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.