Friday, February 13, 2009

New Botanical Data from Burrell Orchard

Back in November, I sent eight samples of carbonized plant remains from the summer 2008 excavation out for analysis. These samples were derived from the light fraction residue of flotation processing. Two samples came from the lower (dark) midden stratum (see image below), one from a smudge pit, and five from pit features. The botanical remains were analyzed by Dr. Leslie Bush, an ethnopaleobotanist in Manchaca, Texas.

The results are not very spectacular but informative. As expected, a large proportion of the plant remains (14 g) were fragments of wood charcoal, primarily from white oak, red oak, ash, and hickory. Interestingly, carbonized nutshell was even more common (19 g) than charcoal. The vast majority was hickory, followed by black walnut, and one fragment of acorn. The result was a nutshell to wood (charcoal) ratio of 1.36 which indicates a strong preference for nut resources by the site inhabitants. Early survey records from the French Creek area of Lorain County report that the ridgtops supported forests dominated by oaks and hickories. Thus, it looks like the Late Archaic residents were maximizing their use of these local plant resources.

One surprise was the identification of four carbonized bulb fragments from the wild hyacinth, also known as Atlantic camus (Camassia scilloides). This native plant produces an edible bulb that was harvested by Native Americans in historic times and roasted in earth ovens. All four bulb fragments from Burrell Orchard were found in Feature 08-26, a medium-sized cooking pit in unit 500N 514E. Since this plant most commonly grows on the same kinds of moist, wooded slopes bordering streams like French Creek, the site inhabitants probably did not have to go far to collect these bulbs.

The relatively large quantity of hickory nutshell at the Burrell Orchard site most likely points to a fall occupation when these nuts would have been most abundant. In additon, the best time to collect camus bulbs would have been the late fall to winter months when these parts of the plant would have reached their maximum size. When we add this information to the prevalence of deer bones and antler (another fall-harvested food source), it becomes very likely that the Late Archaic residents of Burrell Orchard were present during at least some of the colder months of the year, perhaps from October to December.