26 July 2009
Prehistoric American Indian settlement discovered in Ohio
The earliest suggestion of something worth uncovering on thias plateau above the Huron River (Ohio, USA) were some dark electronic smudges on a piece of graph paper. The smudges piqued Brian Redmond's professional curiosity, though. They were a kind of map of the field's subsurface, traced by an instrument called a fluxgate gradiometer. Sweeping one a few inches above the ground produces a sort of magnetic fingerprint of subsurface soil that's been disturbed in some way, whether by digging or burning. The patterns that the Cleveland Museum of Natural History's archaeology curator saw on the graph paper looked like the signatures of a large-scale ancient dwelling. The dots could be cooking or trash pits, the parallel lines a couple of filled-in ditches, and the oval possibly the remnants of a stockade.
Five weeks of digging this summer by professional and amateur archaeologists from the Cleveland museum and the Firelands Archaeological Research Center, guided by the magnetic readings, have confirmed the presence of a major occupation, and have begun to reveal some tantalizing details about the encampment and its inhabitants. It's one of the earliest, largest and most sophisticated Native American settlements in northern Ohio, Redmond said. Artifacts such as sherds of pottery and flint tools called bladelets indicate that three distinct prehistoric groups occupied the settlement off and on, beginning as early as 2,500 years ago.
Evidence suggests the site may have, over time, served multiple purposes: a ceremonial spot, a wintering shelter, a defensible village and a trading hub. Its plentiful artifacts are in the same style as those made by the mound-building Hopewell people in southern and central Ohio, but it's not clear whether those items were imported, or crafted by locals imitating the Hopewell traditions.
The site is an ideal location for a settlement. It's a high, flat plateau. To the south, the land drops away to the Huron River. Deep ravines to the east and west helped form a three-sided promontory. The Native American inhabitants protected the fourth side by digging two parallel ditches, each about eight feet wide and 3 feet deep.
Sparked by accounts of the abundant artifacts locals had found there, Kent State University archaeologist Orrin Shane launched a series of digs beginning in 1968 that identified the remnants of those filled-in ditches. Shane concluded they were dug by Native Americans who lived during the Early Woodland period, from 2,500 to 2,100 years ago. His excavations also turned up numerous stone tools and pottery fragments characteristic of the Middle Woodland period.
Nearly 40 years later, Redmond arrived with new equipment and ample curiosity. The scan and subsequent digging did reveal more about the settlement's extent, both in physical space and time. An egg-shaped oval was the remains of a protected enclosure. It was ringed by a trench about 3 feet deep. The trench was lined on both sides by wooden posts that could have stretched 8 feet high. When Redmond, field supervisor Brian Scanlan and their crew of mostly volunteer workers dug into the filled-in trench, they found pieces of the thick, flat-bottomed pottery characteristic of Early Woodland settlements. As time passed and later American Indian people occupied the site, they spread outside the original oval fenced enclosure, judging by the fire and trash pits scattered across the bluff.
One spot that appeared at first to be a large trash pit proved to be a dwelling. There was evidence of a hearth, and supports for benches on which several people might have slept. About 60 posts surrounded the structure - possibly saplings that could be bent down and covered with woven mats to form a weather barrier. On the dwelling's floor, the archaeologists found three special objects the inhabitants left behind, possibly as a spirit offering. There was an awl, or puncturing tool, formed from a deer's shoulder blade; a freshwater shell pendant carved into the shape of a bear claw; and a flint projectile point. The researchers intend to return next summer, looking for more houses and possibly mounds.
Source: Cleveland.com (20 July 2009)