Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Conservation and The Adena Mound Builder Culture

A few years ago, Ted Keir and I met with a representative of the Archaeological Conservancy. The Archaeological Conservancy was established in 1980, and is the only national non-profit organization dedicated to acquiring and preserving the best of our nation's remaining archaeological sites. Based in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the Conservancy also operates regional offices in Mississippi, Maryland, Ohio, and California. We met with them about trying to preserve the Queen Esther's Town and Flats area and to stop the "pay for digging" of this incredibly significant site that reportedly was and still is going on there under a business name of "Camp Dig It."
Our hope was that they would buy the land in question or that they would pay the owner for rights to the land and have an easement placed on it defining what the land could be used for. While the preservation effort did not in the end occur, it was my introduction to what an incredible organization the Archaeological Conservancy is. It was also my reality check that sometimes it would be better to have a local organization in place to build awareness about the need for preservation and was indeed another reason why SRAC was formed...

Why I bring this up now is that for Christmas, I received a subscription to the Archaeological Conservancy magazine, "American Archaeology," and as I initially leafed through the pages with incredible pictures of sites around our country, I stopped dead on page 31 when I saw the image of a familiar artifact:

Many of you know the artifact that I am referring to is SRAC's birdstone that we use in all of our branding efforts. SRAC Board member Dick Cowles's dad Ellsworth Cowles had it in his collection at one time. It was found at the Shepard Hills Golf Course (just north of Spanish Hill) it was uncovered by some workers while digging up a sand trap about 80 years ago :

For those that are not familiar with birdstones, they were thought to be an atlatl weight, and actually came in many different designs. The most unique are those shown above, called the "popeyed" birdstone.

The article from the Archaeological Conservancy reports that their popeyed birdstone was found in 2006 at the Danbury site in northern Ohio on the edge of Lake Erie, and goes on to report that the "burial which was dated to the Early Woodland period, (approximately 1200–500 B.C~ Twigg:2007) contained three individuals and a range of artifacts including a birdstone carved from gray slate(shown above)...the presence of these objects suggest a level of ritual that is rare for early woodland sites"(American Archaeology:2007)

Because the burial where the birdstone was found in Waverly was not recorded that I know of, or dated for that matter, I guess I somehow just thought that the birdstone that was found there was from a much later Mound Builder culture...but the Danbury article dates the popeyed birdstone found at their site as Early Woodland(approximately 1200–500 B.C~ Twigg:2007)...which would by my calculations make the culture most likely the earliest of the Mound Builders...the Adena.

Please note that popeyed birdstones are said to be more frequently found in Late Archaic sites, as opposed to Early Woodland sites. But I think the point here is that they were used at the point of a "renaissance period "of a very early kind. That is that they are found at sites of a people who were nearing the end of the "hunting and gathering" mode of life and began early agricultural efforts, made basic pottery, built living structures and spent what seems to be alot of time with ritualistic pursuits. Specifically, the Adena are most well noted because of their great "rounded pyramid-shaped" or conical burial mounds.

Picture from my trip to the Miamisburg (Adena) Mound, Ohio

The mounds have been found as far east as the Atlantic shores and as far west as the Mississippi. (The great Miamisburg Mound (shown above) in Miamisburg, Ohio is worth the visit by the way...)

We actually have more than a small amount of locally found Adena points in our SRAC collection that we have identified already, and let's not forget that the Adena were also great users of red ochre (ocher) ...

It would seem that even though we have no evidence of large conical mounds left in our immediate area, that the evidence in the form of artifacts that we can easily muster shows quite convincingly that the Adena culture was in fact in our region.

I hope that you can see that we at SRAC are continuing to compile this evidence in our collections for the very purpose of allowing these types of trends to be available to researchers and students of our local prehistory. The truth is that along with the The Archaeological Conservancy many states and communities are finally taking ownership AND RESPONSIBILITY and are currently preserving sites and finally celebrating and sharing just these types of stories about the early people who lived in their areas.

I think it is about time we do the same.

Lastly, special thanks to Katie Fogel for a very thoughtful and thought provoking Christmas present!

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