Friday, July 4, 2008

Smudge Pits and Hide-smoking?

At about 60 cm below datum, our excavations reached the base of the midden layer. But this was not the end of our discoveries. In all three of our 2.0 x 2.0 meter excavations units, we have found a number of small basins containing lots of charcoal and some burned deer bone. These pits stand out clearly against the yellowish-brown, clayey subsoil as shown in the image below.

In cross-section, these pits exhibit dense layers of charcoal mixed with soil which seem to concentrate on the bottoms of the features. The image below shows a section of burned deer antler protruding from the profile of one such pit. Notice the dark band of charcoal at the bottom.

I suspect that these features are the remains of smudge pits, small fire pits used by Native Americans to smoke (preserve) deer hides. The use of smudge pits is well-documented for historical Indian societies across North America. During the time of maize agriculture, smudge pits contained charred maize cobs. In our smudge pits, only charred wood or hickory nut shells have been found, which suggests that these features date to the time before maize farming. In fact it is very likely that these pits date to the Late Archaic occupation of our site.