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!