Wednesday, July 15, 2009

One Final Discovery

Last Friday, we completed our field season at the Heckleman site and closed our excavations. Our landowner was kind enough to backfill most of our units with his tractor and blade as shown below.

During this last week, we did make one interesting discovery. We excavated a portion of a pit feature in one of the 3 x 3 meter units opened a few days earlier. I was hoping that this pit feature was like several of the others we had encountered nearby which were rather shallow. We did not want to get bogged down in a deep feature that would require us to complete the work in the following week.

Luckily this pit (Feature 09-31) was also rather shallow, but unlike its neighbors, it contained a lot of cultural material that included much FCR, a large slate core, burned bone, and abundant charcoal. Most surprising though was the discovery of a siltstone gorget (ornament?) that was broken into three pieces. As shown below, the gorget fragments were easily reassembled.

It is made from a reddish siltstone with two small holes that were drilled from both faces. The maker of this artifact may have cracked it during the drilling of these holes, or the gorget could have been deliberately broken prior to being deposited in the pit feature. In any case, these enigmatic artifacts are typical of the Early to Late Woodland periods in northern Ohio; however the asymmetrical form of this piece is unusual. Perhaps it was meant to resemble or symbolize the triangular preforms or 'cache blades' found in Woodland burial features or ceremonial deposits.

The following image compares the Heckleman gorget with a cache blade from the Middle Woodland Pumpkin site on Sandusky Bay. Hopewell societies occasionally produced effigies of bear canines and other artifacts out of stone or bone, so perhaps my explanation is possible.

See the Plain Dealer article and video report on our project!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Moving Inside the Enclosure

Early in Week Five we were fortunate to have the assistance of the Museum's Future Scientists under the direction of Dr. Jeff Day and supervisors Lin and Frank. Not one to miss such an opportunity, I set them to work excavating two three by three meter units to the east of the enclosure trench. These young men and women did an excellent job removing 30 cm of plow zone soils using rounded shovel, flat shovels, hoes, and finally trowels. On the way down they discovered lots of stone tool debris, fire-cracked rock, and a few artifacts such as a Late Prehistoric period triangular (Madison type) arrow point and a corner-notched (Middle Woodland) dart tip. Here they are in their freshly-dug units.

As a result of their efforts, we were able to examine an 18-square meter area of the enclosure interior. This was our first foray 'inside', and we did not know what we would find. When we did the final troweling and sweeping of the unit floors the next day, we identified several dark feature stains and numerous post molds. In the western unit (shown below) we defined a large oval stain that appears to have been the source of yet another magnetic anomaly.

Upon excavation of this feature (09-26), we found a shallow pit containing a large quantity of charcoal and FCR, just the stuff to produce a strong magnetic signal. Unfortunately, no diagnostic pottery or stone tools were found, but this feature still provides important 'ground-truth' data on the magnetic signatures of prehistoric features at the site.

Intrusive Features and the Enclosure

During weeks four and five, another two meter-long section of the enclosure trench (Fea. 09-10) was completely excavated. This section is located just northwest of the first trench section that produced the distinctive Leimbach series ceramics. This neighboring bit of trench turned out to be very similar in terms of its contents and stratigraphy, with one important exception. As shown in the section view below, the trench contained alternating layers or light and dark soil which represent episodes of filling.

The large hole in this profile was made by an intrusive pit feature that contained thin, finely cordmarked pottery of the Esch Cordmarked variety. We believe these ceramics are associated with the Middle Woodland occupation of the site due to their resemblance to pottery from the Esch Mounds, formerly located about four miles downriver. We found similar sherds during weeks one and two associated with bladelets, our best Middle Woodland diagnostic.

At the bottom of the trench, we found a cluster of thick, cordmarked sherds of the Leimbach series. As seen in the following image, they represent a large section of a vessel. One base sherd was rounded, unlike the flat-bottomed base sherd found next door.

Thus, the 'superpositioning' of these ceramic wares (i.e., Leimbach in the earlier trench and Esch in the later pit feature) nicely illustrates the succession of Woodland period occupations at the site. It also tells us that the enclosure trench was deliberately filled during the Early Woodland time period and not by later Middle Woodland arrivals, as is apparently the case with the large parallel ditches to the west. What this says about the function of the enclosure is still not clear.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Early Woodland Pottery from the Enclosure

By the close of week four, we had excavated a total of six meters of the enclosure trench. In each section, ceramics similar to Early Woodland Leimbach Cordmarked forms were found. These relatively thick, grit-tempered sherds with somewhat coarse cordmarking were found at all levels of the feature. The sherd shown below illustrates the flat-bottomed, "flower pot" shape typical of many Leimbach vessels.

Near the bottom of the trench we found a large body sherd (shown below) with a distinctive knob handle, also typical of Leimbach wares.

At the nearby Seaman's Fort site, similar sherds have been found in pit features dated between 500 and 100 B.C. Like the Heckleman site, Seaman's Fort was enclosed by two large ditch features but lacked the interior oval enclosure that we are now investigating.