Sunday, October 3, 2010


L to R:  Eric Burant, Christine Watson, leader Michelle Birnbaum,
Marcus Schullenburg, Bill Balco, Elissa Hewlit and Ashley Dunford.

Detroit Harbor, Washington Island -

Archeologists from UW-Milwaukee shoveled and sifted all of Saturday and part of Sunday in a field survey of the Richter pasture at the end of Main Road, Detroit Harbor.

Led by Michelle Birnbaum, the group marked the field with a grid of small flags and branched outward to shovel-sample every 10 meters, digging holes roughly one-foot square by 24-36 inches deep.   Soil removed from each hole was sifted for small bits of pottery, chert flakes from tool-making, or any other items that might indicate ancient habitation.  In the process, three "points" were found, one a very finely made 3/4" wide arrowhead with tiny serrations along the edges.  Man-made items were saved in paper sacks labeled for each hole, and a pattern of "warm spots" soon emerged, running the length of the field along the higher elevations.  Each test holes was backfilled with remaining soil and sod before the digger moved on to a new location.

The goal of this work was not to accumulate artifacts but to learn the historic extent of this site.  Digs in 1968 and then again 1973 concentrated around the SE corner of the pasture, an area perhaps 100-ft x 100-ft.  If a wider survey had been executed, no field notes or records remained to detail the larger scope of sampling.  Digging during those summers, however, had yielded numerous artifacts (tools, chips, points, scrapers, pottery) as well as human remains.   Although more confined in area, the digging went much deeper and wider than these test holes in what proved to be an extensive site excavation.

Knowing there are long sandy ridges that run more or less parallel with the present shoreline of Detroit Harbor, Michelle believes there may be a much more extensive site that ranges beyond the Richter field.  Yet, there is much to be learned that would be representative of the entire area from the Richter site, including an expert's evaluation of the soil layers (there is often striking variation from hole-to-hole in layers of humus and sand), and in knowing how much of the field might have had active habitation.

This weekend's shovel survey revealed a high proportion of holes having at least some small flakes or bits of pottery.   Of course, there is the collection of 1968-73 items curated by UW-Milw. that may continue to yield more information as science and an improved base of knowledge ties them more accurately to a time period, and perhaps, to other known sites in NE Wisconsin.

Shown below, student Christine Watson holds one of three points she found during the two-day project.

-  Dick Purinton

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