Friday, February 13, 2009

Summer Field School at the Heckleman Site

In the summer of 2009, we will carry out test excavations at the Heckleman site, a prehistoric Native American settlement located on the Huron River near Milan, Ohio. The Heckleman site (33Er14) was first investigated in 1968 by Dr. Orrin Shane of Kent State University. These and subsequent excavations discovered a large prehistoric ditch feature that enclosed a large settlement thought to date to the Early Woodland period (ca. 500 to 100 BC). Shane's crews also found numerous Middle Woodland period (ca. 100 BC to AD 400) stone tools and pottery sherds resembling Ohio Hopewell culture artifacts from southern Ohio.

In 2008, we commissioned a series of geophysical surveys by Dr. Jarrod Burks of Ohio Valley Archaeology, Inc. Jarrod conducted an extensive magnetic survey of the site area using a gradiometer. This device is able to pick up magnetic 'anomalies' in the subsoil, some of which can be prehistoric features. We were delighted when his resulting maps revealed not one but two parallel ditch features extended north to south across the promontory.

Dr. Jarrod Burks conducts the magnetic survey, Brian Scanlan assists in the background.

The magnet survey also identified an oval enclosure to the east of the ditch features which may represent a Late Prehistoric period (ca. A.D. 1200-1600) village site. Additional surveys, which measured subsurface electrical resistivity and magnetic susceptibility (too technical to explain here), were carried out over more limited areas of the site. The resistance readings revealed additional possible prehistoric features and some areas of recent disturbance which may be the traces of Shane's earlier excavations. The magnetic susceptibility survey identified a large area of midden soils which covers most of the area to the east of the parallel ditch features. This tells us that most of the prehistoric activities took place within this large enclosed area.

In the fall of 2008, 'ground-truthing' of the innermost ditch anomaly was conducted by archaeologists from the Firelands Archaeological Research Center in Amherst, Ohio. Excavations revealed a substantial prehistoric ditch that measured nearly two meters wide and a meter deep.

Vertical section of the ditch feature showing light and dark fill layers.

Crew members Michael Niece (left) and Glen Boatman remove samples of the ditch fill for flotation processing.

The team recovered Hopewellian bladelets and projectile points made of Flint Ridge chert as well as Middle Woodland (Esch phase) pottery, butchered animal bones, and charred plant remains. It now appears that the Heckleman site was the location of three large prehistoric occupations which spanned a period of as much as 2000 years.

Expanded-stem Middle Woodland point made of Flint Ridge chert from ditch fill (image by Brian Mickey).

In the summer of 2009, CMNH archaeologists will return to the Heckleman site to systematically test selected areas to identify the various prehistoric occupations and to continue to ground-truth many of the subsurface anomalies and oval enclosure located by the geophysical surveys. For additional information about this summer's project see the Museum's website.