Ancient American Magazine Arkfeld Site Iron Smelting Virginia, 150 AD : Page 2
e've talked a bit about the Wabash River in previous in-stallments in this series. This time we plumb its depths, length, breadth, and its importance in prehistory. The modern Wabash Valley hosts several medium sized cities, but that aspect is not entirely new to this ancient river. In this installment, we start to investigate why people have wanted to settle here for thousands of years. Major river confluences all over the globe have been and remain places of "high commerce.” Of course, overland travel has always maintained great importance as well. But overland travel without benefit of the wheel and, later, mechanized vehicles is much more limited with regard to bulk carry than is riverine travel. Notice I said nothing about using beasts of burden, because ancient Amer-ican people did indeed employ domesticated animals for moving ma-terials. We'll come back to domestication of wild things by Native Americans, but for now let's concentrate on ancient transportation on rivers and on foot. In particular, let's examine travel on and near the Wabash River. The Wabash joins the Ohio at the far southwest corner of Indiana near a place known as "The Bone Bank.” The Indiana side of the Wabash there is in Posey County. The site became known ar-chaeologically in 1806 when it became the first archeological site in Indiana to be recorded by a government official (Government Land Office). It also was one of the first to undergo archaeological exca-vation (1828). We'll come back to that in a minute. The site has a couple other "firsts": in 1873, it became the first archaeological site to be mapped by state geologists, who demonstrated the village site and cemeteries were on a natural ter-race rather than a man-made mound; and in 1898, the first site to Illustration 1: Wabash Drainage. Creative Commons, be "written off" as no longer worthy of study (report to Warren K. Moorehead). Needless to say, that assertion was at best premature Wikipedia or it was an outright lie. A popular regional pas-time in the late 1800s and early 1900s was to go to the Wabash riverbank to "dig" out display-quality artifacts. Illustrations of some of the pot-tery was published by Ephraim Squier and Edwin Davis in their 1847 "Ancient Monuments..." Many of the collected vessels and other artifacts were acquired by Charles Artes, an Evansville, Indiana man, who later sold them to Harmon W. Hen-dricks who made the purchase for the Heye Foundation. The Smithsonian's National Mu-seum of the American Indian now curates this collection. Only a small portion of this important collection has been studied. That first 1828 dig was conducted by French naturalist Charles Alexandre Lesueur. Lesueur concluded that the artifacts and features at Bone Bank were from an ancient American In-dian occupation, rather than the creation of "Mound Builders." His remarkably detailed draw-ings and brief notes (little published until Jacque-line Bonnemains' work in 1984) show that (1) the site then extended for more than 800 m (more than half a mile) along the riverbank; (2) rows of burials with Mississippian pottery and disk pipes were actively eroding from the riverbank; (3) wide, deep pits ⏤ house basins ⏤ up to 1 m below the surface of the terrace also were exposed in the Illustration 2: Bone Bank and Slack Farm in relation to rivers and other sites. riverbank; and (4) there were "typical" late Missis-Image used under "Fair Use" 18USC107. Image credit: Indiana University and sippian artifacts within the burials. W Part 14: On the Banks of the Wabash Far Away by Rick Osmon Ancient Fortresses of the Ohio Valley, Ancient American • Issue Number 114 2 Glenn Black Laboratory.
Ancient Fortresses Of The Ohio Valley, Part 14 On The Banks Of The Wabash Far Away
We've talked a bit about the Wabash River in previous installments in this series. This time we plumb its depths, length, breadth, and its importance in prehistory. The modern Wabash Valley hosts several medium sized cities, but that aspect is not entirely new to this ancient river. In this installment, we start to investigate why people have wanted to settle here for thousands of years.
Major river confluences all over the globe have been and remain places of "high commerce.” Of course, overland travel has always maintained great importance as well. But overland travel without benefit of the wheel and, later, mechanized vehicles is much more limited with regard to bulk carry than is riverine travel. Notice I said nothing about using beasts of burden, because ancient American people did indeed employ domesticated animals for moving materials. We'll come back to domestication of wild things by Native Americans, but for now let's concentrate on ancient transportation on rivers and on foot. In particular, let's examine travel on and near the Wabash River.
The Wabash joins the Ohio at the far southwest corner of Indiana near a place known as "The Bone Bank.” The Indiana side of the Wabash there is in Posey County. The site became known archaeologically in 1806 when it became the first archeological site in Indiana to be recorded by a government official (Government Land Office). It also was one of the first to undergo archaeological excavation (1828). We'll come back to that in a minute.
The site has a couple other "firsts": in 1873, it became the first archaeological site to be mapped by state geologists, who demonstrated the village site and cemeteries were on a natural terrace rather than a man-made mound; and in 1898, the first site to be "written off" as no longer worthy of study (report to Warren K. Moorehead). Needless to say, that assertion was at best premature or it was an outright lie. A popular regional pastime in the late 1800s and early 1900s was to go to the Wabash riverbank to "dig" out displayquality artifacts. Illustrations of some of the pottery was published by Ephraim Squier and Edwin Davis in their 1847 "Ancient Monuments..." Many of the collected vessels and other artifacts were acquired by Charles Artes, an Evansville, Indiana man, who later sold them to Harmon W. Hendricks who made the purchase for the Heye Foundation. The Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian now curates this collection. Only a small portion of this important collection has been studied.
That first 1828 dig was conducted by French naturalist Charles Alexandre Lesueur. Lesueur concluded that the artifacts and features at Bone Bank were from an ancient American Indian occupation, rather than the creation of "Mound Builders." His remarkably detailed drawings and brief notes (little published until Jacqueline Bonnemains' work in 1984) show that (1) the site then extended for more than 800 m (more than half a mile) along the riverbank; (2) rows of burials with Mississippian pottery and disk pipes were actively eroding from the riverbank; (3) wide, deep pits - House basins - Up to 1 m below the surface of the terrace also were exposed in the riverbank; and (4) there were "typical" late Mississippian artifacts within the burials.
However, given what we now know about the site, including C14 dating of context, bones, and organic artifacts, this was not a truly "ancient" site or people. This town existed from about 1300ce until about 1700ce. The days of the mound builders were pretty much over when this town and these people were here. The pottery, on the other hand, tells an interesting tale, perhaps offering clues to the changes that took place.
But, like other river sites, the Bone Bank Site did not exist in a vacuum, nor was it isolated from other towns. While the Bone Bank artifacts have eluded serious and comprehensive study, nearby are other important, contemporary, and related sites. In fact, it could be considered all one culture with 4 individual urban centers. Yes, I used the word “urban.”
In her 2008 masters thesis for the University of Kentucky, Christina A. Pappas (Pappas, Christina A., "AN ANALYSIS OF TEXTILE-IMPRESSED CERAMICS FROM SLACK FARM (15UN28), KENTUCKY," 2008). University of Kentucky Master's Theses. Paper 552, documented a study of ceramics from the Slack Farm site, 15UN28. She compared the cord and textile "impressed decorations" on the pottery. The Slack Farm is a notorious "graverobber" site, where over 650 burials were unearthed by private collectors using backhoes. But right now, we're just examining the pottery. From Christina's Final Conclusions in her thesis:
“An analysis of textile-impressed ceramics from the Caborn-Welborn phase site of Slack Farm was unable to detect any statusbased differences. The data provided evidence for higher textile consumption patterns in clusters 3, 4, 6, and 7, which may be a function of sample size. This data cannot support the idea of status- based social organization, but it cannot completely disprove the idea. The data also provided additional evidence for the presence of Oneota women residing at the site. The use of Oneota fabric on Caborn-Welborn ceramic vessels raises several questions concerning the role of these women and requires further research before a conclusion may be reached. Further research is also needed before the Oneota-associated twining types may be used as cultural markers for these populations. It is hoped that the information generated from this analysis will provide a solid foundation for future studies of the material culture and textile traditions in the lower Ohio River valley.”
I've read all 209 pages of her work and I am impressed, no pun intended. To break down the basics, (1) the high quality ceramics were available to everybody who was buried at Slack Farm, so there is no apparent class distinction within the cemeteries; (2) the pottery was made using techniques and materials associated with Oneota women at least a hundred miles north and west. However, Christina only considered the possibility that the fabric, cords, and decorated ceramics were made by Oneota women living at Slack Farm. I disagree, the evidence only shows that the pots were made using Oneota materials and methods by Oneota women and the pots were buried at Slack Farm. The high incidence of Oneota-associated material culture could just as easily be explained by a long standing and active trade between the Caborn- Welborn culture and the Oneota. The question then becomes, what was traded to the Oneota? The trade route is obvious: up the Wabash River to its tributary, the Embarras River and then to the more than 300 known Oneota sites in the greater Embarras Valley.
But this isn't the full extent of the culture that existed in the Wabash during that 400 year stretch. In fact, some of it, like the Slack Farm, wasn't even along the Wabash or its tributaries. Bone Bank is close enough to Slack Farm to have used line of sight communications without advanced technologies of any kind. Yet they were separated by a mighty river, the Ohio.
Most discussions you find of the events that led to Christina Pappas being able to actually conduct her study and publish her thesis call up images of graverobbers and black marketeers raiding everything of importance and leaving only destruction in their wake. They further cite claims of irreparable damage to the practice of archeology. While there is plenty of truth in those descriptions, the Pappas thesis and its near perfect approach and execution speak to there also still being plenty to study.
"There are many examples of archaeology's “evil twin,” grave robbing. These sites are of note in order to understand the vast difference between legal archaeology and illegal looting. In the late 1980's near Uniontown, Kentucky, a farm owned by the Slack family was looted. The farm had been in the family for centuries, but when the last member of the family passed away, the farm changed owners. The new owners originally kept to the wishes of the Slack family in keeping gravediggers away from the farm, but when a group of pothunters offered the owners $10,000 they relented. The desires of the Slack's were soon crushed under the massive tires of tractors, along with the bones and artifacts of a long gone culture. It took several months before the townspeople complained to the authorities about the digging and the noise. By the time the looters were arrested, the damage had already been done. The once well preserved site of Slack farm with its countless precious remains of a distant people, a site that could have helped researchers find answers to the prehistoric Indian cultures was now left ruined. All that was left were scattered crushed bones and broken artifacts, lying alongside empty beer and soda cans and cigarette butts. The entire site was a vast stretch of gaping holes and ravished graves. Evidence of settlements and trade routes that could have been infinitely valuable to the cultural history of the area was demolished for the value of artifacts on the black market." (http://www.columbia.edu/itc/anthropology/ v1007/davis/sites.html)
Wikipedia describes the Slack Farm Site thusly: "The Slack Farm site is located on a projecting terrace and adjacent levee 300 metres (980 ft) from the Ohio River. There was a mound (Site 15 UN 70) located on the bluff overlooking the site. The Slack Farm site itself consisted of 7 discrete village areas surrounding a central plaza and covering roughly 35 acres. A shallow ravine bisects the site running from the west to the south. Houses were typical Mississippian rectangular wall trench wattle and daub structures set in shallow basins. Many had prepared clay hearths. Located near most houses were special pits used to store maize and other dried foods. The pits were large enough to have stored enough grain to feed 7 to 12 people for a year.
"Each section of the large village maintained its own cemetery. Burials were typically in extended positions. They were often laid out in parallel rows and the absence of overlapping burials suggests that they were marked in some way. Grave goods such as limestone disc pipes, shell beads and ear plugs, as well as small pottery jars were often included, usually near the body's upper torso. In Late Caborn-Welborn times, European trade goods such as glass beads, copper/brass bracelets and tubes were deposited in the graves. During the 1987 looting, 650 to 750 graves were opened by the looters. Given the fact that infants and children are under-represented in this total, archaeologists speculate that as many as a thousand or more people could have been buried at the seven cemeteries at the site."
One of the best "go to" sources of information about this overall culture comes from a collaborative effort of the people who have spent the most time on site. Or, in this case, sites.
Slack Farm and the Caborn-Welborn People Series: Kentucky Archaeological Survey Education Series by David Pollack, Cheryl Ann Munson, and A. Gwynn Henderson The Caborn-Welborn People, page 8.
"At the opening of the 15th century, people living in the Ohio and Mississippi river valleys reorganized social, political, and economic relationships. They no longer wished to be ruled by an elite class, choosing instead to live in small, widely scattered settlements. Local Mississippian chiefdom, such as Wickliffe, Kincaid and Cahokia, were collapsing at the same time the Angel chiefdom was declining.
"The changes taking place in the Angel area differed in many ways from those occurring elsewhere. The people did not completely abandon their homeland. Families moved downstream slightly, closer to the Wabash-Ohio River confluence. They also reorganized their living arrangements. Instead of concentrating in one community, they lived in one of several villages located within a 37 mile area along both sides of the Ohio River in Illinois, Indiana, and Kentucky: Slack Farm, Shawneetown Bridge, Blackburn, Bone Bank, Welborn, Murphy, Hovey Lake, Alzy, and Caborn; or in the nearby smaller settlements.
"Unlike many other Mississippians, these people expanded trading relationships with lower Mississippi Valley chiefdoms located to the southwest. They also established new trading relationships with Oneota tribal groups to the north and with Mississippian chiefdom societies to the southeast."
While the authors answered a great many questions, many more remain. So if they established "new trading relationships" with societies that were already trading with the predecessors of Caborn- Welborn, does that mean they needed "more" trade goods, needed "different" trade goods, or they themselves had something new or different to trade? With the Mississippian chiefdoms failing or at least in sharp decline, why did this breakaway culture flourish and endure for 3 or 4 centuries, nearly into historic times? Perhaps one of the most basic questions is not sufficiently answered yet, although there are some clues. The question of how many people lived in the 37 square mile area believed to be the territorial limits of the settlements described as Caborn-Welborn is both important and elusive. We have an idea of how many people were buried at Slack Farm, partly because of how many graves were pillaged. We have a lot less certainty about how many were buried at Bone Bank, but estimates of the number that have washed out of the river bank since 1828 is between about 450 up to somewhere near a thousand. Cheryl Munson estimated that Bone Bank had a peak population of about 500 people. That may be realistic, or it may be quite conservative. We simply can't recover information destroyed by the river meanders and the pothunters. The Hovey Lake and Murphy sites, although apparently similar in extent and population as Slack Farm and Bone Bank, have not been excavated in there presumed cemeteries.
In any case, the number of ritually buried dead is not a particularly reliable indicator of total population. So what about the houses? Could we get a good idea of total population from the total available housing? Well, perhaps we can, but only if we can ascertain how many houses existed, where all the houses were, and how many were contemporaneous. Remember, these towns existed for some 350 years. One house that was excavated at Hovey Lake had undergone at least five distinct rebuilding events, having been destroyed by fire at least four times.
The apparently ubiquitous occurance of house fires in the Caborn-Welborn complex might raise some eyebrows as to how often these people fought and lost wars. But, so far, there is no clear evidence that they ever fought or even erected defenses, although their immediate predecessors, Angel Mounds chiefdom, had an immense and complex defensive works around their town. There could be an entirely different, though no less destructive reason for frequent structure fires among nearly all the ancient sites in Indiana (and elsewhere), the Big Prairie and its annual burn off. Although the limits of the modern Big Prairie in general, and the longgrass prairie in particular, to not extend to the area of the Caborn-Welborn culture cluster, before white incursion, it did. In fact it extended far into north western Ohio, Kentucky, and even into Tennessee as evidenced by prairie long grass populations still being present on the plateaus above the river valleys there. While those populations are now small and fragile pockets, they are strong evidence nonetheless .
More evidence of the prairie having greater extent across southern Indiana comes from early historical accounts up to about the 1840s. And the prairie ecosystem may have played a part in the success and endurance of the Caborn-Welborn people. The idea that each of the houses could accommodate about 5 people, but each house had a granary that could hold enough food for 7 to 12 people for a year indicates something. What it indicates is still a huge question. Perhaps it was the ancient version of prepping, or perhaps it was to ensure that no matter how was lost to vermin there would still be enough for the residents. Or, just maybe, they traded the bulk leftovers for something. Or, and this is a little more farfetched according to conventional wisdom, the overage was used to feed domestic animals or flocks. We know they kept domesticated dogs, why not fowl? After all, grouse are also known as “prairie chickens.”
Since about all the known Mississippian site that have been examined in detail have very similar housing and storage design and features, it doesn't hold that any of them were exporting a lot of grain to each other. Were they providing food to the elite of the society? Why, then, are there no indications of an elite class within Caborn-Welborn? Was there some other group within the “classless” society that for some reason could not grow their own grain and did not live in the same houses? Could there have been more of those people than there were people who grew and harvested the grain?
Most of the granaries were located a few meters from the houses, but some were inside the houses. If a prairie fire swept through the town, the outside buried granaries were more likely to preserve the grain than were those inside the ruined houses, so the placement outside is not difficult to comprehend. Further north, where snow covered the ground for months at a time, it was more problematic to have the granary outside the house.
Now let's go back to the Bone Bank and its array of artifacts and another of the “firsts” at Bone Bank: the only Clovis point recovered in a “supervised” dig in Indiana. So that one is “first and only.”
The vessel in illustration 3 on the previous page, is an amazing specimen from Bone Bank, beyond its considerable asthetic appeal as a utilitarian vessel. We have discussed another type of vessel that had a similar two tone painted decoration and technique, but no face or ears. Those vessels contained cacao that had come, presumably from Central or South America (AA #105). We examined what was the possibility of “branded packaging regarding the vessels used exclusively for drinking and or serving the fermented cacao drink. Then, in AA #111, we found the passage about the ceramic “Japanese Head” unearthed at Worthington Mound. Part of that passage with the description is reproduced here:“ This image on the other hand is an exact presentment of a certain type, and does not contain in the interior fragments of shells; but, in addition to the other points of superiority, has the exterior surface covered with a well-defined coat of grayish-white clay, an art not usual in our ancient potteries” [Calvin S. Taylor].
Until I find the illustration that Taylor provided, I will assume, perhaps too romantically, that the “vase” found at Worthington Mound might resemble the Bone Bank head effigy in Illustration 3. If so, we may be able to trace more connections.
So far in our exploration of the Wabash, we have mentioned 4 (of 9 ) villages, 57 smaller sites in the “Caborn-Welborn Complex”, trade over tens of thousands of square miles (perhaps much more), time spans of some 11,000 years, a possible ceramics market well outside both Caborn-Welborn and the Oneota, and ancient “prepper” practices. And we've only traveled three and a half miles from the conjunction with the Ohio. But there may be connections to very farflung places, including Florida, because shells found with Caborn-Welborn burials are thought to have come from Crystal River in Florida and some pottery found in Crystal River is thought to have come from the “Lower Ohio Valley.” The Caborn- Welborn Complex grew up around and “controlled” the confluence of the Ohio and Wabash rivers. It was a “trade conglomerate” using geography as one of its most important assets.
While the archaeologists in charge of the various investigations in both places acknowledge that trade occurred between the distant places, they are reticent to accept that it was direct trade. There must have been intermediate trade nodes, though none have been found. Shells from the Gulf of Mexico are found among the cemeteries of Caborn- Welborn and some funerary pottery found in Crystal River burial mounds bear striking resemblance to ceramics from Caborn- Welborn. However, the two cultures, according to archaeological consensus, were not contemporaneous and thus there are many questions that remain unanswered.
In our next installment of this series, we travel further up the Wabash to encounter a crossroads of sorts and another industry with far ranging trade partners.