Popular Posts

Wednesday, November 19, 2014



It was the summer of 1952. Donald Baldwin, a 13 year old lad from Oconto, Wisconsin, was exploring an abandoned gravel pit on the western out- skirts of the city, when he uncovered a cache of human bones. His discovery would lead to one of the most significant archaeological investigations ever under- taken in the state.
It would grow to involve not only the Milwaukee Public Museum, but the University of Chicago, the Natural History Museum of Chicago, and the Wisconsin Historical Society. Excavations were con- ducted jointly by the Oconto County Historical Society and the Wisconsin Archaeological Survey.
Young Baldwin’s find and sub- sequent discoveries at Oconto established the area as one of monumental archaeo- logical importance. Carbon-14 dating revealed human habitation there in excess of 7,500 years ago. The remains of at least forty five individuals and a virtual treasure trove of copper, bone and stone artifacts were the oldest (at least at that time) cultural materials found east of the Mississippi River.
The site contained the oldest known cemetery in North America. Artifacts and burials provided powerful new evidence about the antiquity, com- plexity and diffusion of ancient North America's Copper Culture. Yet, in the end, everything learned and gained from the discovery would be soon after packed away and virtually forgotten. But the Copper Culture tradition grew to repre-
Above: One of the 21 grave-pits uncovered during the Oconto excavation.Left: Informational sign greeting visitors to the site. Photographs courtesy of the Oconto Historical Society, Oconto, Wisconsin.
sent one of the most controversial inter- pretations of North American prehistory.
Currently a Wisconsin State Park and open to visitors, the archeologi- cal precinct is located some 150 yards from the Oconto River, and approximately three miles from where it flows into Green Bay. The site lies in a Pleistocene glacial till plain overlain with a 1.5-foot layer of
sand, and 0.5-foot layer of humus. The area surrounding the site was once a fairly level one, but gravel mining operations during the 1920s removed a substantial amount of the soil and substrata, destroying most of the site. Investigators estimate it originally may have contained as many as 200 buri- als. Both grave and cremation pits were found, but no mounds associated with them exist. Pit outlines were generally round for cremation and elliptical or rec- tangle for graves. In cross-section, they were basin-shaped. The incineration and burial areas were separated from each
other by one to five feet. In two instances, the burials
intruded into prior or adjacent graves. Eight cremation pits were found altogeth- er. They were generally two to four feet in diameter, one foot deep, and often did not penetrate into the gravel layer. Each cre- mation pit contained the remains of at least one individual. The presence of charcoal, blackened stones, and other evi- dence of fire on the sides and bottoms of
the pits suggests that cremation took place within the pits. Split bones, skull fragments, and the general chaotic posi- tion of the bones indicated the dead may have been dismembered, or given scaffold or tree-burials before cremation.
Altogether, twenty-one grave pits were uncovered during excavations. A total of 33 men, women and children were recorded. One of the pits was empty, eleven each contained a single individual, seven were occupied by two persons each, and one held three human remains. Five individuals were interred in a single pit.
Graves were dug into the gravel stratum (glacial till), while the burials were laid in and covered with sand. These pits were discernible by their gravel out- line when seen from above. The entombed individuals had been interred in several positions varying from prone to partially flexed (in the ancient Egyptian manner). A number of graves contained bundle burials, implying they died elsewhere and were reburied at the Oconto site.
Artifacts discovered at the site are perhaps the most telling evidence of the Copper Culture. They show that the Oconto site inhabitants used a deep knowledge of metallurgy, and established a strong economy based on extensive trade. Travel, too, would have played an integral part in their commerce, and is demonstrated by the many copper arti- facts found up and down the Mississippi
Continued in Ancient American Magazine, Vol. 5 No. 4.

the vast majority of the ancient tools were cast
The Rediscovery of Lost America
Arlington Mallery and Mary Robison Harrison

See above:"justify the conclusion that the vast majority of the ancient tools were cast."

No comments:

Post a Comment