Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Fine Pottery from an Ordinary Pit

Over the course of our five week field season, we have found pottery of varying quality. In general, the Early Woodland ceramics from the region are the most coarsely made, as exemplified by the Leimbach series pottery recovered from the oval enclosure ditch and several pits. The net-impressed sherd discussed in an earlier post is a notable exception to this general trend. Another surprising discovery is the collection of pot sherds recovered from Feature 10-16, a large, but not very distinctive pit feature found during week four. Unlike most other features, the pottery in Feature 10-16 was concentrated into two clusters. These can be seen near the bottom of the pit in the cross-section image shown below. These sherds were very fragile when uncovered and could not be examined closely in the field. Once I had time to inspect

the sherds, I discovered several fragments of the rim and body sections of a medium-sized vessel. The rim sherds exhibited a surface treatment of very fine cord-impressions oriented vertically to the lip of the pot. These impressions were most likely made by the application of a wooden implement wrapped in some of the finest cordage I have ever seen impressed on a Woodland vessel. This cord-wrapped paddle would have been applied when the pot was still wet, prior to firing. The closeup of a rim and neck segment shown below reveals the great expertise of the Native American potter who made this fine vessel. If you look closely, you will note that the parallel cord impressions change orientation on the lower neck (just left of the nickel) from

vertical to horizontal. This is a rather common convention on Middle and early Late Woodland pottery of the region. Also found in this pit was a Flint Ridge bladelet fragment which suggests that this vessel was made during the Middle Woodland period, although we cannot be sure unless we run a radiocarbon date on charcoal from the pit. We have additional fragments of this pot now being cleaned in the lab. Hopefully we will be able to reconstruct enough of this vessel to reveal the overall shape and size of the pot and thereby determine is function and period of origin.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Following the Stockade

During our last two weeks of the 2010 field season at the Heckleman site, we had several tasks to complete. One of the most important of these was one last ditch effort (no pun intended) to trace the stockade lines eastward. You will remember from earlier posts that in Week 1 we uncovered two distinct lines of large post molds, which I interpret as stockade posts. In the map below, both lines are clearly visible running obliquely across the western end of our excavation.

The inner or east line was traced for about 12 meters to the northeast, at which point it crossed the fill of the oval enclosure ditch (Feature 09-18, shaded in gray above). A much shorter section of the outer or west line was exposed. In the image below both lines are marked by orange survey flags and indicated by arrows; green arrows show the western line, white the east line, and the location of Feature 10-02 is indicated by the red arrow (my most colorful image yet!).

We cross-sectioned short sections of posts in each stockade line, and they proved to be rather large and deeply set. The posts of the east line (shown below) are slightly larger than the west line and range from 7 to 10 cm in diameter and extend from 23 cm to 40 cm below datum.

To trace the east line even farther, I decided to excavate a one by ten meter test trench running northward from the 520N, 520E stake. We had some assistance in this task from students and CMNH Education Division staff as part of a two-day class in Archaeology. These young folks and their instructors: Mark, Nancy, and Char, shovel-shaved some of the hardest, driest, and dustiest plow zone soil we have encountered all year from this trench and made our job much easier (see image below). In the process they found a good quantity of chert flakes and other debitage, FCR, and even one triangular point, which probably dates to around AD 1400.

The point of this trench-digging was to intersect one or both of the stockade lines as they made their way to the northeast. Despite our best efforts, we could not confirm the presence of either stockade line within the trench, although we did exposed several scattered posts and two pit features. One of these small pit features contained a bladelet fragment and a plain-surfaced pot sherd, both are indicative of the Middle Woodland occupation of the Heckleman site. The other pit contained nothing. I should note that it is difficult to identify even a distinct line of post molds in a one-meter wide trench, but I gave it a shot. But this will give us something to shoot for again next season.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Big Fires and Little Fires

During the very hot and steamy Week 5, we investigated several pit features which showed evidence of burning. As you can easily imagine, native peoples of Ohio used fire in numerous ways. Perhaps the most common was the simple hearth, what most of us today would call a campfire. Most hearth features appear as thin layers of burned soil, charcoal and ash. The small hearth found in the pit house last year is a very well-preserved example. More frequently, though, these shallow hearth features are destroyed by plowing long before any archaeological work is done. We have now uncovered three different kinds of pit features which once contained fires. The smallest is Feature 10-23, a shallow, flat-bottomed basin that contained heavily charcoal-laden fill and burned siltstone fragments. This small pit (shown below) is reminiscent of the smudge pits we found in abundance at the Burrell Orchard site back in 2008. As their name indicates, these specialized features were used to smoke deer hides.

A functionally different kind of thermal feature is Feature 10-30, a large but shallow pit that contained dark soil and FCR. As the image below reveals, this feature consisted of an upper layer containing gray-colored ash above an inky black layer of carbon-rich soil. Traces of

fire-reddened sediment could be seen along the margins, which tells us that a fire had been made in this pit. Just a few cordmarked body sherds and one rim were found in the fill, but the more noteworthy aspect of this pit was the greasy feel of the soil. It stuck to the trowels and brushes used for excavation, as well as to the hands and clothes of the excavators. A really sticky mess! My guess is that that slick soil may actually contain the residue of animal fats derived from the cooking of meat in or over this fire pit. A prehistoric Woodland barbecue, perhaps.

Feature 10-21 turned out to be the biggest and most visually spectacular fire pit found so far. This large, ovoid feature was shaped like a bathtub, as seen in the cross-section image below, and showed vivid red oxidation on its sides caused by a very hot fire. Beneath the layers of fill

was a layer of carbonized logs that undoubtedly represent the fuel for the fire. The closeup image below shows that the grain of the wood is still visible in the charred remains.

Further excavation exposed large patches of red soil along the walls, again indicating the intense heat of the blaze (see image below). Unfortunately, very little cultural material was

recovered from the fill. Strangely, no bone or other food remains were found, which may mean that cooking was not the function of this firepit. Possibly the fire was kindled for some kind of ceremony or ritual display. In addition, a second, probably intrusive pit, Feature 10-32, was identified at the west end of the large firepit. The cross-section image shown below reveals that this too is another thermal feature, but much smaller. Feature 10-32 contained several pieces of Woodland pottery, FCR, and a basal layer of burned soil. It appears that this small hearth was constructed after the large firepit was filled in.

So is this co-occurrence of fire pits simply a coincidence? This is surely a possibility at such a heavily used site; however, I don't suspect it is. Instead, I think these features share a location within the oval enclosure that has some particular significance, perhaps they both existed within a structure or at a spot where certain ceremonies or feasting events took place. The proximity of the large post (Feature 10-13), just two meters to the southwest, may also mark this location as somehow important to the Woodland inhabitants of the site.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Overlapping Pits, Points, and Pottery

In an earlier post, I described the large magnetic anomaly in unit 508N 515E and the cluster of overlapping pits that made up its source. One of these pits, Feature 10-14, contained diagnostic Middle Woodland artifacts such as the base of a Snyders point--a distinctive, corner-notched projectile point made of Flint Ridge chert--,and a Flint Ridge bladelet, the small flint cutting tool that is a hallmark of Ohio Hopewell. Such artifacts typically date to the first few centuries A.D. Careful excavation revealed that Feature 10-14 intruded into Feature 10-20, a pit of similar form but considerably older. Artifacts of clearly Early Woodland affiliation were recovered from Feature 10-20, including rather thick, coarsely cordmarked pottery and a small, stemmed projectile point. The image below shows one of these thick sherds with overlapping cordmarks on its exterior and characteristic coil break on the upper edge.

This early form of pottery was made by building up coils of clay paste one on top of the other. Upon breaking, the sherds often separate along the joins between the coils. Such coil "breaks" are telltale markers of Early Woodland pottery in northern Ohio. The projectile point, shown below, is missing its tip but is still a good Early Woodland diagnostic. The juxtaposition of two pits of such significantly different ages would seem to be an unlikely occurrence but is in fact not uncommon on such an intensively occupied site as Heckleman.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

A Pit and a Post

Happy Independence Day!

Last week we completed the excavation of Feature 10-13. You will remember from my last post that this is one of the features that was clearly detected by the magnetic survey. As expected, it did contain a significant amount of FCR but also quite a bit of rather thick, cordmarked pottery. I suspected that these sherds belonged to the Early Woodland occupation of the site, since they did resemble much of the pottery taken from the oval enclosure ditch this season and last season. This cultural assignment was confirmed when Eric discovered a complete, contracting stemmed projectile point at the very bottom of the feature. The point and a representative pot sherd are shown below. The point is typical of the Early Woodland Leimbach point type found in this area of

northern Ohio or more generally like a thick version of the Adena Stemmed type of the middle Ohio Valley. This is a good diagnostic artifact and appears to place Feature 10-13 with the Early Woodland folks at Heckleman. What is even more interesting is the fact that this point, and several more pottery sherds like the one pictured, were found in a pocket of dark soil that appeared to extend below the base of the basin-shaped pit feature. In profile, this zone looked like a large post mold. Once the feature was completely removed and we could examine the actual shape of the pit, as shown in the image below, the large post hole was evident.

Since no remains of the wooden post were found, it must have been removed in antiquity. The large pit above the post hole may have been dug to remove the large post and afterword it was filled with refuse. Note the asymmetrical shape of the post hole in the image above. One margin inclines gradually to the northeast. Perhaps the hole was dug this way to facilitate the erection of the heavy post or perhaps the side wall of the post hole was damaged during the removal of the post. In either case, it appears that Feature 10-13 was the place where a large wooden post was erected and then taken down during the Early Woodland period. Such an event would be expected within a enclosure like our oval ditch feature. Large, isolated posts were often used to mark some significant point on the landscape, possibly for making astronomical alignments, or commemorating a significant event or personage. We really don't know. This discovery does not prove that the oval enclosure functioned as a ceremonial or ritual construction, but it does give us something to think about as we continue to explore this amazing site.