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.