Sunday, July 12, 2015

Exploring Structure 1

Last Friday we completed another successful field school program at the Burrell Orchard site. We made several significant discoveries during this last week, and I will discuss them in this and subsequent posts. Heading into this season, my primary goal was to excavate the remaining sections of the deep clay floor feature we discovered in 2014 and determine if it indeed represented the floor of a structure. I think we achieved this goal with the exposure of more clay floor in Unit 496N 512E, as well as some other interesting features.

Once this unit finally dried out sufficiently for us to continue excavation, we identified a distinct line of post molds extending north-south along the western margin of the clay floor (Figure 1). This series of small posts appears to line up precisely with the end of the post configuration identified last season in Unit 498N 512E. Contrary to our expectations, however, this line does not curve sharply to the east but extends farther south into unexcavated territory. A few days after this post line was recorded, a parallel row of posts was uncovered about 2.0 meters to the east (Figure 2). This line also connected with an arcing configuration just to the north in Unit 498N 514E that was recorded the week before. Together, these post molds form a U-shaped configuration, with the closed end of the “U” to the north. It seems probable that this pattern, which I have dubbed “Structure 1” extends southward to form an oval dwelling measuring at least 4.0 meters long (north-south). Unfortunately, time ran out before we could excavate the next unit to the south.

Figure 1. Clay floor (yellow soil) and interior features in Structure 1; post molds are marked in white.

Figure 2. Projected outline of Structure 1 based on locations of post molds (shown in white); north is toward the top of the image.
One truly unique aspect of this likely house floor is what appears to be a prepared clay basin (Fea. 15-17) located in the southeast corner of Unit 496N 512E (Figures 1 and 3). This shallow dish was molded out of the same clay used to construct the structure floor and a rounded rim was added, most likely to contain whatever material was placed within this receptacle. Lying on the surface of this basin was a bone awl or perforating tool and the astragulus (ankle bone) of a deer (Figures 3). The purpose of this construction remains a mystery. It was not used as a fire pit, since the clay was not altered to the distinctive red-orange color seen on many areas of the clay floors where fires were made. I don’t think this basin would have served very well as a surface for grinding, since the clay would not have held up to much scraping with a groundstone tool. Perhaps the basin held plant material or served as the base for basket containers. Maybe it was a water dish for the family dog! We really don’t have a clue, since, to my knowledge, nothing like it has been found before in Ohio.

Figure 3. Excavation of the clay basin (Feature 15-17); bone awl is indicated by arrow

One final surprise awaited us when we excavated Feature 15-22, a round pit situated near the center of the floor (Figure 1). The fill of this pit was very dark and organic. Among the remains were a large quantity of butchered deer bone and another deer bone awl (Figure 4). But most surprising was the discovery of four very large stones arranged in a cluster on the bottom of the pit, along with several smaller stones stacked above and around the larger ones (Figure 5). Many of these rocks showed signs of use as grinding stones, which suggests that Feature 15-22 was a cache pit used to store some of the less portable household tools below the floor. The fact that all the large stones were placed flat-side up with their surfaces at about the same level indicates that this cluster may also have served as a hard base or platform to support something used within the house. But again, exactly what this may have been remains uncertain.
Figure 4. Deer bone awl found in Feature 15-22.

Figure 5. Feature 15-22 and contents.

The discovery of Structure 1 with its clay floor is amazing to me. To be able to stand on a Late Archaic house floor, touch a clay basin made by the inhabitants, and peer into a storage pit that was last opened some 4000 years ago has been one of the highlights of my archaeological career.

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