Friday, June 24, 2011

A Cascade of Pottery

So far this season, pottery has been the predominant class of artifact recovered from feature contexts. This is a bit unusual because normally stone tool debris, primarily flint flakes, are much more common at sites in the region. The rarity of lithics says something significant about the kinds of activities not carried out in and adjacent to the oval enclosure That is, stone tool making was not a primary task for the Early Woodland inhabitants. So what does the relatively frequent occurrence of pottery tell us? Well, the direct inference, of course, is that pottery was broken and disposed of on-site. The behavior inference linked to this is that the cooking and perhaps storage of food in pots were common activities. The most vivid evidence for this interpretation is the dense concentration of Early Woodland ceramics found in Feature 11-09. As the image below reveals, a large quantity of pot sherds was deposited in this medium-sized pit.

The pottery is confined to one side of the sloping pit wall, as if the sherds were unceremoniously dumped into the pit. This virtual 'cascade' of pottery includes several large rim sections of a single vessel. One of the rim sherds shown below has a plain, out-turned lip, below which is a distinctly fabric-marked neck. Also found in this cluster was a riveted lug handle and many body sherds with this same surface treatment.

But is this simply a case of trashing an old pot or something more? Given our working hypothesis that the enclosure served a non-domestic function (community area, dance ground, communal feasting site, etc.), such a deposit may represent the ceremonial disposal of a pot used in a ritual context. Ritual disposal of this kind appears to have been the case at another Early Woodland enclosure, the Adena culture Dominion Land Company site in Columbus, Ohio. Here, numerous Early Woodland vessels were disposed of in pits found beneath the circular ditch that enclosed two burial mounds. Very little pottery was found outside these particular contexts. It is thought that these vessels were used during mortuary feasts inside the earthwork and then deliberately buried beneath the ditch. "Food for thought" when we examine the Heckleman pottery deposit in the lab this off-season.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Deep Post and A Tight Squeeze

One of the most perplexing features this season has been Feature 11-03. This feature was recognized last week in unit 502N 503E as a faint gray-brown stain with rather diffuse margins. Early stages of excavation indicated that it was a shallow midden stain, since the most evident staining extended only a few centimeters into the subsoil. The discovery of the bladelet fragment (see earlier post) gave us hope of something significant here, and further excavation revealed, not a midden layer, but rather a medium-sized pit feature. As the cross-section continued to increasingly greater depths, we realized that this was not a pit but a deep post mold. A large, cordmarked pot sherd was found in the fill about halfway down, but the feature kept getting deeper and deeper.

At 100 cm bd the fill changed abruptly to a consolidated mass of sand, gravel, and charcoal fragments unlike anything I had seen before in a post mold. As I picked away at this sediment cast (shown below), I found a few pieces of FCR and a thick plain-surfaced pot sherd. I continued to remove the cast down to 120 cm bd and found another thick sherd.

By now, there was barely room for me to fit in the excavation pit. (I needed to step into this hole myself once I lost Allison, who fit nicely in the confined space and didn't mind bending over for long periods of time.) Anyway, I had had enough and used the 1-inch soil corer to see how much of this post molds was left. To my surprise, the core revealed another 23 cm of cemented fill! I decided to take the rest of the fill out with the "long-handled trowel" (you veterans know what I mean).

So what is this thing? It looks like another large post of the kind discovered in two "post pits" last season. Unlike these features, this year's version is located outside the oval enclosure ditch; however, its pottery contents places within the Early Woodland period and likely close in time to the use of this enclosure. And what of the weird sediment cast? Can't yet say, but stay tuned.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

A Ghost from the Past

Back at the beginning of our 2009 season, I believe I mentioned that this site had been excavated before by Kent State University summer field schools in the late '60s and early '70s. I may also have commented that we don't know exactly where on this farm the group worked, since no field notes are available. This week we encountered the remains of what I believe is a back-filled excavation unit from that not-so-distant time.

As we removed the plow zone soils from unit 502N 503E, we noticed a dark area of staining in the southern half of the unit. What was unusual is that this stain had one straight edge--something very unlikely for a truly ancient prehistoric feature in northern Ohio. As we cleared and troweled the floor, what appeared to be the corner of an excavation unit materialized. In the image below, you can see this corner in the upper left (northwest) portion of our excavation square. Covering it are several large, amorphous soil stains, which we now know to be back-filled feature excavations. The soils here are very soft and wet, just as would be expected from re-filling a hole with plow zone soils.

In the southwest corner of our unit, we removed the dark soil and found two small features which had only been partially excavated during the earlier project. You might say that we are doing archaeology of archaeologists from the late 1960's--real groovy man!

Digging the Oval Ditch, Again

Late this week, work began on the cross-section of Feature 11-01, the oval enclosure ditch. The southwest half of the feature was subdivided into four sections for better control of artifact provenience and to track stratigraphy. As layers of fill were removed, the soil darkened, making it much easier to distinguish the ditch from the subsoil matrix.

Like the other sections of this ditch we have tested, the contents includes moderate amounts of FCR, flint flakes, and pottery sherds. Marcia R. uncovered a relatively large sherd of an Early Woodland, Leimbach cordmarked vessel of the kind dated to 350 BC in 2009. In the image below, the sherd looks rather eroded, as does most of the pottery found in the ditch. So, how well would you preserve after 2,300 years underground?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Post Molds and the Nearly Invisible Ditch

Three days into the 2011 field season has brought new discoveries and some puzzles. Our expectations of tracing the possible stockade line from last season were realized when Brian S.'s crew exposed a nice extension of that line at 505N 503E. Several of the sectioned posts are shown below. It appears the line heads southwestward to parts unknown. I don't think we will try to chase it any farther this year, but we should see a few more meters exposed on the other end.

Very unexpected is the remnant of the oval enclosure trench we exposed in unit 495N 512E. This part of the ditch showed up vividly on the magnetic survey map, but is nearly invisible on the floor of the unit. Can you see it in the image below? It is there!...I think.

This apparent invisibility may have to do with the low organic content of the fill; however, the distinct magnetic signature promises that burned rocks, pottery, or something else of interest lies beneath the surface. Late this afternoon MaryLou's crew began the cross-section of this nearly four meter long feature. We will see.

Finally, our primo artifact find of the day was a Flint Ridge bladelet fragment found by Catie the Intern. It caused quite a stir, since just about everybody else was digging post molds, which usually contain no artifacts. By that's enough excitement for one day.

Monday, June 13, 2011

2011 Season Begins on a Cool June Day

Today we got underway, and the weather was terrific. We held our usual orientation session for new participants and then began removing the remaining plow zone soils on the southern

bulldozer transect at 502N 503E and a 3x3 meter unit over the oval enclosure ditch at 495N 512E. All soils were screened and relatively large quantities of flint flakes were found in all units.

One possible bladelet fragment was found, as well as a triangular point. Only one pot sherd was recovered. By day's end, we began to expose subsoil in all units, so tomorrow we should be able to define some features and post molds.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Getting Ready for Third Season at Heckleman

Tomorrow morning we will begin stripping plow zone deposits in preparation for our third season of excavation at the Heckleman site. Our plan is to expand our block area from last season to the north and to the south. This will allow us to ground-truth (excavate) additional magnetic anomalies (pit features) and continue to examine the oval enclosure ditch. We also have two possible stockade lines to trace and a possible house pattern, both of which were discovered last season. So stay tuned!