Archive for Wednesday, November 28, 2001

Anthropologist completes study of prehistoric site

November 28, 2001

When anthropologist Brad Logan visited a Leavenworth County farm field last June, he had little hope he'd be fortunate enough to unearth an 800-year-old structure.

But luck and much more were on his side.

"It's almost exclusively due to landowner and tenant cooperation and volunteers, particularly volunteers from the Kansas Anthropological Association," Logan said.

In June, flooding had uncovered a significant anthropological find: the charred walls of a dwelling that dates back to 1000 to 1400 and that had been inhabited by Indians from the Steed-Kisker phase. Along with the walls, 50volunteers who worked in July and again in October were able to uncover pottery and tools. The wood and grass home apparently had burned after it had been abandoned.

"It's just really rich in artifacts," said Logan, a University of Kansas anthropologist. "It's probably one of the most exciting sites I've ever dug."

A Tonganoxie area man Scott DeMaranville actually made the discovery on June 13. He, in turn, called Logan, who called on numerous volunteers. Troops of volunteers worked for more than two weeks in July and on three weekends in October.

"We dug up the rest of the house," Logan said recently. "That was beyond my expectations."

A central hearth was part of the discovery, along with four main support post holes and a three-foot-deep cache used to store food for winter months. The only portion of the house remaining for excavation is an entryway that extends south from the 530-square-foot home.

Inside the four walls, a wide variety of tools and pottery were discovered, some made from stone that could have come from as far away as Ohio. Stone also came from the Flint Hills, Logan said.

The anthropologist still is awaiting results of tests to determine the age of the burned wood, as well as the species of the timbers.

"I'm certain it will fall between AD 1000 and 1300 or 1400," Logan said.

Although he's not certain about the age of the structure, he does know some facts about the people who lived there.

"These people preferred deer and more woodland kinds of animals," he said, so it was somewhat surprising to find part of a bison bone in the home, although bison were plentiful in this area. The bone likely was used as a paddle to shape pottery. Logan's volunteers kept meticulous records of where artifacts were discovered in the home.

"That's one of the things about mapping this stuff we can see how this debris gets kicked around in the house," Logan said.

The anthropologist could spend hundreds and hundreds of more hours working in his KU office, trying to piece together small pieces of artifacts. Some pottery pieces already have been glued together. But the process is painstakingly slow much like trying to complete several highly complicated jigsaw puzzles, with no certainty all the pieces were in the box.

While there's still work that could be done at the site, and around the site, Logan isn't certain he will go back. Part of the reason for his uncertainty is the home is in a corn field, and it will be replanted at some point. And Logan has many, many hours of work to complete again, with the help of volunteers at KU.

He's pleased, however, that the site was excavated, particularly because the home and artifacts were only about nine inches below the surface.

"That's why it was so critical to get this house," the anthropologist said. "That's within the plow zone. All of it would have been churned up. We were able to get the house at just the right time."

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