Swan Creek

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!


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!

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.

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.

2016 HSSC Archaeology Field Season gets Underway

A question as familiar as it is awkward to archaeologists… Have you ever found a dinosaur??? Now, instead of explaining the difference between archaeology and paleontology, we can simply answer… Yes!

Our first dino discovery!

Our first dino discovery!

We also managed to work in a little bird watching.

Must be migrating!

Must be migrating!

Yes, the Castle Museum’s 2016 archaeology field season is definitely off to an auspicious start! We have returned to the Swan Creek Township study area to continue our search for evidence of the 19th century (and earlier) inhabitants of the area. Some of our previous work in the Swan Creek area is described here and here. On Wednesday and Thursday this week Nick Bacon, Ken Kosidlo, Maynard Lockwood, and I surveyed approximately 10 hectares (25 acres).

Ken, Maynard, and Nick getting the 2016 field season off to a good start.

Ken, Maynard, and Nick getting the 2016 field season off to a good start.

In addition to the dinosaur and the duck, we did find some archaeologically significant material. In one roughly 30X50 meter area we found a dense cluster of glass fragments along with a few ceramic sherds, brick fragments, pieces of coal, and parts of several shoes. The material ranges in age from the mid-late 19th century through the late 20th century. It may be associated with an 1860s through early 20th century school, possibly early to mid-20th century housing for migrant workers, and a mid to late 20th century dump. In another location we found a light scatter of mid-19th century material including a few scroll flask fragments, the base of a bottle with an open pontil scar, and a few ceramic sherds. Scroll flasks were quite popular during the 1840s and 1850s and most predate the early 1860s (Lindsey 2010).

Fragments of a mid-19th century scroll flask and pontilled bottle.

Fragments of a mid-19th century scroll flask and pontilled bottle.

Lastly, we found a few widely scattered Bayport chert flakes and FCR from the prehistoric inhabitants of the region. We plan to continue our survey in Swan Creek area in the coming days and weeks, so watch this space for future updates.

HSSC Archaeology Fieldwork Update – August and September 2015

I’m not sure where the time went, but somehow I haven’t managed to produce a fieldwork update since July. Rest assured, the Castle Museum archaeology team did not take the past three months off! As readers may remember, we started the 2015 field season conducting a surface survey in the Swan Creek area of Saginaw County – described here. During that survey we located three dense clusters of mid-19th century habitation debris, as well as later 19th and 20th century material and a few scatters of prehistoric items. Fast forward to August and we found ourselves returning to the Swan Creek study area. This time we were hoping that shovel-testing might reveal a midden, or other additional evidence of the mid-19th century community in the floodplain areas of Swan Creek adjacent to the surface scatters.

Ken and Nick digging Shovel-Tests in the Verdant Swan Creek Floodplain

Ken and Nick digging Shovel-Tests in the Verdant Swan Creek Floodplain


We were testing the idea that residents in the area may have disposed of their trash by dumping it along the edge of the terrace. This is a pattern of midden formation that has been noted in other areas including at the early to mid-19th century Cater Site in Midland County (Beld 2002). Unfortunately, over much of our study area, the terrace slopes gently down to the floodplain and there is no obvious bank over which trash may have been deposited.

Our shovel-testing efforts, conducted throughout August and September, were largely unsuccessful. We found a few flakes and FCR from one of the prehistoric components and a handful of relatively recent historic items. Among the historic period items was a ca. 1970s-era beer bottle fragment found lying on the surface with its embossed civic message apparently having gone unheeded.



Please Do Not Litter


Also of interest in the floodplain area is  an iron wheel that is slowly being swallowed by a maple tree.


A subtle reminder to keep moving!

A subtle reminder to keep moving!


We wrapped up our shovel-testing efforts in the Swan Creek study area at the end of September. An update on our October and November fieldwork will be forthcoming.