Gimme shelter

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Gimme shelter

Post Number:#1  Postby WorkJay » Wed Sep 23, 2009 10:05 pm ... ml?sid=101

COSHOCTON COUNTY, Ohio -- Jeff Dilyard squatted in a waist-deep pit beneath a rock overhang, contemplating a dark patch of sand he uncovered. Perhaps it's the remnants of a campfire an Indian hunting party built more than 10,000 years ago, when mastodons roamed the woods. It's a good theory. It was just a few feet away that the retired teacher and volunteer archaeologist found the base of a Paleo-Indian hunter's spear point this summer. Excavations such as this one help prove that the natural rock overhangs that dot Ohio's landscape provided shelter for hunters dating back more than 12,000 years. (These overhangs still do -- researchers sometimes find shell casings left by modern hunters). This all makes perfect sense to Nigel Brush.

Ashland University geologist Nigel Brush has spent more than 25 years studying rock shelters across Ohio.

Brush, a geology professor at Ashland University, has spent 27 years leading excavations at 30 rock shelters in Ohio, mostly in Holmes and Coshocton counties.

While he was working on his doctorate at UCLA in archaeology, Brush returned to Ohio in 1982 to dig for his thesis.

He said his grandmother told him that a rise on her Noble County farm was an ancient burial mound. He got a grant and dug in.

"It was a clay knoll," he said.

Brush had a grant but no project.

So he went home to his family's farm in Coshocton County, where a farmer who lived across the road told the young student that he was finding lots of arrowheads beneath a sandstone outcropping behind his barn.

Before he could dig, he had to sweep --the farmer had sheltered cattle and pigs beneath the rock. The area was covered with manure and straw.

Eventually, he found projectile points from several prehistoric periods as well as flint flakes that indicated people had crafted their weapons there.

But how far back did ancient Indians use these sites?

A year later, at another rock shelter site in northwestern Coshocton County, Brush found his first evidence.

Volunteer Jeff Dilyard, right, digs in a pit below a rock shelter in Coshocton County. Dilyard found the partial spear point nearby.

He sent charcoal from a sandstone-lined hearth he uncovered about 3 feet beneath the surface back to UCLA for carbon dating.

It was 12,185 years old, making it one of the oldest signs of humans in Ohio.

On the way down, he'd found tools, weapon points, pottery pieces, flint flakes and animal bone fragments that showed habitation during every period of prehistory.

"We were thinking that as you went down level by level, the use might change," he said. "Surprisingly, we found the shelters were used over and over again the same way for thousands of years."

Some were base camps that might have been used for months.

He finds thousands of flint chips, bone fragments and other signs of long-term habitation in those. Others appear to have hunting camps, used for a few weeks at a time with fires and smaller flint flakes that showed that the Indians finished points there, but did their primary knapping somewhere else.

Still others appear to have been inhabited intermittently, some for a night or two, others for a few hours as shelter from a storm and still others for a few minutes as a place to stash a piece of flint or a pot for later use. They're usually the smallest and show the fewest signs of habitation.

Dilyard's find helped link some of the clues.

Dilyard, a volunteer for 24 years, is a member of a consortium of geologists and archaeologists from Ashland, Wooster and Columbus.

Last month, the retired art teacher from Jeromesville had worked his way down to what appeared to be an unpromising layer of sand on the last excavation before Brush was going to start compiling his research for a book.

"We were going to quit here," he said pointing to a spot just above a white pin jammed into the side of the pit.

That's when he found it: a chip of brown flint. He removed it and marked the spot with a pin.

Then he studied his find. The flint piece was worked into a concave arc on one side and was broken off flat on the opposite. It has vertical grooves, or flutes, worked into it.

Dilyard knew it was old. But he didn't know just how old until experts had a look at it.The tips, Brush said, all look pretty much the same. It's the base of a flint spear point that tells archaeologists who made it.

But those vertical flutes tell them that Paleo-Indians made the one Dilyard dug up in Coshocton County.

Brad Lepper, an archaeologist with the Ohio Historical Society, examined the find. He said the point likely is older than 10,000 years.

"The same way a car buff can look at a car and say that's a '55 Chevy or '67 Mustang, archaeologists can look at a stone point and tell where it fits in the spectrum of projectile points," Lepper said.

Dilyard now is looking for further evidence of ice-age people using the rock shelter. The dark sand he's uncovered might be a clue. He consults with Nick Kardulias, an College of Wooster archaeologist.

The two follow signs of a rodent burrow and consult drawings from previous layers of the excavation.

"It looks like it's in a pristine situation," Kardulias said. "This looks real. Would I call it a hearth? I don't know."

Dilyard agrees that it bears more investigation.

"We're going to take some carbon and have it tested," he said. "If it is, it'll be pretty cool."

Who used the rock shelters?


12000 B.C. to 8000 B.C.

The first people in Ohio were ice-age hunters descended from the people who many scientists believe crossed the Bering Straight between Siberia and Alaska while ocean levels were low. They were mobile people who hunted mastodon, deer and smaller animals, fished and gathered nuts and fruit when they could.

Archaic Period

8000 B.C. to 1000 B.C.

This period begins at the end of the ice age, when thick forests grew across Ohio. Hunter-gatherers added stone axes to their tool kits. But they continued to rely on major sources of flint in Licking and Coshocton counties for scrapers, knives and points.

Woodland Period

1000 B.C. to 1000 A.D.

Pottery, agriculture and progressively larger settled villages appear. The Adena and Hopewell cultures that built Ohio's geometric mound complexes thrived early in this period.

Woodland Indians sometimes used rock shelters as places to store goods in pottery jars, and they used them for temporary shelter while hunting.

Late Prehistoric (Mississippian) Period

1000 A.D. to 1650 A.D.

These Indians built Ohio's effigy mounds, including the Serpent Mound in Adams County. Cultures, including the Fort Ancient and Monongahela, lived in large villages, often with stockade walls. They still hunted but relied more on fields of corn, squash and beans.

Historic Period

1650 A.D. to present

On the top layer of soil, archaeologists have found spent shotgun shells and ammunition casings left by modern hunters. It's hard to separate native artifacts from this time from those of the late prehistoric, and there are few signs of Colonial or settler artifacts.
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