Dig along Stranger Creek offers glimpse at area’s past
Along the shady banks of Stranger Creek, long ago footsteps have faded.
But the evidence of earlier lives remain.
And now, because of work through the Kansas Archaeological Field School, more is known about the prehistoric inhabitants of the area.
While his students combed through dirt at a nearby prehistoric house site, Kansas State University anthropology professor Brad Logan showed a visitor traces of the past.
In an area where flooding has eroded soil, Logan picked up a round-top rock. It was about the size and shape of a box turtle's shell.
"This is at least 1,500 years old," Logan said, turning the stone tool over and noting a walnut-shaped indention on its flat side, which he said likely was used to grind nuts and other food items.
Adding another bit of history, Logan said the stone itself was likely carried to this area by glaciers.
Nearby, Logan pointed to flakes of stone he said were left over from the carving of arrow points, knives and scrapers, further evidence of the long-ago dwellers along Stranger Creek's valley.
Since 2001, Logan has brought teams of anthropology students to the Tonganoxie area to dig. The dig was at the site of a late prehistoric house, termed by Logan's group as the "Scott House," after Tonganoxie resident Scott DeMaranville who discovered numerous artifacts after the 2001 flood scoured the area. That house belonged to people of the Steed-Kisker culture who lived in this area from 800 to 1,000 years ago, Logan said.
In 2002, Logan returned to the site and found another storage pit.
During the summer of 2003, Logan and his students focused their work on land adjacent to the Scott House.
"We didn't find much because I think it's been scoured away by all the floods," Logan said.
And this year his group dug at a different house site not far up the creek from the Scott House.
"The ones that lived right here belonged to the Pomona Culture," Logan said.
For instance, prehistoric groups can be identified by the pottery they made.
"The pottery we're finding here has high rims that are really straight," Logan said.
Frequently, the Pomona pottery has cord marks.
"They would slap it with a paddle wrapped in cord to mold the coils together," Logan said.
Logan compared the two houses.
"The Scott House, the Steed-Kisker, is classic," Logan said. "It's almost a textbook house, kind of square with rounded corners, and an extended entryway to the southeast."
The Scott House had a central hearth, four internal support posts, and posts around the outside. The house had walls fashioned from saplings and grasses covered with daub (known as waddle and daub construction), and a grass thatch roof.
"The Pomona people also had waddle and daub houses, but we've never been able to find one of those square shaped one with posts," Logan said.
The Pomona houses are usually oval shaped, rather than square, and they likely date from 850 AD to 1000 AD.
During this time frame, people who lived in this area underwent gradually changing lifestyles.
"They've becoming more dependent on corn, beans, squash and sunflowers," Logan said. "They're becoming more dependent on agriculture."
That meant they planned for the next year's crops.
"I'm sure they saved seed from year to year," Logan said. "That's what some of these pottery vessels may have been used for this purpose -- for storing seed."
Logan noted that the Steed-Kisker inhabitants began their home's construction by digging a pit about a foot deep, then setting their posts around the inside.
This, he said, is how DeMaranville discovered the site in 2001.
"After the flood when Scott came over and saw those artifacts poking out, you could actually see the outline of the sunken part of the house," Logan said. "It looked like a gray stain."
The Pomona Culture house is different, Logan said, in that it was built on the surface.
Eventually, the houses burned, which provides more evidence of prehistoric residents.
"When it burned and collapsed, it left all this burned daub and stuff and we're getting all kinds of that," Logan said.
The daub looks and feels like marble-size brown chunks of rounded ceramics.
And it's not just the houses on the surface Logan's interested in. Though 1,000 years seems old, Logan said tests are showing the deeper they dig, the more they'll find.
"There's stuff down below the plow zone and then there's stuff about 3,000 years old down about 80 centimeters, and stuff 5,000 years old down about 6 and a half feet," Logan said.
Potential for more
Trever Murawski, a K-State senior anthropology major from Leavenworth, said work at the site was difficult, but rewarding. Murawski was also Logan's teaching assistant during the summer field study.
"It's just real exciting," Murawski said. "To find something that hasn't been seen or touched for 1,000 years -- that's definitely the neatest part about it."
Logan said he hopes to bring students back to the area at least every other year.
He's confident the land will have more stories to tell.
"I think we'll find more sites like this all the way up that valley," Logan said. "I think the whole county, the whole state is like that -- I think the whole state of Kansas has the potential for deeply buried archaeological sites."