This week the Department of Archaeology has begun a new season of the Archaeology in Action program at the Burrell Orchard site in Sheffield Village, Lorain County, Ohio. We spent one season at this site back in 2008 and discovered the remains of a 4000 year old hunting and gathering camp. This site turned out to be deeply stratified, meaning that a vertical series of cultural remains are buried beneath the surface. We call these remains a “midden,” that is a layer of refuse. So, what were Native Americans living at Burrell Orchard discarding? Things like flint flakes from making stone tools, as well as the broken tools themselves (spear points, knives, and drills); lots of fire-cracked rock (FCR), and butchered bone from deer and other animals. The midden deposits also contain dense concentrations of charcoal, ash, and burned soil from many cooking pits. Some of these deposits are 50cm (1.6 feet) thick and buried as much as a meter (3.3 feet) deep. Such an accumulation of debris tells us that dozens, and maybe hundreds, of Late Archaic family groups were coming to this place over many years to hunt and trap animals, fish, and gather wild foods such as hickory nuts and wild hyacinth bulbs (Camassia scilloides
Flint spear points and knives found at the Burrell Orchard site.
This season we plan to extend the area of excavation to look for evidence of houses. In 2008 we uncovered many postmolds, which represent the remains of wooden posts set into the ground. Some of these postmolds could be traces of food drying racks or other simple constructions, but in a few locations we found short lines of three or more postmolds, which may represent the partial walls of house structures. In addition we found relatively thick layers of yellow-brown clay which might be the remains of prepared floors used within such houses.
Through the excavation of small, “shovel-test” excavations across the length of the site, we have traced the extent of the buried midden deposit over more than an acre. So we know that the Burrell Orchard site was an important location for people in northern Ohio four millennia ago.
Excavation of shovel-test nits at Burrell Orchard.
Base fragment of a flint spear point found during shovel-testing.