New Philadelphia



2004 Archaeology Report Contents

Background History
3 The Archaeology
Oral Histories

New Philadelphia : 2004 Archaeology Report






New Philadelphia 11PK455, Block 9,Lot 5, Feature 1
Marge Schroeder


Two flotation samples were taken from Feature 1 level a1 and one sample was taken from level a2 of the feature. Feature 1 is a cellar feature on Block 9, Lot 5 that was filled in the early twentieth century after the structure above it was dismantled. The sediment for the samples was taken matrix that was screened through quarter-inch mesh hardware cloth. (The >0.25" material on the screen was not added to the samples.) Each bag held approximately 10 liters of screened sediment.

All soil samples were processed at the Illinois State Museum’s Research and Collections Center (ISM-RCC) in Springfield. The initial processing step, to confirm the field measurements, involved remeasuring the sediment in buckets graduated in liters. Each bag was then processed separately in a Shell-Mound Archaeological Project-type flotation barrel. This device consists of a large “oil” drum with a window-screen bottomed half-height barrel of smaller diameter inserted into the top of the large drum. The insert and the drum both have a cut-away portion near their top and each has a “sluiceway” welded into this portion. This screen-bottomed insert rests on two flat iron bars welded about half way down and inside of the large drum with sluiceway matched up with that of the drum. Just under the welded bars and centered in the large drum is a standard bathtub shower head mounted on a pipe that feeds water into the barrel from a 5/8" diameter garden hose. The municipal water system provides the water pressure to activate the shower. When the barrel is filled with water, the shower head, at full pressure, roils the water and does not fountain above the water surface.

When the barrel is filled with water and the insert screen is in place, a bag of fine-mesh nylon or polyester fabric (the equivalent of drapery sheer material) is attached to the lip of the sluiceway. With the shower head activated, the measured soil sample is slowly poured into the barrel insert. Immediately charcoal and other light-weight items such as snail shells, small bones, fish scales, eggshell, and small uncarbonized botanicals flow over the sluice and are caught in the bag. The sediment that settles on the screen in the insert is agitated by hand in order to free up other trapped light-weight material and to facilitate the break up of sediment clumps. Care is taken not to force materials down through the bottom of the screen. The shower is allowed to run until no more material is being brought to the surface and no sediment clumps remain on the screen. With most soils, the process takes approximately 40 minutes, unless the human agitators are particularly energetic in their sediment swishing, in which case 20-30 minutes will suffice.

The “light fraction” is the portion of sample collected in the fine-mesh bag, and the water flotation “heavy fraction” is that which remains on the screen when the barrel has been drained from the bottom. Both fractions are rinsed in clean water. The heavy fraction is then refloated in a fine-mesh (0.425 mm) sieve in a container (graniteware canner) filled with zinc chloride solution of specific gravity of 1.6, as monitored with a hydrometer. This processing in denser solution (water having a specific gravity of only 1.0) results in the recovery of the denser botanical material, such as black walnut shell fragments, as well as additional bone and other small items. That items that floats to the surface in the zinc chloride processing are scooped off with a 0.425 mm-mesh strainer, rinsed in clean water, and added to the water flotation light fraction. The remaining heavy fraction is rinsed in clear water several times, dried, and bagged separate from the light fraction.

In the archaeobotany laboratory of the Illinois State Museum, the students used a geologic soil sampler to randomly “split” each light fraction into three parts. Hence the three bags originally taken as soil samples were portioned out for analysis in nine parts. Working in groups of 2 or 3 at a time, the students were given basic instructions in archaeobotanical analyses and then undertook the sorting process on their own, with supervision from the ISM archaeobotanist.

To begin, the students sieved their light fraction portion through nested 2-mm and 0.5-mm sieves, retaining the <0.5-mm residual. The non-charcoal in the 2-mm screen was removed as “contaminant” but preserved in the bag with the <0.5-mm residual, which is kept with the sample through the entire process. The cleaned charcoal in the 2-mm sieve was then weighed to the nearest 0.0001g, rounding to 0.001g. Under a dissecting microscope of from 0.8 X to 40 X zoom magnification, charcoal was sorted into type categories (nut, wood, seed, corn cob). A 20-piece subsample of the wood and all other items > 2 mm were then sorted into the most refined taxon possible, with examples of different nut and wood types being shown to each student by the ISM archaeobotanist. Counts of the number of specimens in each taxon were made for all the charcoal (i.e., charred plant material) in the 2-mm screen. For the material in the 0.5-mm screen, a subsample was taken using the geologic soil sampler, and this small portion “decontaminated” by hand, using tweezers and an artist’s paintbrush under the microscope. The contaminants, the cleaned subsample, and the remainder were all weighed, and an estimate of the weight of the charcoal in the uncleaned sample as a whole made proportional to these fraction weights.

The two 10-liter soil samples taken from the upper level of Feature 1 (level a1) contain an estimated 130.7 grams of charcoal (or a standardized 65.35 g/10 liters of sediment). About 113.4 grams (86.8%) of this charcoal is in the >2-mm screen fraction. By count, there are 1,710 specimens in the 2-mm screen. As is typical for historic habitation features, most (94.1%) of the charcoal is wood and bark. Nutshell comprised only 2.3% of the 2-mm fraction by count and corn only 1%. Not counting the corn, there were only two seeds (0.1%) in the 2-mm fraction, a giant ragweed seed and a probable wheat kernel fragment. From this screen fraction, the nuts, corn, and wheat were the only items that might have been remains of foods consumed by the people living here, but they could also have been the leavings of animal feed or items pilfered by rodents and cached in the building debris before it was burned. There were also a considerable number of unidentifiable charred fragments (2.5%). After proportional allocations of indeterminate shell types, most of the Feature 1 level a1 nutshell (87.5%) is hazelnut (Corylus americana), with only a token (6.25% each) hickory (Carya spp.) and black walnut (Juglans nigra) nutshell. Of the wood charcoal identifiable to taxon, after allocations of indeterminate groups, 47.5% are of the white oak group (Quercus subgenus Lepidiobalanus), 34.9% are of the red oak group (Quercus subgenus Erythrobalanus), 7.6% is black walnut or butternut (J. nigra or J. cinerea), 5.9% is wild black cherry (Prunus serotina) or other native shrub cherries (Prunus spp.). There are also 1.7% of maple/box elder (Acer spp.), 1.7% elm family (Ulmaceae), and 0.9% hickory (Carya spp.) wood among the wood subsampled from this level. The only other material of note was the carbonized seeds found in a scan of the 0.5-to-2-mm size fraction. Of the 24 total carbonized seeds in this level of Feature 1, 18 were in good enough condition to be considered identifiable. The seed type present in greatest frequency (n=8) is Rubus, the blackberry/raspberry genus. Next most common is a smartweed (Polygonum sp., n=3), followed by yellow stargrass (Hypoxis hirsuta, n=2). There were also individual specimens of ragweed and wheat, as previously mentioned, and of spiderwort (Tradescantia), a dock (Rumex sp.), and an unknown seed or possibly a plant gall. The standardized carbonized seed concentration for the level is 12 seeds/10 liters. The Rubus may represent seeds that have passed through a human digestive tract, as they have been known to exist in good condition in historic privies, but since these are charred seeds in Feature 1, and since the feature is not considered a privy deposit, it is more likely these seeds are merely from brambles growing around the abandoned structure, the debris of which was burned in situ. Except for the corn and wheat, all the other burned seeds could likewise be considered farmstead weeds in historic Illinois.

The one 10-liter sample from the lower level of Feature 1 (level a2) has an estimated 14.2 grams of charcoal (14.2 g/10 l). Only 8.5g of the total (60%) is within the 2-mm screen, indicating a higher percentage of breakage than is evident in the upper level. Indeed, there may have been filtering of smaller charcoal particles downward, resulting in the higher concentration of 0.5-2mm sized charcoal in the lower level. By count, the 802 specimens of charcoal in the 2-mm screen are 93.2% wood and bark, 3.1% nutshell, 2.9% unknown, 0.6% corn, and 0.1% large seeds (actually one seed, wheat--Triticum aestivum). Of the nutshell, 60% is hazelnut and 40% black walnut. Of the wood charcoal, 51.04% is of the white oak group, 30.63% of the red oak group, 6.7% black walnut/butternut, 5% maple/box elder, 3.3% wild cherry, and 1.7% each of ash (Fraxinus sp.) and persimmon (Diospyros virginiana). Among the charcoal 0.5 to 2 mm in size, there are two carbonized seeds of blackberry or raspberry. With the wheat seed, total carbonized seed concentration for this level of the feature is 3.0 seeds per 10 liters of sample sediment.

Both levels contained numerous uncarbonized seeds that have to be considered more recent “contaminants” to the carbonized material, as there is no way of determining their actual age. It is expected that in an open-air site in central Illinois, in non-”sealed” context, uncarbonized material would have completely decayed within the time span under consideration (ca. 1936, when the dilapidated building was removed, to present times). Types of seeds found in uncarbonized state include blackberry/raspberry, jimson weed, black nightshade, tobacco, elderberry, purslane, grasses, wild legume, and one blueberry. Most of these can be found in fallow fields and agricultural field margins today and can be found within soils that are bioturbated or otherwise disturbed. Such tiny seeds as these could also have filtered down during soil desiccation, or freeze/thaw cycles. The blueberry is the only one of the uncarbonized that is not considered adventive or an escape, but it may have been brought in by a bird or other visitor to the site.


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