., in the Morley Room of the Castle Museum of Saginaw County History, 500 Federal Avenue, Saginaw, Michigan 48607.

We will have a short business meeting before the program.

Don Simons will present an overview of Flint Ridge artifacts and related subjects from sites in the Saginaw Valley to the bedrock mines in southern Ohio.

Flint Ridge chert is the state gemstone of Ohio. For Thousands of years it’s exceptional quality as a stone tool material and colorful beauty made it a major item which served in many ways the needs of the ancient cultures of the Midwest and beyond.

Bring in your Flint Ridge artifacts for display to the chapter members.

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Michigan Archaeological Society Meeting Thursday, 2 March 2017

The Saginaw Valley Chapter of the Michigan Archaeological Society will hold their monthly meeting here at the Castle Museum on Thursday, 2 March 2017 at 7:00 PM. Glen Boatman, an avocational archaeologist from Toledo, Ohio, will present recent research on the Middle Woodland Hopewell “Mound Builders” of the northern Ohio region. When it comes to archaeology of the Midwest, it doesn’t get much more iconic than Ohio Hopewell! This will no doubt be an interesting program that you won’t want to miss!

The Saginaw Valley, of course, has its own expression of Hopewell Middle Woodland culture. There are several known Middle Woodland sites in the Saginaw Valley and between 2001 and 2004 the Castle Museum conducted test excavations at two of them. Here are a couple of photos from site 20SA1251 to whet your appetite for the upcoming program.

Middle Woodland Bifaces from 20SA1251

Middle Woodland Bifaces from 20SA1251

Middle Woodland Ceramics from 20SA1251

Middle Woodland Ceramics from 20SA1251

As always, the Saginaw Valley Chapter meetings are free and open to the public. Everyone is invited and encouraged to attend! The official meeting announcement from the Archaeological Society is copied below.

Date: Thursday, March 2, 2017
Time: 7:00 – 9:00 p.m.
Location: Castle Museum of Saginaw County History, 500 Federal Ave., Saginaw, MI 48607
Glen Boatman will give a presentation on results to date, of his research on the development and range of the Hopewell, “Mound Builder” Middle Woodland in the northern Ohio region.

Glen Boatman is an avocational archaeologist from Toledo, Ohio. He is the current president of the Western Lake Erie Archaeological Program, and a very active member of the Sandusky Chapter of the Ohio Archaeological Society. For 17 years, he assisted in many research projects directed by both avocational and professional archaeologists. His education includes 26 classes in archaeological related subjects. His work with Dr. David Stothers, and Dr. Brian Redmond was predominantly with Woodland era sites in the northern Ohio area.
Recently he co-authored a paper, “Metz Transitional Ware:  A Case for Continuity in North Central Ohio from the Leimach Culture to the Sandusky Tradition” published in volume 44, of the Archaeology of Eastern North America, on the findings of the Sandusky Chapter’s work on sites in that region.

Collection Notes: A Probable Middle Woodland Vessel from the Caster Site (20SA316)

During the summer of 1969, avocational archaeologists from the Saginaw area conducted a test excavation at the Caster Site (20SA316) in Swan Creek Township, Saginaw County, Michigan. They staked out a 10’X30′ block divided into 5’X5′ excavation units and began their work. They recorded their findings on graph paper scaled 1 inch to the foot and supplemented their records with color movies documenting their progress at the site. According to a brief report published in the Saginaw Valley Archaeologist (Ray and Woodworth 1969:26), by September of that year they had recovered 12 projectile points, numerous ceramic sherds, a few chips and flakes, one celt, much fire-cracked rock, and numerous fire pits, post molds, and bone fragments. Some of the material excavated from this site eventually ended up at the Castle Museum. Unfortunately, maps, notes, photos, or other documentation did not accompany the artifacts and are now presumed lost.

The artifacts from this site now held in the Castle Museum Archaeological Repository include lithics and ceramics typologically consistent with Middle Woodland and Late Woodland occupations. At least nine grit-tempered ceramic sherds (seven after refits) appear to be from a single vessel, probably Middle Woodland in age.

 

caster-site_0001

Probable Middle Woodland Vessel from the Caster Site.

The vessel is decorated with bands of oblique and horizontal dentate stamping on the smooth exterior rim and neck and additional dentate stamping on the interior lip/rim juncture. The lower rim also exhibits a row of exterior nodes/interior punctates within the band of dentate stamping. The body/shoulder of the vessel is cord-roughened below the band of horizontal dentate stamping on the neck. From the neck up, this vessel closely resembles the Middle Woodland ceramic type Tittabawassee Dentate Stamped as defined by Fischer (1972) at the nearby Schultz site. Below the neck is a different story. None of the Tittabawassee Dentate Stamped vessels described by Fischer at the Schultz site, or by Halsey (1976) at the (also nearby) Bussinger site, exhibit cord-roughened bodies. When cord-roughening is evident on Tittabawassee Dentate Stamped vessels it is generally well smoothed-over. That is not to say that cord-roughened surfaces are outside of the local Middle Woodland repertoire. Undecorated rim cordmarked (cord-roughened) vessels were present in nearly every stratigraphic level at the Schultz site, including Middle Woodland levels (Fischer 1972:185). Cord-roughened vessels decorated only with a row of nodes around the rim or neck were also present in Middle Woodland levels at both the Schultz and Bussinger sites. At Bussinger, Halsey (1976:193) defined a provisional type, Tittabawassee Cord-marked Noded, to describe such vessels.

Despite the unusual surface treatment, this vessel is probably best described as a variety of Tittabawassee Dentate Stamped. Like other vessels of this type is likely to date within the period of 100 B.C. to A.D. 400.

Monitoring Sites in the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge

Last week, between working at our Swan Creek Area and Steltzriede Farm projects, I found time to visit the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge, where we have been conducting fieldwork annually since 1999. Although our efforts in the Refuge have been scaled back somewhat in recent years, we continue to monitor areas known to contain sensitive archaeological sites. Because some of the sites in the Refuge are located along waterways, artifacts are occasionally exposed through riverbank erosion. When we encounter such material, we map in the location and collect the artifacts to preserve as much information about the site as possible.

Erosion in progress.

Erosion in progress.

One site where artifacts are sometimes exposed is 20SA1251. We found the site in 1999 and between 2000 and 2002 conducted shovel-testing and test excavations. Our previous work revealed that the site contains material dating from the Late Archaic/Early Woodland Period through the Historic Period. The primary occupation, however, was during the Middle Woodland Period (roughly between 100 B.C. and A.D. 400). We obtained a single AMS date of 1960+/-40 BP (2 Sigma cal. 40 BC to AD 120) from a sample of charred organic residue scraped from the interior of a ceramic sherd (Sommer 2003).

2002 excavations at 20SA1251.

2002 excavations at 20SA1251.

One of the more diagnostic hallmarks of at least some Middle Woodland sites in the Saginaw Valley is the presence of rocker-stamped ceramics. Rocker-stamping refers to the method by which the ceramics were decorated. Rocker-stamping was accomplished by pressing the edge of a mussel shell (or similarly shaped object) into the wet clay of a pot (before it was fired) and rocking it back and forth to create a curved zig-zag pattern. If small notches were cut into the edge of the shell, the resulting pattern would be “dentate rocker-stamping.” Rocker-stamping can be found on the rim, neck, and/or body of a vessel. It can be used to fill zones delimited by incised lines, or it can be free and unconstrained by zonal boundaries.  During last week’s visit to 20SA1251, two rocker-stamped sherds were found and recorded. The sherd on the left exhibits zoned dentate rocker-stamping, while the sherd on the right has plain rocker-stamping without zones. These sherds would be classified as types of Green Point ware, as defined by Fischer (1972) at the nearby Schultz site.

Rocker-stamped sherds from 20SA1251.

Rocker-stamped sherds from 20SA1251.

In addition to the ceramic sherds, two flaked-stone artifacts were recorded. The one on the left in the following image (both faces depicted) is a retouched flake knife made from a large Bayport chert decortication flake. The one on the right (both faces depicted), also Bayport chert, is a core, or preform, with a bifacially flaked edge. Neither of these is temporally diagnostic.

Retouched flake knife and core/preform from 20SA1251.

Retouched flake knife and core/preform from 20SA1251.

Aside from the great archaeology, an added benefit of working in the Refuge is the chance to see lots of wildlife – sometimes up close and personal! While hiking out at the end of the day I nearly stumbled across this fawn doing its best to become invisible. I took a quick snap with my cell phone and continued on my way and this little guy never moved a muscle!

White-tailed deer fawn.

White-tailed deer fawn.

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.