Native American

Jesse Walker – My Day of Archaeology, 2016

by Jesse Walker
Archaeological Society of New Jersey
Newsletter Editor and Executive Board Member

On Wednesday July 27, 2016, I devoted time to the Archaeological Society of New Jersey. Newsletters were printed for mailing to new society members. Emails from Executive Board Members were reviewed to ensure events, deadlines, and other organization tasks were addressed. One of major tasks the society is publishing a professional bulletin with articles about archaeology in the Garden State. I am editing an article about Native American flake stone tools that were excavated from a stratified site on the Delaware River floodplain near Frenchtown New Jersey. The results of microscopic analysis of flake tools are presented in the article. Editing involves checking grammar, formatting the manuscript, and reviewing the research design, archaeological data and conclusions. Publishing excavation results is a key responsibility in archaeology. It is eye opening to see how much effort goes into writing, editing, and prepared articles for publication in journals and bulletins. The membership dues to the Archaeological Society of New Jersey help fund the printing costs of the bulletin. Please consider joining the Archaeological Society of New Jersey to receive a copy of future bulletins.

Experimental Archaeology Rocks

My name is Martin Lominy. I’m a trained archaeologist, a career educator, a self-taught craftsman and the founder of Aboriginal Technologies Autochtones, a Quebec based business with an educational mission aimed at providing the general public with a more practical vision of the past and a better understanding of aboriginal cultures of North America through the reproduction and experimentation of ancient technologies.

Today, I’m doing an inventory of lithic material so for this year’s Day of Archaeology post I’ve decided to focus on lithic technology which basically refers to the art of bashing, cracking, knapping, pecking, grinding or polishing stones of various kinds to manufacture tools, ornaments and other objects whose significance becomes even more obvious through the study of how they were used, broken, repaired, recycled and discarded.

Stone is of all materials the most dealt with in archaeology and stone tools are of paramount importance not only because they are very well preserved in the archaeological record and common to all cultures but also because they are the basic tools with which most other tools were made in prehistory. They not only help us understand the technical skills of ancient people but also inform us on chronological periods, cultural groups, food production, population movements, social organization and trade networks.

Stone tools are in fact a complex technology that benefits greatly from experimental archaeology which is a research method specialized in the reproduction of past objects and behaviours to understand the processes involved in making and using artefacts found in archaeological sites. For decades archaeologists have recognized the value of experimentation and reproduction for the benefit of research but also as an educational approach to share that knowledge with the public in a comprehensive and dynamic way.

I will briefly present here a photo essay of our latest projects aimed at improving our understanding of stone technology and reproducing various artefacts either for scientific objectives or educational purposes.

Fieldwork

Collecting cobble stones for the reproduction of axes, net sinkers and grinding stones. It can take many hours of searching a shoreline or a river bed to find appropriate stones.

Collecting chert for knapping. Finding accessible chert can be a tricky operation these days since alot of the ancient stone quarries are now protected sites.

Preparing quartz preforms in the field to bring back to the workshop for tool making. As in ancient times, it’s a lot easier to carry preforms than boulders back to camp.

Testing a stone axe reproduction in the field during a house building project. Using a tool is the only way to learn the about the details of its construction.

Inserting a stone axe head in a live tree to test a hypothesis. According to historical sources, some stone axes were hafted by allowing a living tree to grow around a prepared stone blade.

Stone knapping

Knapping chert preforms for the reproduction of various tools. Similar piles of preforms are sometimes found in archaeological context and are known as caches.

Knapping experiments with quartz and dolomite. Unusual materials for that purpose that were nevertheless used in prehistory because of their availability.

Exercise in knapping very small tools from equally small flakes. In prehistory, people made the most of what they had available and chert was rarely wasted.

Typology of stone points of Northeastern America showing the evolution of projectile points. This display was designed as an educational tool for our public activities.

Polished stone

Reproductions of polished stone tools (celt, grooved axe, adze, gouge) that were used for woodwork in North America between 8,000 and 500 years B.P.

Reproductions of Northwest Coast style fish knives. Such knives made by grinding slate slabs were delicate but very sharp for the preparation of fish.

Drilling stone with stone. Various soft stones like soapstone, slate and limestone were polished and drilled in prehistory to make ornamental or ceremonial objects.

Common polished slate tools (semicircular knife, spear head) used in North America during the Archaic period (8,000-3,000 years B.P.).

Unworked stones as tools

Many stones found in archaeological context were modified by use but not by design. Sandstone for instance was commonly used as a grinding surface to work bone while chert flakes served as disposable blades.

Working a native copper nugget with a stone anvil, a hammer stone and a grinding stone to manufacture a prehistoric knife for a traceology project with the University of Montreal.

Making beaver incisor gouges with various grit stones for a traceology project with the University of Montreal.

Using various types of stones for cutting, hammering and polishing bone for the manufacture of prehistoric tattoo needles as part of a traceology project with the University of Montreal.

Sharing the knowledge

Reproductions of Dorset tools incorporating chert and slate blades commissioned by the Avataq Cultural Institute for education programs in Arctic communities.

Craft workshop on polished stone projectile points with students of the University of Montreal during Archaeology Week.

To see more, visit our website or follow us on Facebook.

Cheers!

Experimental Archaeology towards Experiencing Archaeology

My name is Martin Lominy. I’m a trained archaeologist, a career educator, a self-taught craftsman and the founder of Aboriginal Technologies Autochtones, a Quebec based business with an educational mission aimed at providing the general public with a more practical vision of the past and a better understanding of aboriginal cultures of North America through the reproduction and experimentation of ancient technologies. In the past couple of years, my Day of Archaeology posts have focused mainly on artefact reproduction because this is what I do most of the time. So this year I would like to talk a bit more about my work in education as I am spending the day preparing educational material for upcoming activities that take place in August during Archaeology Month in my home province of Quebec.

Flintknapping demonstration in a reconstructed native village. (Photo: Les Primitifs)

Flintknapping demonstration in a reconstructed native village. (Photo: Les Primitifs)

Third grade student learning to fletch an arrow.

Third grade student learning to fletch an arrow.

Learning about ancient technologies through experimentation is central to my work but sharing this knowledge is the ultimate goal of my career. In fact, most of my artefact reproductions are purchased by museums and interpretation centres to complement their activities and exhibitions. I have worked as a museum educator for over a decade from delivering to developing public programmes and always enjoyed giving the general public a better understanding of what life would have been like in the past. I have dealt with all sorts of groups ranging from children to elders and from amateurs to scientists as well as survivalists looking towards ancient technologies to expand their wilderness skills. It’s always been a challenge to adapt the complexities of archaeology to a variety of audiences but one that has kept me passionate about public education.

Families learning to make prehistoric fish hooks. (Photo: Maison Nivard De Saint-Dizier)

Families learning to make prehistoric fish hooks. (Photo: Maison Nivard De Saint-Dizier)

Survivalist group learning about ancient fishing technologies. (Photo: Les Primitifs)

Survivalist group learning about ancient fishing technologies. (Photo: Les Primitifs)

As a craftsman, my educational approach is about communicating through objects that can be touched, used or created so my activities range from interactive conferences for adult audiences to craft workshops for school groups and demonstrations for public events where people can experience the subject directly. For this purpose, my work in artefact reproduction is not about imitating artefacts with synthetic materials but rather going through the entire process or creating them from raw materials to finished tools and testing them so that I can explain how they were made and what this meant for people using them in the past. This level of experimentation is mostly a way for me to learn beyond theory but it also allows me to share my knowledge and skills with specialized groups such as college and university students interested in experimental archaeology.

Anthropology students from the University of Montreal learning about the uses of plant fibres. (Photo: RÉAUM)

Anthropology students from the University of Montreal learning about the uses of plant fibres. (Photo: RÉAUM)

As a part time anthropology teacher, I have also used my classroom experience to develop specific activities that can be integrated into anthropology classes to give students a better understanding of anthropological concepts, archaeological techniques and past lifeways. The school curriculum in Quebec includes several chapters on aboriginal culture and history which were integrated only a decade ago, so most of the groups that I meet are primary and secondary level classes looking to complement their programme with activities giving them access to specialized knowledge and material while discovering archaeology as a profession. Primary school children are my favourite age group whose limitless curiosity and enthusiasm inspire me the most to educate the public about the importance of learning from the past through archaeology.

Primary school students learning about prehistoric lifeways through a modelling project.

Primary school students learning about prehistoric lifeways through a modelling project.

So these are the things on my mind and on my table today. To learn more about Aboriginal Technologie’s educational programmes, please visit my website.

Cheers!

Day of Archaeology Video from the Illinois State Archaeological Survey

This is a video submission for the Day of Archaeology submitted by the Illinois State Archaeological Survey-American Bottom Field Station (ISAS-ABFS). The primary function of the ABFS is to conduct research based on excavations mandated by law for transportation related projects, and conduct public outreach across the state and region relating our findings.  Since the ABFS’s area of responsibility includes the Metro East communities of St. Louis, Missouri we often have to conduct research related to large-scale transportation infrastructure improvements. This area also includes the Native American city of Cahokia and its related communities, which means that sites ranging the spectrum of very large villages/urban precincts to small farmsteads have to be investigated when they cannot be avoided by the planned construction. Given the scale of many of our past projects we have a large staff at the ABFS and rather than just give you an example of one persons day, I thought it would be good to show you a typical day at our field station. I have provided a link to the ISAS website and the video on Youtube. Enjoy.

 

Molecular Archeology Puts Artifacts in Perspective

Buried inside the Earth, lay secrets. Archeologists piece together histories often lost to time as they unearth human remains and their long-lost possessions.

Where archeologists exhume secrets from the soil, molecular archeologists uncover secrets lying inside human remains. By piecing together ancient DNA, molecular archeologists can more definitively answer questions about our past.

“Some people in my field consider themselves to be molecular archaeologists as we tend to work with archaeological remains and use an archeological context to help infer the genetic patterns we see,” said Ripan Malhi, an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Illinois and affiliate of the Institute for Genomic Biology (IGB).

While the day-to-day rigor of being a professor may not seem illustrious, over the course of the year, Malhi’s lab makes amazing discoveries.

Ripan Malhi is a molecular archeologist at the University of Illinois. Photo by Brian Stauffer.

Ripan Malhi is a molecular archeologist at the University of Illinois. Photo by Brian Stauffer. ©

The Golden Era of ancient DNA

“We can do things now that we haven’t been able to do before,” Malhi said. “I like to say that ancient DNA is in a golden era. When I was a graduate student working on ancient DNA, it probably would’ve taken me years to sequence one complete mitochondrial genome and now we can do that in a week or so.”

Today Malhi’s lab studies complete genomes as well as DNA passed down from mothers to their offspring (called mitochondrial DNA) and from fathers to their offspring (called the y chromosome) to infer the evolutionary history of populations and species. Currently, research in the lab is split into two research areas: the evolutionary history of Native Americans and evolutionary genetics of non-human primates.

Last year, his lab found an ancestral link between ancient remains and their living descendants.

“The community members were really happy about the results because their oral histories have said that they’ve been there for a very long period of time as well,” Malhi said. “Now through scientific and DNA data we are able to show this connection in a different way. Being able to show that connection with something that they’ve known to be true was really satisfying.”

While most archeology doesn’t include DNA analyses, they can be vital to distinguish cultural processes from biological processes, Malhi said.

In the past, movement of arrowheads or pottery from one region to another indicated that a population might have moved. But in reality, Malhi said, a number of other factors could explain the distribution of artifacts.

“By combining DNA evidence with this cultural data we can distinguish whether people are moving or cultural artifacts are being traded from one community to the next,” Malhi said. “Using DNA evidence, we can show how genetic variants moved across the geographic landscape after neighboring groups intermarried.”

This work does more than solidify community backgrounds and establish migration patterns. It can also illustrate evolutionary process and show us how we may evolve with other organisms. One of Malhi’s students is studying how infectious diseases brought over after European contact affected Native Americans’ genomes.

How molecular archeology works

First, Malhi works with Native American communities to find out what questions they would like to answer. It’s a first step that scientists have often skipped in the past.

“They know their own history better than I’ll ever know it,” Malhi said. “They can look at the genetic patterns and give us ideas about what those patterns may represent.”

Malhi interacts with Native American communities and museum curators to discuss what the community members hope to learn from DNA analysis, the questions he wants to address, and how best to extract DNA from the ancestral remains.

Next Malhi visits the communities or museums to pick up the remains. Sometimes he has the chance to be onsite during the excavation as the archeologists collect the remains with gloved hands to prevent modern DNA contamination, from their skin cells and microbiome.

At Malhi’s lab, the remains undergo a surface decontamination to ensure that modern DNA is not included in the final analysis. Then they drill out a sample about the size of a cavity from the bone or tooth. The sample is ground up to a fine dust then sequenced and analyzed.

Finally Malhi is able to look for genetic patterns by combining the new results with published results from various databases and combines that information with other anthropological information, such as the community’s oral histories or cultural artifacts from the archeological site.

Today molecular anthropologists like Malhi can turn DNA fragments that are only around 200 or so base pairs in length into a complete human genome made up of about three billion base pairs.

It’s more than a job

From interacting with Native American communities to seeing his students begin successful careers, Malhi said his job is really satisfying.

“It’s always fun to go back to communities and report results and see how people take those results and incorporate that knowledge and then ask new questions,” Malhi said. “I am now at this stage in my career where I have my students presenting at meetings.  They spent years working really hard developing their research. When they put it all together and present it and the audience gets excited about it and the students are excited about it—that’s a really good feeling, too.”

Malhi also values being a part of the Summer Internship for Native Americans in Genomics (SING) workshop, which facilitate discussions about how genomic research is conducted and to create a support network for Native American students in the sciences.

Malhi earned a Master’s degree and a doctorate in anthropology at the University of California at Davis. He also took molecular biology, population genetics, and other biological courses to complement the anthropology curriculum. Today a student interested in this field can pursue graduate degrees in biological or molecular anthropology.

“I recall hearing about a genetic study where an Italian population did not get heart disease because they had a natural genetic variant, and I realized there’s lots of genetic variation out there that can be interesting and useful,” Malhi said. “Then I learned about connections with history and how you can infer human history from DNA variation, and I was hooked.”

The Institute for Genomic Biology (IGB) is dedicated to interdisciplinary genomic research related to health, energy, agriculture and the environment. The Institute’s cadre of world-class scientists, collaborative laboratories, and state-of-the-art equipment create an environment that inspires discovery and stimulates bioeconomic development at the University of Illinois. For more information about the SING workshop, visit http://conferences.igb.illinois.edu/sing/.

Artefact Reproduction as a Trade

My name is Martin Lominy. I’m a trained archaeologist, a career educator, a self-taught craftsman and the founder of Aboriginal Technologies Autochtones, a Quebec based business with an educational mission aimed at providing the general public with a more practical vision of the past and a better understanding of aboriginal cultures of North America through the experimentation of ancient technologies.  Since 2005 we have provided artefact replicas, educational workshops, interactive conferences, craft demonstrations and consultation services for a variety of institutions such as schools, colleges, universities, interpretation centers and museums across Canada and beyond. We also enjoy collaborating on various projects ranging from experimental archaeology to movie sets. Rather than summarize too much information or present one of many projects, I’m offering here a photo essay of various subjects and activities we have worked on since last year’s post.

Collaboration with a PhD student from the University of Montreal to make and test Aurignacian arrows. Photo credit: Luc Doyon

Photo credit: Luc Doyon

Collaboration with PhD student Luc Doyon from the University of Montreal to make and test Aurignacian arrows on an animal target.

Educational kit designed for Quebec schools to supplement the teaching program on Iroquoian society through activities based on experimental archaeology.

Educational kit designed for Quebec schools to supplement the teaching program on Iroquoian society through activities based on experimental archaeology.

Part of large order of Northwest coast fishing tools for a Hollywood movie set.

Part of a large order of Northwest coast fishing tool replicas for the movie set of Night at the Museum 3.

Stone axe from our collection used by local archaeology cooperative Gaïa for a dwelling reconstruction experiment. Photo credit: Francine Gélinas

Photo credit: Francine Gélinas

Stone axe replica from our collection used by archaeology consultants Gaïa for a dwelling reconstruction experiment.

Set of stone tools made for a public dig simulation at a local interpretation enter.

Set of stone tool replicas made for a public dig simulation at Pointe-du-Buisson museum.

Collaboration with survival school Les Primitifs to teach a group the production techniques of aboriginal fishing technologies.

Photo credit: Mathieu Hébert

Collaboration with survival school Les Primitifs to teach the production techniques of aboriginal fishing technologies.

Set of prehistoric bone tool replicas for educational activities interpretation in a museum.

Set of prehistoric bone tool replicas for interpretation activities in a museum.

Experimenting the production of a prehistoric pitch recipe based on recent discoveries.

Experimenting the production of a prehistoric pitch recipe based on recent discoveries.

Young apprentice collecting raw materials for cordage production. Most of our replicas are made with materials that we harvest ourselves.

Young apprentice collecting raw materials for cordage production. Most of our replicas are made with materials that we harvest ourselves.

Some pottery tools from our collection used in an experimental workshop with university students.

Some pottery tools from our collection used in an experimental workshop with university students.

Assisting a class of grade school students in a model project on aboriginal people.

Assisting a class of grade school students in a model project on aboriginal lifestyles.

Most archaeologists get covered in dirt. We mostly get covered in dust.

Most archaeologists get covered in dirt. We mostly get covered in dust.

It seems most of our projects begin like this.

It seems most of our projects begin like this.

One of our most popular items: cooked knives. Just as we use it for artifact replication, our customers used it to rediscover old woodworking techniques.

One of our most popular items: crooked knife. Just as we use it in our reproduction process, our customers used it to rediscover old woodworking techniques.

A variety of Northwest Coast artifact replicas for a school program on aboriginal culture in British Columbia.

A variety of artefact replicas for a school program on aboriginal culture.

A custom replica for a European collector. Many of our clients order pieces that they could otherwise have in their collection.

A custom replica of a warclub for a private collector. Many of our clients order pieces that they could not otherwise have in their collection.

Archaeology Under the Arch

Tamira here, Research Archaeologist with the Illinois State Archaeological Survey (ISAS). I currently serve as a Site Supervisor at the East St. Louis Mound site, one of the largest Mississippian period (AD 1000-1450) sites in the pre-Columbian world, just downstream from Cahokia Mounds. Large-scale excavations have been ongoing at East St. Louis since 2008 in advance of the construction of a new bridge that will span across the Mississippi river from Illinois to Missouri. This project involves more than just the bridge though – it includes new utilities, interchanges, road realignments and improvements, and the diversion of an interstate from its current route to the new bridge. A large portion of this project’s footprint impacts the site. It’s our job to recover as much information as possible from this portion of East. St. Louis before construction takes place.

This bridge project requires LOT of work from a lot of different groups. ISAS works with all of these groups on a daily basis in order to ensure that this important project runs safely and with efficiency. Just like the many other groups working on this project, we have deadlines that must be met so that the bridge will open as scheduled in 2014. Unlike those contractors however, we really never know what lies ahead on any given day – which is one of the most exciting parts of being an archaeologist. We could be faced with rock hard soil or sloppy mud depending on the weather or enjoy a perfect day of sunshine; be completely shut out of an area due to another contractor’s schedule or finish an area ahead of time; spend hours digging finding nothing but dirt or discover an amazing artifact that will help rewrite the history of the site. These factors make a large part of the job a balancing act between maximizing data recovery and doing top notch research while meeting the demands of the larger project. Luckily, we have a hard-working crew of more than 80 individuals who rise to meet the challenge day after day. Our team includes not only the excavators and supervisors on site, but essential staff in the office who make our maps, write reports, curate finds, coordinate with native groups, and make sure that our research both reaches both the scientific and public communities.

My particular role at ISAS shifts depending on the needs of the project. Until recently, I spent my days running one of the many excavation blocks at the site – supervising crew, interpreting features, making sure that paperwork is done properly, coordinating with supervisors in other areas of the site, and deciding what’s to be done next among other tasks. The job requires a great deal of flexibility, problem solving, and people skills. I worked in this capacity until the day that my daughter, Orin was born. This came with particular challenges – working through morning sickness, an increasing need to visit the port-a-john as the due date approached, and navigating my baby-bump in tight excavation areas – but the most unexpected challenge was probably finding field-appropriate clothing for the expectant archaeologist! Try a Google search of “maternity work wear” and you’ll see what I mean. Despite these minor obstacles, a healthy pregnancy allowed me to enjoy my entire pregnancy in the field, and there’s no place I would have rather been!

I returned to work from my maternity leave just last week and am now active on the next stage of the project – analysis and write-up. My day to day involves checking over notes and maps from the field, examining the artifacts – which includes anything from the refuse of daily life such as pottery and chipped stone to exotic and unusual items, interpreting finds, and most importantly, pulling all of this information together so that it can be written up and presented in a cohesive report. For a project of this scale, this process will take a large team of researchers several years to complete. The finished product will be a seminal volume that will rewrite the history of the East St. Louis site and its contemporaries, helping us to better understand the people that made their lives in the fertile river valley that I now call home.

So how did I end up with this awesome job, working on this awesome site? Well, unlike many of my colleagues, I didn’t always want to be an archaeologist. I used to go arrowhead hunting on the family farm as a child and was always fascinated with Native American culture, but I actually went to the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign to pursue a degree in music. I was derailed from that path by an excellent gen ed course in anthropology during my first semester, which led to a new major and my participation in Dr. Tim Pauketat’s archaeology field school the following summer. Several additional summers of excavation convinced me that there was no better life than the digging life, and I’ve been doing it ever since – for the government, independent contractors, universities, in graduate school at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, and ultimately at ISAS on one of the most impressive and important projects in North America.

A quiet day at the lab

As a zooarchaeologist at the Virginia Museum of Natural History, I usually spend quite a bit of time in my lab identifying, or trying to identify, many pieces of bone, antler, and shell, mostly from Native American sites in the North American Middle Atlantic states.  The lab is also usually bustling with volunteers washing, sorting, and labeling samples.  Today though, the lab is unusually quiet (hopefully there’s a photo below).  I am out of town doing some background research for a new project, the fauna from the Barton site – a multicomponent Native American village site in western Maryland.  This week I was working at the library at the Maryland Historical Trust.  The Trust library houses the site files, reports, and publications dealing with Maryland archaeology and historical resources.  I now have a much longer reading list to work through over the next couple of months!

I decided to take a break from library work and the 100 degree heat and took a diversionary trip to The Walters Art Museum (thewalters.org) in Baltimore to see their temporary exhibit on writing implements.  I saw an object new to me – an 18th century small ivory writing tablet.  The tablets in the exhibit were small (approximately 1 in wide and 2 inches long) and were stored in small metal cases.  The user would write a note on the tablet and then they could wipe the note off of the smooth ivory surface and write a new note when needed.  The first write-on-wipe-off board!  And one more use for ivory to consider if I see flat ivory pieces in a historic site assemblage.  Even on a gallery visit where I didn’t plan on seeing anything work related there was still something to keep in mind for future analyses.  That’s one of the great things about archaeology; there’s always something new to learn and almost everywhere you go there is something relevant to what we do.

It looks pretty quiet in there!