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Archaeologists Discover 4,000-Year-Old Homestead…in Ohio

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"One of the highlights of my archaeological career."

An archaeological dig site in northeastern Ohio has offered up artifacts for decades. Last year though, researchers found evidence of a planned clay floor for a homestead and continued excavation this year. (Image source: Cleveland Plain Dealer video)

A dwelling unearthed by archaeologists in Ohio is so old that the people who once lived there don't even have a tribe name to classify them.

Artifacts have been coming from the Burrell Orchard site the French Creek Reservation owned by Lorain County Metroparks in Sheffield, Ohio, about 30 miles west of Cleveland, since the 1970s. More recently, teams have been working on uncovering a clay floor in a dwelling that was first found in 2014. What the researches wanted to determine, according to the Cleveland Museum of Natural History's head of archaeology Brian Redmond, was if it truly represented the floor of a structure.

Excavation of the 4,000-year-old floor earlier this summer was delayed somewhat due to rain, but Redmond continued in a blog for the museum that a series of posts they uncovered in a U-shape it was an oval homestead.

An archaeological dig site in northeastern Ohio has offered up artifacts for decades. Last year though, researchers found evidence of a planned clay floor for a homestead and continued excavation this year. (Image source: Cleveland Plain Dealer video)

Inside the house, archaeologists uncovered a few artifacts as well:

One truly unique aspect of this likely house floor is what appears to be a prepared clay basin (Fea. 15-17) located in the southeast corner of Unit 496N 512E. This shallow dish was molded out of the same clay used to construct the structure floor and a rounded rim was added, most likely to contain whatever material was placed within this receptacle. Lying on the surface of this basin was a bone awl or perforating tool and the astragulus (ankle bone) of a deer. The purpose of this construction remains a mystery. It was not used as a fire pit, since the clay was not altered to the distinctive red-orange color seen on many areas of the clay floors where fires were made. I don’t think this basin would have served very well as a surface for grinding, since the clay would not have held up to much scraping with a groundstone tool. Perhaps the basin held plant material or served as the base for basket containers. Maybe it was a water dish for the family dog! We really don’t have a clue, since, to my knowledge, nothing like it has been found before in Ohio.

In the blog post, Redmond also noted that the team found what they believe to be a storage pit.

"The discovery of Structure 1 with its clay floor is amazing to me," he wrote. "To be able to stand on a Late Archaic house floor, touch a clay basin made by the inhabitants, and peer into a storage pit that was last opened some 4,000 years ago has been one of the highlights of my archaeological career."

The site as a whole, Redmond told the Cleveland Plain Dealer, which recently featured the dig in an article, is unique.

"There's nothing like this anywhere in Ohio," he told the newspaper,  calling it "a much more significant site than we previously thought. These are house structures. This was like a village site."

Watch the Plain Dealer's video for more on the discoveries made at the dig site and what Redmond thinks they could mean:

Redmond leads the Archaeology in Action program at the museum, which hosts summer archaeological sessions for accepted applicants. The excavations taking place this year through the program are continuing documentation of the house that dates back to the Late Archaic period and is looking for other areas where early Native Americans might have been active in the vicinity.

Redmond told the Plain Dealer the evidence they've found at the dwelling and the fact that it had an established floor suggests the inhabitants were "here for months at a time."

"A small family would be very comfortable. They were well insulated, and sheltered under the tree canopy of oaks," he said of the people who were most likely migrants from the southeast.

Another interesting fact about the dig in Lorain County is that it's seasonal. When the archaological season ends due to the changing weather, Redmond told the Plain Dealer the crew will cover it with plastic and fill the site with dirt.

"It's better to put it back the way it was for 4,000 years," he said. 

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