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MITCHELL, S.D. — Archaeologists in the northwestern state of South Dakota have uncovered corn cobs, corn kernels and sunflower kernels that are over 1,000 years old.

Officials say the discoveries at the Prehistoric Indian Village in Mitchell show that people who lived in the region at the time farmed and had a diverse diet.

The village is an active archaeological site and open to the public. Students from the University of Exeter in England and Augustana College in Sioux Falls work every year at the site that holds dual status as a National Register and National Historic Landmark site.

Augustana archaeology professor Adrien Hannus told The Daily Republic that the new discoveries indicate the village dwellers weren’t exactly primitive. He says it was a successful village of farmers, hunters and foragers.

Posted July 9, 2015

TorontoSun

I just discovered the article from The Daily Republic, with more information:

Each year, something new is uncovered at the Thomsen Center Archeodome at the Mitchell Prehistoric Indian Village.

Researchers working the archaeological site along Lake Mitchell have discovered troves of small, charred kernels of corn and sunflowers, each only a few millimeters wide, that remain intact more than 1,000 years after people lived in the area along Firesteel Creek. Researchers have also found corn cobs, which they say show how much agriculture has changed, and affirms that people of the region had a diverse diet.

The findings are significant for those investing their time and resources into the Mitchell site. Alan Outram, who is in his 12th year bringing students from the University of Exeter, in England, to partner with Augustana College students, said the team has found as much carbonized plant matter in the last two weeks than from the last 11 years.

“Of course, it’s important to this area,” he said. “The thing is, this is an agricultural area and this is the history of that agriculture.”

Augustana College Professor of Archeology Adrien Hannus, who serves as the project director at the site, said when the archeodome was being built and finished in 1999, they got an idea of where the best deposits would be. That hinted to Hannus that they would get a good look at the way of life for the American Indians who settled in the area.

“It showed at the time that there was probably 12 feet there, and we’re really just scratching the surface,” Hannus said. “This village isn’t the origin of prehistoric agriculture, but it is one of the key sites in understanding what was done here.”

The discovery was made through cache pits, which were large holes used to store things like food and tools. When the people who used them discovered they were not ideal for keeping food, they turned them into trash receptacles. In those pits, archeological students have also found broken pottery pieces and other items.

In this part of the country, Hannus said, the prehistoric pits would have a wide opening and then would belly out at the bottom, sometimes 4 to 5 feet deep. They would be capped with clay and ash, because insects such as beatles can’t survive climbing through ash, according to researchers. Until this year, Thomsen Center Archeodome researchers had never found a cache pit with an unbroken clay and ash cap.

As for the corn findings, the longest cobs are about the size of an adult finger. Hannus said the people of that time were either roasting or boiling the entire cob, and Outram said they show the growth of corn crops since that time.

“They tell us a lot about these strains of plants have changed over time,” he said. “They’re a lot smaller. You can see that the corn kernels are about the same size, but the cobs were a lot smaller and there were a lot fewer kernels on the cobs.”

The charring helped to preserve the seeds, Outram said. Otherwise, that seed might have grown out of the ground over time.

“For a 1,000-year-old seed, they’re very nicely preserved,” he said. “But they’re only preserved because they’re charred.”

Hannus said the findings reiterate that the American Indians of the area—about 200 to 250 of them at the site at any one time—had a complex diet and weren’t exactly a primitive people.

“I guess the real positive story is that we know this was a successful village of farmers, hunters, foragers; they collected fish and wildlife; they hunted bison and deer and smaller mammals,” he said. “This wasn’t a starvation story here. It’s a story about a very vital, alive group of people who lived here.”

Hannus has worked at the site for last 31 years, and says the parallels with modern South Dakota are still evident.

“I keep trying to convince people that are visiting, this is not some kind of bizarre, alien culture,” he said. “This isn’t something that people should not be able to relate to. You’ve got small, rural towns in South Dakota right now, today, that are functioning not much differently than the people did then.”

Mitchell Prehistoric Indian Village Executive Director Cindy Gregg agreed with the researchers, saying if the average person was dropped in the Amazon, “they would be considered primitive, too,” she said.

The 18 students, who are from the U.S., England, Ireland, Russia and Spain, are about 60 percent complete with their time at the site this year and will be in Mitchell through July 16.

The discoveries come on the cusp of the village’s biggest event of the year, Archeology Awareness Days, which is this Saturday and Sunday. Primitive technologists from around the country will be here and demonstrating the skills used more than 1,000 years ago. There will also be summer Lakota Games and cultural programs.

“We’ve had our most productive dig season in the 12 years we’ve been doing this,” Gregg said. “This is an exciting time for us.”

mitchellrepublic.com

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Topic: Jamestown Ovens

The ovens, excavated in an early colonial cellar, open another window on the first successful English colony in America.

Archaeologists at the early 17th century English colonial site of Jamestown in Virginia have been steadily unearthing a 25-foot-long L-shaped cellar located inside the enclosed area of the original “footprint” of the 1607 James Fort, uncovering two remarkably well preserved brick ovens that show evidence of extensive use before they were abandoned to time.

“These are some of the most intact ovens we’ve ever excavated here at Jamestown,” said archaeologist Mary Anna Richardson.[1]

What is more, they seem to have retained features that would, at least theoretically, permit a person today to use the ovens for baking. According to senior staff archaeologist Danny Schmidt, “these two now we could fire right up today” [1]. In addition to the brickwork constituting their foundations, they feature roofs that remain partly intact, almost as they may have been left by the early colonists.

More significant still, particularly for archaeologists, is what was left behind in and around the ovens, which may answer questions about how they were used and their significance within the context in which they were found. “We’ve got a good deposit on the floor from during their usage. Excavating that occupation layer will be the payoff to help us answer that,” said Dr. William M. Kelso, who leads archaeological research at Historic Jamestown under the Jamestown Rediscovery Archaeological Project. [1]

Examination of the framing arch on at least one oven suggests that it had a wooden door about 2 inches thick. Why a wooden door, which could easily burn? According to Kelso, a person could start the oven fire with the door open, then remove the coals and place food inside once the oven interior had reached the appropriate temperature, and then immediately close the door to contain the heat inside for the baking process.

Two similar ovens, determined to have been used for baking bread, were discovered in 2007 in a blacksmith shop/bakery cellar at another location within the Fort space, but these cellars were found much less intact.
Original article:
popular archaeology
Dec 14, 2022

There is also interesting information at a site devoted to Jamestown.

The Dig: December 2012–Historic Jamestowne

Where are We Digging Now?

Sturgeon Scutes in Front of the East Oven in Structure 191The sturgeon bones layered across the floor of the L-shaped cellar illuminate how important the river was as a source of food for early James Fort colonists.

Much has been written about Captain John Smith’s negotiations with the Powhatan Indians for corn, but we know that in 1608-09 the colonists were also working with sturgeon.

Sturgeon have long bodies, no scales, and can grow to 12 feet in length. They are bottom-feeders in the rivers and coastline of North America, spawning in fresh water and then feeding in the brackish waters of estuaries.

Smith mentions sturgeon early in the colony’s story: “From May to September [1607], those that escaped lived upon sturgeon and sea crabs” but by the fall “was all our provision spent, the sturgeon gone, all help abandoned. . . .”

VCU Ichthyologist Matthew Balazik with a Live SturgeonVirginia Commonwealth University ichthyologist Matthew Balazik said spring run adult sturgeon usually enter James River in late March and leave by June and some fall spawning Atlantic sturgeon can be in the river from late July to early October. He has studied sturgeon remains from early Jamestown and published a report in 2010 showing sturgeon from that era grew more slowly than sturgeon today, which may reflect today’s lower population density or higher water temperatures.

Balazik visited the L-shaped cellar December 14 and was excited to see the evidence of sturgeon from which he could estimate that they were between five and eight feet long. The sturgeon pieces are scattered on the floor near one of two brick ovens in the L-shaped cellar.

Smith wrote that in early 1609, “We had more sturgeon than could be devoured by dog and man, of which the industrious by drying and pounding, mingled with caviar, sorrel, and other wholesome herbs, would make bread and good meat. Others would gather as much tockwhogh roots in a day as would make them bread a week, so that those wild fruits and what we caught we lived very well in regard of such a diet.”

But when Samuel Argall arrived with two supply ships in July, he found many of the colonists hungry because they refused to sow their own crops. Many settlers had been “dispersed in the savages towns, living upon their alms for an ounce of copper a day,” and even Smith admitted that “our necessities was such as enforced us to take” the fish, wine, and biscuits onboard Argall’s ships.

Part of Argall’s mission was to find out how good the fishing was in the waters off Virginia’s coast. Fish were a valuable commodity to the English: their ships had been fishing off Newfoundland for decades before Jamestown was founded.

In the cellar, the Jamestown colonists may have been processing sturgeon for the home market. Sturgeons and whales are actually royal fish in England. According to a law enacted by Edward II (who reigned 1307 to 1327) they are the personal property of the monarch when caught and brought to English shores.

Argall returned to England and reported favorably. “[F]or fishing proved so plentiful, especially of sturgeon, of which sort he could have loaded many ships if he had had some man of skill to pickle and prepare it for keeping, whereof he brought sufficient testimony both of the flesh and caviary, that no discreet man will question the truth of it.”

That fall, the Jamestown colonists did not take care of the seasonal nature of the sturgeon food supply. A mysterious gunpowder explosion sent Smith back to England in November 1609, and the arguing factions he left behind in James Fort did not prepare well for the coming winter.

Colony Secretary William Strachey wrote of this time, “There is a great store of fish in the river, especially of sturgeon, but our men provided no more of them than for present necessity, not barreling up any store against that season the sturgeon returned to the sea. And not to dissemble their folly, they suffered 14 nets (which was all they had) to rot and spoil which by orderly drying and mending might have been preserved. But being lost, all help of fishing perished.”

That winter of 1609-10 became known as “The Starving Time.” Almost three-fourths of the colonists inside the fort died, and that spring the colony came within a few days of being abandoned. It appears that by June of 1610 the L-shaped cellar now being explored by the Jamestown Rediscovery archaeologists was no longer in use.

The cellar is 25 feet long and aligns with James Fort’s first well, which sits 10 feet away to the west and at the same angle.

Original article:
historic Jamestown

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