Tuesday, November 4, 2008

New Radiocarbon Dates for Burrell Orchard

This fall, I submitted one sample of bone and one of charred nutshell for radiocarbon dating. The bone sample came from unit 490N 509E and the nutshell was collected from beneath the siltstone slab feature (Fea. 08-02) in unit 500N 496E. The nutshell was found at the level of the chalkboard in the following image.

Each sample comes from secure contexts in the buried midden layers which contained the distinctive lanceolate-style points. The bone sample dated to 3,580 years ago (+/-40) which calibrates to a (two sigma) age between 2030 and 1780 BC. The nutshell was 3,950 years old (+/-40) with a calibrated (two sigma) date range of 2570 to 2340 BC. Each date places the prehistoric occupation of the site within the Late Archaic period, which in turn confirms that the lanceolate points do not belong to the late Paleoindian era (7000 to 10,000 BC) as concluded by previous researchers. I plan to submit a few more samples for dating, but I feel that these dates are accurate.

That fact that the calibrated date intervals are separated by about 300 years may indicated that the site was revisited over several centuries by prehistoric Native Americans. This seems to be a likely conclusion.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Getting to the Bottom

Our excavations for this season are now completed, but there is a lot more to report. Several important insights came when we finally reached the bottom of the midden deposits. This allowed us to examine the entire stratigraphic profile of each unit. What we observed was a rather complex sequence of midden layers above pit features and post molds. The image below depicts the east wall profile of unit 500N 504E. It shows the light brown colored upper midden which contained fire-cracked rock, groundstone tools such as celts (stone axes) and grinding stones, and chert flakes in abundance. Beneath this is the dark grey to black lower midden which is loaded with charcoal as well as burned and unburned deer bone fragments and lesser amounts of chert flakes. Interestingly, fragments of lancelolate points were found in both strata.

This wall profile also shows two basin-shaped pit features. Each of which contained FCR and bright red layers of burned soil which indicate that these were not a smudge pits but rather some kind of cooking pits. Finally, a post mold is revealed beneath the lower midden layer. Other large post molds like this one have been found in other units, and those that show clearly in the wall profiles appear to penetrate the lower midden and thus post-date its accumulation.

It is yet too early to say much about what these stratigraphic layers represent. It does appear, however, that the lower, dark midden was the result of much cooking, burning, butchering, and the smoking of hides (see previous post). All of these activities must be responsible for the dense scatter of charcoal, ash, animal bone, and burned-earth soil lenses which make of this midden. In contrast, the upper midden may represent habitation debris that was dumped here as the result of activities somewhere else on the site. The pits which extend into the subsoil appear to have been dug at the time that the lower midden was accumulating, since they contain the same dark fill. The post molds resulted from the construction of structures at some later date, perhaps even after the Late Archaic occupation.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Smudge Pits and Hide-smoking?

At about 60 cm below datum, our excavations reached the base of the midden layer. But this was not the end of our discoveries. In all three of our 2.0 x 2.0 meter excavations units, we have found a number of small basins containing lots of charcoal and some burned deer bone. These pits stand out clearly against the yellowish-brown, clayey subsoil as shown in the image below.

In cross-section, these pits exhibit dense layers of charcoal mixed with soil which seem to concentrate on the bottoms of the features. The image below shows a section of burned deer antler protruding from the profile of one such pit. Notice the dark band of charcoal at the bottom.

I suspect that these features are the remains of smudge pits, small fire pits used by Native Americans to smoke (preserve) deer hides. The use of smudge pits is well-documented for historical Indian societies across North America. During the time of maize agriculture, smudge pits contained charred maize cobs. In our smudge pits, only charred wood or hickory nut shells have been found, which suggests that these features date to the time before maize farming. In fact it is very likely that these pits date to the Late Archaic occupation of our site.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Stone Slabs, Pits, and More Points

One of the strangest features we have found so far at the Burrell Orchard site is the cluster of siltstone slabs that were found in the northwest corner of unit 500N 496E (shown above). The use of these rather soft and fragile stones by prehistoric people to construct a feature is rare in northern Ohio. When this interesting configuration of stones was found, we guessed that it might represent a cover for a pit feature or a cooking surface of some kind. It somewhat resembles Feature 08-01, the cluster of small burned slabs found in unit 500N 514E and discussed in an earlier post. But the the stones in this larger feature do not appear to have been subjected to fire. When the stones were removed late this week, nothing was found beneath, only the same dark midden that extends across the rest of the unit. So, perhaps this feature functioned as a hard surface or platform for preparing food or some kind of work surface on the floor of a house. We just don't know at this time.

One cluster of FCR and dark, wet soil in unit 500N 504E turned out to be a pit feature. It extended to 60 cm below datum and reached what appears to be the culturally sterile subsoil beneath the midden. The image below shows the profile of the pit in cross-section. The yellowish-brown subsoil is shown beneath the dark fill and FCR of the pit. The dark, 'fingers' which extend beneath the fill and into the subsoil are stains from decayed roots.

Found in the fill of this pit were numerous flint flakes and fragments of deer bone and possibly the jaw of a fox. Also found was a complete flint drill and the base of a stemmed lanceolate projectile point (shown below). Both very good diagnostic artifact finds which place this pit in the same time period as the rest of the midden which surrounds it.

Testing to the South

At the beginning of week 2, we set out two 1.0 meter by 2.0 meter test units along our 510 E line. These units are being used to test for the limits of the midden to the south of the orchard. So far we have not yet found where the midden ends!

Both of these new units contained the same layered deposits of fire-cracked rock, flint flakes, and dark organic soil which are found in the units along our 500 N baseline. Several fragments of lancelolate points and one drill have been found in the 1.0 x 2.0 meter units. On Friday, a small lanceolate point was found in situ among a cluster of FCR. It is shown below, marked by the red arrow.

This discovery occurred 10.0 meters south of the edge of the orchard on a slope that gradually rises to the south. Thus, we now know that the site extends quite a distance beyond what was previously thought and contains thick cultural deposits which extend across the promontory from treeline to treeline, about 30 meters east to west. We plan to extend more test units farther to the southward as time allows.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Exploring the Midden Layer

By the end of our first week at Burrell Orchard, we identified at least one midden stratum below a 20-25 cm thick plow zone. This midden consists of scattered charcoal, burned bone, and small pieces of FCR (fire-cracked rock). Chert (flint) debitage is present, but in moderate quantities below the plow zone, and historic artifacts are nearly absent. We are just beginning to identify possible features which may intrude into (through) the midden zone, perhaps from a later occupation. These possible pit features (such as the ones shown below) appear as dark zones within the midden stratum (brown soil) on the floors of the excavation units.

A surprising find was this broken sandstone grinding stone or mortar. It has the characteristic dished-out surface, as well as deep incisions on both faces which were made by sharpening wooden or bone tools. This fragment is about 15 cm across.

Only one unit has produced pottery, which consists of relatively thin, grit-tempered, cordmarked and plain body sherds. I suspect that this pottery is derived from one of the aforementioned pit features, but we will see. Otherwise, the midden is aceramic (without pottery) which suggests that it dates prior to 1000 B.C., which is the approximate date when pottery begins to be used by Native Americans in northern Ohio. This same excavation unit also produced two celts (ground stone axes).

We are very pleased that several fragments of lanceolate points have been found in situ (in place) in two excavation units. These fragments exhibit the parallel thinning flakes and marginal retouch (sharpening of the edges) that is typical of the purported late Paleoindian points found previously at this site. All these fragments--including the point tip shown below--are made of "Nellie" chert from Coshocton County. This same stone was used to make most of the lanceolate

points found at other sites in northern Ohio. We still have not found anything in association with these point fragments--such as charcoal or animal bone--which can be radiocarbon dated. Nevertheless, we have found nothing to suggest that these points did not originate within this midden stratum. Hopefully, more answers will come next week!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

First Discoveries at Burrell Orchard

Our first week of the 2008 field program is underway. We began with a two and a half hour orientation program for this week's students then set to work.

We began at the south end of the orchard, looking for evidence of a boundary feature. By boundary feature, I mean something like a ditch or stockade fence that would have enclosed the Burrell Orchard site on the south side, much like its neighbor to the east, the Burrell Fort site (see previous post). The north, west, and east sides of our site are naturally demarcated by steep shale cliffs, but the south side appears to be open. We also want to see if the site extends very far beyond the orchard and into the open meadow to the south.

We set out three 2.0 x 2.0 meter excavation units along our east-west, 500N baseline. Our plan is to take these units down in 10 cm levels and screen all soil to recover whatever artifacts remain. This way we will be able to carefully observe changes in the soils and identify cultural strata.

We quickly began to find a mixture of prehistoric (flint flakes and fire-cracked rock) and historic debris (window glass, nails, a button, and even a 1969 quarter!) in the upper 10 cm level. By the end of day 2, we exposed what appears to be a buried midden stratum containing loads of fire-cracked rock mixed with charcoal, burned soil, and flint flakes. This layer appears to have been deposited by the prehistoric inhabitants of the site and perhaps represents the debris from their cooking pits.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

On to Burrell Orchard in 2008

In the summer of 2008, the Department of Archaeology will carry out test excavations at the Burrell Orchard site. The site is located in the French Creek Reservation of the Lorain County Metroparks in Sheffield, Ohio. It is situated on a high and narrow shale ridge overlooking French Creek and is covered by an overgrown fruit orchard. At the extreme south end of the property is the Burrell house, a ca. 1820 homestead that is now owned and managed by the Lorain County Metroparks.

Burrell Orchard (33Ln15) was entered into the Ohio Archaeological Inventory in 1975 following limited test excavations by CMNH staff in 1971. This investigation recovered a distinctive type of long and narrow (lanceolate) spear point which resembles Late Paleoindian (ca. 8500-6500 B.C.) artifacts known from the Great Plains and the Upper Great Lakes. Since such early occupations are poorly documented in Ohio, the similarity between the Burrell Orchard points and these early types led to the listing of the site on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977. The 1971 excavations also recovered Early Woodland (ca. 1000 B.C.-100 B.C.) points, stone axes, grinding implements, grit-tempered pottery, and butchered animal bone (food) remains. One pit feature was discovered and found to contain thin grit-tempered pottery and small, triangular arrow points which belong to the Late Woodland period (ca. A.D. 800-1200).

Stemmed point (left), stemmed lanceolate point (center) and a drill (right) from the 1971 excavations at Burrell Orchard

More intensive excavations were carried out around the Burrell Homestead and in the orchard by archaeologists from the University of Akron under the direction of Dr. John Marwitt in the summer of 1987. Examination of the archived field notes indicate that numerous test units and a few trenches were placed within and around the foundations of former out-buildings (the barn and grainery) in the vicinity of the Burrell House. Some small test units were placed along the western bluff edge to the northwest of the house.

In the Orchard, at least 15 1.0 x 1.0 m to 2.0 x 2.0 m units were excavated along a north-south-oriented transects. These units revealed what appear to be stratified midden deposits below a shallow plow zone. At least five test units exposed small to medium-sized, basin-shaped pits and hearth features and a few post molds. The deepest pit features extended to nearly 80 cm beneath the surface. Diagnostic artifacts were not described in detail, but the report concludes that at least four occupations are represented in the orchard. These are a late Paleoindian(?) component represented by thin, lanceolate and stemmed lanceolate points; a transitional Late Archaic-Early Woodland component; a later Early Woodland “Adena Culture” occupation; and finally a Late Woodland (Late Prehistoric period?) component. Unfortunately we are unable to verify this chronological sequence since the collections resulting from this excavation have net yet been located.

In 2008, we hope to test the Late Paleoindian affiliation of Burrell Orchard and to learn more about the Woodland period settlements. The first objective will be met by the identification of undisturbed pit features or midden (trash) layers with associated lanceolate projectile points. Radiocarbon dating of charcoal or bone samples found with the lanceolate points should provide a more precise age for this earliest occupation. The excavation of small test units across the site will help to identify the sizes and extents of each prehistoric campsite or settlement. Finally, the excavation of a sample of pits and other features will provide information on the prehistoric activities and life ways of the ancient inhabitants of Burrell Orchard.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Wyandotte Nation Preserves Part of the Site

In case you have not heard, Lots 3, 4, and 5 at the Danbury site were recently sold to the Wyandotte Nation of Oklahoma. A news report on the acquisition and the upcoming dedication ceremony was published last Sunday in the Toledo Blade. The reporter for The Blade, as well as several other people, have asked what I think of this. I am all for it.

When we began our excavations in 2004, I assumed that such an acquisition would not be possible due to relatively high cost of the lots and the original requirement that houses must occupy all lots that are purchased in the development. Thanks to Greg Spatz, the developer of The Cove on the Bay, that restriction was changed and, as a result, what remains of the heart of the Danbury site will be preserved forever.

We have been fortunate to have had access to this important archaeological site for four summers and have gained a great deal of information about the life ways of the prehistoric inhabitants. Now begins the task of in-depth analysis of the large collection of artifacts, field records, and images that were recovered since 2004. Once this body of information is 'digested,' I think we will all be amazed at the richness of the societies that came to this place overlooking Sandusky Bay for nearly 5,000 years before the arrival of Europeans. Thanks to Greg Spatz and the Wyandotte Nation, a small part of this settlement will endure forever.