| 1 October 2006
Archaeologists study ancient people in Ohio
For the past three summers, a team of Cleveland Museum of Natural History archaeologists and volunteers has teased the secrets of what's called the Danbury site (Ohio, USA) from its silty clay soil. The excavation, on private property amid a construction site, is a model of cooperation among the researchers, the developer and American Indian representatives. They've all agreed that after study, the human remains and burial artifacts will be returned to the earth.
The digging has uncovered evidence of a gathering place of native peoples that far outlasted the cities of the Greek and Roman empires. Its history stretches across the Archaic, Woodland and Prehistoric periods, a span of more than 4,000 years.
Over time, Danbury's use changed as the people who came there evolved. The first inhabitants were still semi-nomadic hunters who may have spent just a few weeks at the lush wetlands site, fishing, catching waterfowl and burying their dead. Later occupants grew maize, built more permanent seasonal settlements, and had more sophisticated burial customs.
"It's a hell of a site because there was so much there for over 4,000 years," said Brian Redmond, the natural history museum's archaeology curator and director of the dig. "This is a place where groups were coming together, maybe every year," Redmond said. "There's socializing, maybe marriages performed, gift-giving. There's trading, religious rituals, including burial of the dead. This place is full of stories."
The museum team's three years of work at Danbury has provided valuable insights into a poorly understood civilization that left no written records and apparently had no direct contact with later groups who could have described them. The few spear points found at Danbury indicate hunting wasn't a major activity there, instead probably occurring farther inland. The abundance of fish scales, and clam and mussel shells shows that occupants took advantage of the rich ecosystem. Dozens of storage pits held fish, corn and other foodstuffs.
Local clay deposits supplied material for some of the earliest cooking pots in the Great Lakes, dating to 1000 BCE. Shards show the Danbury pottery was hand-molded, with simple decorative markings made by cords or sticks wrapped with rope. Tools recovered from the dig include part of a grinding stone; some celts, or stone hand axes; a sharpened piece of raccoon leg bone used as a punch or awl; and a rasp - an etched deer rib that someone may have scraped as a percussion instrument during a religious or magic ritual.
Danbury's most striking feature is its graves. The museum team has recovered the remains of close to 100 people. Nearly half the dead are children younger than 5, a testament to disease and harsh living conditions. There are no signs of violent deaths. The site functioned as a cemetery throughout its long history - the earliest grave dates to at least 2480 BCE - with burial practices changing over time. There are individual plots; 'secondary' burials, whose sometimes cleaned and bundled bones were brought from another location; and ossuaries, or mass graves. Some of the bones were stained with copper or powdered red ocher, resembling blood. Sometimes they were disarticulated - removed from their natural position and rearranged in unusual ways.
Source: Cleveland.com (26 september 2006)
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