Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Little Sherd, Big Interest

One aspect of the Danbury site that surprises many people is that it is relatively "artifact-poor." This means that, although we have found many interesting and very informative features at the site such as earth ovens, several different types of burials, shell artifacts from the Gulf coast, and a rare birdstone, the quantities of everyday articles (i.e., pot sherds, flint projectile points, and bone tools) are rather scarce. This fact can be frustrating to some of the folks who join us in the field, but it is probably the result of working in an area of the site that was devoted primarily to the burial of the dead rather than habitation areas where such artifacts would have been used and then discarded in large quantities.

We recently found a very interesting pottery sherd that caused quite a bit of excitement around the dig. Not because it is all that spectacular, but because it is relatively large and bears an intricate decoration. This decoration consists of impressions made with a twisted piece of plant fiber cordage which forms rough but recognizable geometric patterns. Here are images of the front (exterior) and back (interior) of this sherd.

The fine cord-impressions can be seen on both faces of the sherd. This pottery is of a type called Vase Corded and is typical of the Late Woodland period, Western Basin Tradition of the region. The Late Woodland society that made this type of pottery lived between about A.D. 700 and 1000. The cord-impressed technique was used far beyond the western Lake Erie basin. It is found on pottery from Wisconsin through Ontario to New York. Such a wide geographic distribution of a decorative technique indicates that native peoples across the Great Lakes traded not only pottery, but information and ideas that became ingrained in all societies.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Completing Our Coverage

At the end of our second week, we have made much progress. We successfully completed most of our systematic testing of Lot 4. By systematic, I mean regular spatial sampling of the remaining deposits in this important part of the development. As the map of the 2004-2006 excavation above shows, our work in Lots 4, and 6 was carried out in two progressive stages. The first stage was the laying out of 2 x 2-meter excavation units at regular intervals to sample the surviving burial features, cooking and storage pits, post molds, and, unavoidably, recent disturbances from past farming and trailer park living. This systematic sampling approach is most obvious in Lot 6 (at the top of the map), but was undertaken in Lot 4 as well. This map does not show our new units from this season; if it did, you would see that most of the "holes" (i.e., gaps in the rows of test units) are now filled in. Our work began in Lot 3 in 2004 (bottom of the map) where we started with systematic testing but quickly shifted to blocks of contiguous units. This change was necessary to allow an early assessment of what remained at the site. We halted our work in Lot 3 at the end of the 2004 season when we learned that this property was destined to be preserved.

The second phase of excavation involved the addition of test units to form large block areas. These blocks exposed more of the features and post mold lines that we found through systematic testing. Below is a view of one block excavation area from the 2005 season.

This more extensive approach is in keeping with the "salvage" nature of our work at Danbury. We want to record as much of the site that remains as possible. Despite our best efforts, however, we will not be able to rescue everything that remains. This does not mean that we are done with our work. In the final four weeks we plan to sample and document the dense concentration of features which lies in the western one quarter or so of Lot 4. If enough time remains, we may engage a backhoe to strip the remaining plow zone from the strip along the eastern edge of the property. In the end though, the days of digging an entire site with masses of hardy workers is no more; now "sampling" is the prime directive.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

A Burned Earth Feature

Our first pit feature of the 2007 season was discovered at the end of last week. The cross-section profile shown above nicely illustrates the dark, organic soil layer that filled the top of this shallow basin. Mixed with the dark-colored soils in the northern (right hand) half of the profile are reddish-brown soils that are the result of burning. Close contact with high temperatures, usually from burning wood or sometimes hot rocks, oxidizes the natural iron compounds in the soil, turning them a bright orange-red color (see closeup below)

As our crew continued to remove the fill of this small pit feature, they discovered a cluster of human bones which may represent another burial feature. Some of the bones were charred, indicating that this feature may be a place where remains were cremated. We should know the answer to this later in the week.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

A Good First Week

At the end of our first week at the Danbury site, we have made several interesting discoveries. The exposure of the last section of the stockade line was mentioned in the last post. Three new burial features were identified along the western edge of Lot 4 underneath a very compact layer of recent fill, most likely from debris thrown up during excavation of the drainage swale along the roadside. We resorted to the mattock to get through some of this very hard soil, and yet intact features were found below. One of the burials included six marginella beads, small marine gastropods that were perforated on one side for stringing and used as ornaments or embroidered onto clothing. We cannot yet tell the age of these features since no diagnostic artifacts, such as complete projectile points or decorated pottery, were recovered.

Speaking of pottery, Jim Bowers's crew found a large, but very unusual, post molds in the southeastern corner of Lot 4. It contained about eight large, thick, grit-tempered pot sherds at the bottom of the hole that once contained a wooden house post. It may be that these sherds were put into the post hole to provide a tighter fit for the post. In the images above, you can see the cross-section of the post mold with two large pot sherds sticking out (left) and the remaining pot sherds lining the bottom of the hollowed-out post mold (right).

These sherds appear to all be from one vessel which we should be able to partially reassemble. The pottery is of a type called Leimbach Cordmarked (above) and dates to the Early Woodland period, about 2,500 to 3,000 years ago. Although quite old, this type of pottery is the most common form found at the Danbury site. This tells us that Early Woodland people returned to this site again and again over many centuries.

At least one of the most interesting burial features found last season was affiliated with these early people. This feature contained the remains of three people along with a carved slate artifact called a "birdstone," part of a limestone smoking pipe, and fragments of one carved and ground wolf jaw which may have been part of a ritual mask or an ornament. The establishment of cemeteries at sites like Danbury indicate that Native Americans were making these places their own. As with all human remains found at the Danbury site, the bones found this season will be studied by physical anthropologists to identify their age, sex, stature, relative health, and physical relationships to other Native American populations which inhabited Ohio. At the conclusion of the analysis, the remains and associated burial goods will be reburied at another location on the site.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Getting Underway

We made a good start today to the 2007 excavation at the Danbury site. As has become our custom on the first day, much of the morning was spent clearing weeds and undergrowth from the grid stakes and repairing our perimeter fence. Following this, we divided our crew into four groups and set to work in two areas of Lot 4.

Let me say a word or two about our research goals for this season. Our main job is to complete our sampling of Lot 4 which is situated close to the center of what remains of the Danbury site since development began in 2003. There are areas on the extreme western and southern sides of Lot 4 which have not been adequately tested, and it is in these areas that we began. As before, our procedure is the excavation of 2.0 x 2.0 meter square units and the careful exposure of the subsoil to reveal whatever prehistoric features remain.

In the southern area of Lot 4, we are particularly interested in exposing more of a distinct line of post molds which were first identified in 2005 and traced for more than 14 meters last season. By this afternoon, Jim Bowers's crew had exposed a very nice extension of this line which crossed his unit from the northwest to southeast corners. Some of these post molds are marked by arrows in the image below.

This is very encouraging, since I suspect that this line represents part of a stockade fence that enclosed the Late Prehistoric period settlement located at the southern margin of the Danbury site. We will continue to follow this line to see where it goes.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Blogging Archaeology

Welcome to the new CMNH Archaeology Blog! On these pages you will be able to read about various projects undertaken by our staff thoughout the year. We will begin with a series of reports on our 2007 field school at the Danbury site. If you don't know about the Danbury site, examine some of our research reports from past field seasons and read an overview of the project. Then look for my weekly updates beginning next week.