Monday, July 23, 2012

Village Storage Pit

Over the last several field days, a good assortment of our crew have helped excavate an unusual pit feature.   This rectangular-shaped pit measures over two meters in length and has a flat bottom.  Initially, we uncovered only one end, which made us think it was a typical circular basin.  In fact, we did not learn otherwise until we exposed the northern ''half" and found the remaining two-thirds.  Below is an image of Michelle N. standing in the excavated pit. It looks kind of dinky in this photo, but you must remember that at least a foot (30 cm for you field vets.) of soil once existed above the pit shown here.  

When created, I think this feature was used for storage.  Its flat bottom points to this function, but unlike more traditional Late Prehistoric storage pits found elsewhere, the wide and shallow form seems a bit unusual. Perhaps it served as a cool "cellar" for temporary within a house structure.

Whatever its function, this pit ended its use-life as a trash receptacle.  The fill was loaded with food remains (bone and seeds), fire-pit scrapings (ash, charcoal, and fire-cracked rock), old tools (celts, grinding stones, arrowpoints, and anvilstones), and the remains of at least one pottery vessel.    Most striking was the abundance of fish bone and masses of fish scales.  Of particular note was the discovery of the proximal fragment of an elk ulna (elbow), as seen below.  Even dog bones were apparently on the menu as revealed by our discovery of canine longbones and teeth.

Here are some shots of other artifacts discovered in the pit.

One of the best finds was a large section of pottery vessel.  It is shown below, in situ.

In the close-up below, you can see that the rim is decorated with a complex, stamped motif.  This is an example of Mixter Tool-impressed, which is a diagnostic ceramic type for the Late Prehistoric village component at Heckelman.  Although the pottery and celts are fun to find, I think the really informative stuff are the plant and animal remains recovered.  We only have small samples of such subsistence remains up until now, so the discovery of this unusual pit is a real bonus.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Another Cache Blade Debris Pit

Over the last two years, we have uncovered several small pits containing the debris from the manufacture of flint "cache blades."  Each of these features contained dozens to hundreds of flint flakes of Upper Mercer chert from Coshocton Co., Ohio.  Among this debris were broken fragments of thin, triangular bifaces of the kind used in Early and Middle Woodland ceremonial contexts.  Today we uncovered another of these pits.  Feature 12-59 is a bit larger than those found in the past but contained a large number of large and thin flakes of a rather fine variety of Upper Mercer chert.  A biface tip was found first and then a base of another biface turned up.  All these biface fragments look to be pieces that were discarded by the flint-knapper during the manufacturing process.  None appear to have been used, although the base fragment found today was nearly complete. There must have been some harsh words at the flint-knapping work station when this one broke!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Hopewell Pit Cluster

Over the past week, we have discovered a small cluster of Hopewell pits at the Heckelman site.  All contain some diagnostic artifact, such as fragments of sheet mica, Esch Cordmarked pottery, or bladelets.  One of the features most representative of this Middle Woodland occupation is Feature 12-34, which was completed today.   Under the watchful eye of intern Jamie G., students Karen L., Audrey G., and Annette N. recovered several bladelets, mica, and Middle Woodland pot sherds from this medium-sized basin.  A bit more surprising was the discovery of burned--but not calcined--deer bone, hickory and walnut nutshell, and even several carbonized seeds and fruit pits. These are the best traces of the Middle Woodland diet found so far.  As shown in the image below, this pit also contained a significant amount of fire-cracked rock and charcoal, but no sign of a fire within the feature.  So, the burned material may represent the cleanings from a cooking or hearth pit used nearby. 

Pit clusters like this most likely reflect the daily activities of a Hopewell family that stayed at the site for a few weeks up to a season.  Several clusters of post molds found nearby may represent the remains of their structures.   Nearby pits--as yet unexcavated--may hold even more valuable clues. We should know soon.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Pot in the Corner

For several days, Meghan M.'s crew have been carefully exposing a crushed pottery vessel located in one of the 2x2 meter test units in the south field area.   This vessel is thin, well made, and marked with finely-woven cordage.  It closely resembles the early Late Woodland, Green Creek phase vessels we uncovered last season within the large, seventh century structure. The upper part of the vessel appeared first and is extreme thin and delicate.  The body and base of this pot are more robust and somewhat smoothed over.  The pieces currently exposed suggest that this vessel may have been stored in this pit and eventually broke.  The pit feature containing this pot is partially exposed in the northeast corner of Unit 485N 531E and the bulk of the sherds extend into the west wall.  So more may lie beyond!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Older Than We Thought

Tremendous thunderstorms last evening dropped nearly 2.0 inches of rain on our poor site.  The result was another soggy mess when we arrived this morning.  Much too messy to continue excavation in our current units, so we--once again--moved south.

We laid out three new 2x2m units at previously determined, but randomly selected, locations to continue our statistical sampling of the subsurface features in the remaining area within the parallel ditches.  As before, we screened small, 50x50cm test units in the southeast corners of these units to sample the plow zone contents.  Not much was found except modest quantities of flint flakes.

One surprising find was the base of a large side-notched point that turned up while Karen L. was excavating a plow scar in Unit 475N 529E.  Normally, the discovery of a projectile point in a plow scar would not garner much attention; however, this point proved to be somewhat exceptional.  It turned out to be a fragment of an Early Archaic Large Side-notched point, similar to the Big Sandy variety found elsewhere in Ohio and into the southeastern U.S.   These notched points are very old, between about 8,000 and 10,000 years in age!  The image at right shows the typically square basal "ear"; the remaining ear is missing.  Both this ear and the slightly convex base are heavily ground.  My crude reconstruction below shows how this fragment fit with the complete point.  This little fragment turns out to be the oldest artifact yet found at the Heckelman site and shows that people began coming to this place just after the Ice Age!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

A Post Point?

As mentioned in my last post, we have been finding many post molds but few artifacts due to our location in what appears to be an area of Late Prehistoric house construction.  But today, we had the best of both worlds; a very deep and distinct structural post AND a diagnostic projectile point together in one feature!    During most of this very hot day, the hardy crew working in unit 517N 518E were--once again--sectioning post molds.   Most of these were rather small and short, that is, typical of what we believe to be rather flimsy summer lodges.   But shortly after lunch, Marcia R. went to work on a surprisingly deep post with a very clear profile.  In fact this post was exceptionally deep for its diameter (about 10 cm), and, at first, I judged it to be a possible rodent burrow.  With not a little bit of effort, we did find the rounded bottom at about 50 cm below datum, which showed that indeed it was a post mold.   Passers-by from other units thought this was mildly amusing, as did we.  But the real surprise came when Marcia began removing the fill after drawing the profile of this post mold.  At about 39 cm b.d. she found a nearly complete, corner-notched projectile point, which looked like it had been wedged about two-thirds of the way down the post hole.  

The point is a Middle Woodland corner-notched type most similar to Snyders points found on southern Ohio Hopewell sites and in surface collections from this site.   It is a bit unusual since it was made from a single large chert flake with very fine retouching (sharpening) around the blade margin.  Does this discovery point to the remains of a Hopewell structure in this part of the site or is this just a weird accidental inclusion in a younger post mold?   I don't think this was an accident.  We know from many well-documented contexts that Ohio Hopewell peoples commonly placed such things as stones, flakes, mica fragments, pottery, etc. in post molds.  And if you are a long-term reader of this blog, you may remember our discovery in 2010 of a complete Early Woodland stemmed point in the very bottom of a large post-pit post hole.   Still, we can't say for certain.  But from now on I will think twice before giving up on a post mold that seems to be running too deep.    Who know what may be lying inside?

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

House Pits and Post Molds

So far, week Two has focused on shovel-shaving, hoeing, troweling, brushing, mapping, and sectioning post molds in 3x3m units.   But, the weather has been excellent, and we are moving rapidly eastward across our excavation transect.   Our crew have become expert post mold-spotters and diligent PPM-cutters.  Nearly all the pits we have found are small basins containing few artifacts.  Although today Jamie G. found a complete drill in her Feature 12-27, a rather faint and shallow pit.

The abundance of small pits and post molds, as well as the lack of larger cooking or storage features suggests--at least to me--that we are still within an area of one or more household structures.  Past experience with Late Prehistoric dwellings in similar village sites bears this out.  I suspect these maize farmers preferred rather lightly built structures for use during the summer months with little need for storage pits inside the walls.   And outside cooking was probably the best choice during our hot and humid northern Ohio summers.   After all, during July in Ohio all you really need is a roof over your head and some thin walls to let the air in and keep the critters out.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Bailing, Bone Beads, and Bioturbation

Week One got underway with a bit of a snag.  Torrential rains prior to our first day of excavation soaked the west end of our bulldozer transect and made it impossible to begin work there as planned.  Our new students did get a chance to learn the fine art of bailing water with a plastic scoop and bucket.  This tutorial repeated itself on Tuesday after another rainstorm.   So, I decided to move south

and begin the excavation of 2x2 meter units.  My original plan was not to begin this stage of our test excavations until later in the summer, but we needed dry places to dig.  My goal with this testing is to recover a statistically significant sample of the remaining portion of the site within the large area enclosed by the parallel ditch features found in 2009.   The results so far are unspectacular but not uninteresting.

In unit 486N 505E we found three very dark feature stains which looked like pit features but seemed rather fresh to me.   Once we began to cross-section the first pit, we soon found small pieces of plastic and paper.  Uh oh!   We have learned over the last three years that such debris most likely mark the former excavation of our Kent State University colleagues who preceded us in investigating the Heckelman site back in 1968.  This proved to be true as we cut into the other two features.  Yes, they had once been prehistoric pits but were probably excavated before the Beatles broke up.  And we get to dig the backfill.   This outcome was a bit disappointing for our new students, but it proved to be a good lesson in how to read a pit profile.  This is because the cross-section of one feature revealed that it still retained a bit of its original fill, as shown by the image below (the upper dark soil stratum is the recent backfill).   Even better, this bit of dirt contained a small bird bone bead.  So, all was not lost.

 After a few days of hot sunshine, we were able to begin work on our transect.   Our crew shovel-scraped, troweled, and brushed like old pros and soon we found more stockade posts, which aligned with those found last season.  We noticed that these units, which are "beyond the pale" so to speak, don't contain many features.  Just a few small pits and additional, scattered post molds.

One unit provided another example of recent digging but not by archaeologists.  As we cleaned the floor of unit 514N 503E, we found the remains of a veritable rodent rendezvous marked by many sinuous burrows and vertical tunnels, as shown below.   This was an illustration of "bioturbation" at its finest.  A suitable discovery in a week filled with disturbances, both human-made and natural.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Our Fourth Season is Underway

As usual, our fourth season of excavation at the Heckelman site began with the ceremonial "bulldozing of the transect."  Actually, this is a necessary means of removing the uninformative plow zone that covers the very informative features and post molds which have told us so much about this site over the last three years.  This year, we undertook the mechanical stripping of plow zone prior to the first day of the field school (June 14) to give us more time to prepare the site. 

One new addition this season was the setting of colored stakes to demarcate the various important structures that we have discovered.  We now have blue stakes outlining the oval enclosure, yellow stakes around Structure 2, the early Late Woodland house, and the pit house we found in 2009.  We even set out pretty pink stakes along two of the stockade lines bordering the Late Prehistoric period village settlement.  
This effort quickly proved its value today when we hosted a group of 25 teachers participating in a workshop sponsored by the Seneca County Soil and Water District.   This morning I gave an hour-long PowerPoint presentation on the Heckleman site to these same teachers in Attica, Ohio.   During the site tour, I think the staked outlines really helped illustrate the significance of what we have found so far.  At least they "prettyed-up" the site somewhat.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Firelands Ground Sloth

One of our other recent projects in Archaeology at the CMNH is the study of the Firelands Ground Sloth.  This project involved the documentation of 41 stone tool cut marks found on the femur (thigh bone) of an extinct Ice Age animal called the Jefferson's Ground Sloth (Megalonyx jeffersonii).  Ten bones of this creature were found several years ago in the attic of the Firelands Historical Society Museum in Norwalk, Ohio by Matt Burr.  Matt showed me the bones five years ago, and since then, we have been examining the traces of stone cutting tools used to butcher the animal.  The bones have been dated to more than 13,000 years old and represent the first evidence for the use of this particular Ice Age animal by ancient humans in Ohio.   The results of our work were recently published in the journal World Archaeology (vol. 44, no. 1, pp. 75–101).   Images of the femur and other illustrations can be seen on the CMNH website.  A nicely done story on the project was produced by WKSU radio.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

A Late Woodland House

One of our most recent discoveries from the Heckleman site is an early Late Woodland house structure.   "Structure 2," as it is designated, only came to light this winter as I was examining the post mold data from the eastern end of the southern bulldozer transect.  By comparing the various diameter and depth measurements for each of the hundreds of post molds found in this area, I identified the outline of a rectangular structure with rounded corners.  This outline is not a figure of my imagination--which can occur after hours of staring at post mold patterns--but rather consisted of a set of large post molds that were significantly (i.e., greater than one standard deviation from the mean) wider and deeper than the post molds around them.   As the diagram below shows, this outline encompasses at least two clusters of circular to oval pit features, as well as several other large post molds.
During excavation of this area, we exposed a thin layer of what appeared to be midden soil.  This soil was slightly darker in color than the subsoil and contained bits of FCR, charcoal, chert flakes, and a few small animal bones.  As can be seen from the dashed outline in the figure above, this irregular patch of soil lies completely within the outline of Structure 2, which suggests that it is associated with the structure.  My best guess for now is that this midden layer is a remnant of debris that once covered at least a portion of the structure floor.  Of particular interest is the fact that this midden layer completely obscured Feature 11-39, a large post pit, until it (the midden) was removed.  This means that Feature 11-39 was dug and eventually back-filled before the floor debris was laid down.  If, as I have described earlier, these large pits held stout wooden posts, then it would seem that this particular post was removed before the house was occupied.

Fragments of carbonized nutshell and charcoal were recovered from several of the pit features within Structure 2.  Several of this pits, like Features 11-19, and 11-35, contained large concentrations of pot sherds from one or two vessels, suggesting possible storage functions for these pits.  Small pieces of carbonized nutshell and charcoal were recovered from four of the pits within Structure 2  and from a post mold in the western wall line.   These samples produced a calibrated median radiocarbon date range of A.D. 525 to 665, which places the occupation of this structure in the early Late Woodland period, just a century or two after the Hopewell Middle Woodland settlement of the site.   This early Late Woodland period in north-central Ohio is called the Green Creek phase and is marked by the construction of very thin, finely cord-marked (Green Creek Cordmarked) vessels, very much like the fine example found in Feature 11-35 and shown below.