The Rescue Excavations

With a sense of urgency we sought funds for a rescue excavation project. Thanks to an innovative Indiana agency and grant program - the Wabash River Heritage Commission - the Bone Bank rescue project in 2000-2003 became the first state-funded effort to mitigate erosional impacts at an archaeological site. The project was carried out by Indiana University, with administration provided by a regional not-for-profit organization, the Four Rivers Resource Conservation and Development Area, Inc., Indiana University, private individuals, trusts, and local organizations provided the matching contributions. Four universities and the Indiana Geological Survey loaned equipment. Volunteer field workers included students, faculty, and avocational archaeologists.

Excavations in 2000 and 2001 necessarily took place in the fall during low river levels, and investigated cultural deposits in three areas.

I. North Block, Swale, Buried Midden Deposits

  • 88 m2 were opened to safely excavate the deeply buried midden.
  • 18 one-meter squares were excavated in six 10-cm levels.
removing historic alluvium above the Caborn-Welborn midden
North Block excavation samples from the buried midden in the swale
  waterscreening and flotation

Although the swale midden contained the deepest stratified deposits, the hope of finding both early and late Mississippian materials was not met. However, several characteristics of the recovered late Mississippian assemblages show consistent temporal trends.

excavation of midden deposits

II. South Block 1, Terrace

The goal of the rescue effort on the terrace was to excavate any intact features remaining in this deflated area of "high ground."

  • This work was the first opportunity to excavate a sizable area at the edge of a Caborn-Welborn village and to search for evidence of a palisade.
  • Backhoe stripping and shovel scraping exposed 335 m2.
  • The bottoms of several pit features and postholes were found.
  • Any shallow features - such as wall trenches for houses or a palisade wall - would have been eroded away.
  • Therefore, we still do not have solid evidence of village fortifications for the Caborn-Welborn phase, although midden-staining at other large villages suggests this possibility.

South Block 1 search for features
basal portion of cylindrical storage pit

III. South Block 2, Lakeshore

To estimate the distribution of sealed archaeological deposits back from the riverbank, solid earth cores were drilled in 42 locations.

  • Soil from 10-cm levels was processed to isolate cultural microresidue - small pieces of pottery, rock charcoal, and chert.
  • Graphing distributions of cultural residue helped us select the most promising area for excavation.
  • Block excavation opened 100 m2 to reach the buried midden and to search for pit features, using the same procedures employed in the North Block.
Indiana Geological Survey drill rig
sorting materials from one 20cm level

(Click for full-sized version) South Block 2 in progress

No additional features were found in the lakeshore locale beyond those identified during testing. The pits in this area are limited to shallow basins interpreted as baking facilities.

The lowest Mississippian deposits in the lakeshore midden contain Caborn-Welborn materials mixed with small numbers of Woodland and Archaic artifacts. These deposits represent the paleosurface that was subsequently covered by additional Caborn-Welborn artifacts and silts.

As in the previous year at the North Block, excavation at the lakeshore midden concluded when flooding threatened to inundate the work area.

Summary of Rescue Excavations

The results are quantitatively impressive:

  • more than 90 tons of cultural deposits excavated and water-screened;
  • 150 flotation samples processed; and
  • 29,000 artifacts from two middens and a small number of features.
  Bone Bank under flood waters beans from Pit Feature 9 (Phaseolus vulgaris)  
catloging and analysis (Click for full-sized version)  

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