Since completing work on the Sommers site collection, Kelly, Kendra, and Lotte have been working diligently to organize and catalog the last of the uncataloged sites in the River Basin Surveys (RBS) Collection: the Larson site (39WW2). A collection much larger than Sommers, Larson encompasses about 100 drawers at the Museum Support Center (MSC). The original field catalog lists over 8000 field numbers, some of which are in fact lots of pottery sherds totaling over one thousand pieces each! The artifacts were organized and shipped to the Smithsonian by material type, which differs from the field catalog order. In order to properly catalog the collection to current standards, the Rogers Archaeology Lab team has been locating each object in its respective drawer(s), then unpacks and rehouses it according to the field catalog order. This process ensures the artifacts maintain their provenience when assigned new catalog numbers for the National Museum of Natural History’s electronic database.
The Larson site was a large Arikara farming community located on the Missouri River in South Dakota. The artifacts of the Larson site are very different from the artifacts from Sommers site, mostly due to its later period of occupation. Approximately 700 years after Sommers, the Larson site dates to the 18th century when a wider variety of material types are present in the archaeological record. Many Euro-American trade materials, such as metal and glass, spread throughout the Middle Missouri region from 1650-1700 (Johnson et al. 2007). Metal tools made of iron were important trade items during this period. Metal axes, adzes, hatchets, and knives aided in the manufacturing of bone tools, which is demonstrated in the increase of such bone tools among post-contact sites (Lehmer 2001). Scraps of iron and brass were also popular trade items, as they were shaped into weapons such as projectile points and knives then attached to slots in the edges of bison ribs and vertebral spines, replacing traditional chipped stone tools (Lehmer 2001). Not strictly for utilitarian purposes, scrap metal was also used as raw material for making embellishments for garments, in the form of copper beads and tinklers. These metal objects show how the trade of new, European materials impacted the daily lives and traditions of the native people in the post-contact era. The presence of metal objects in the Larson collection, therefore, tells us this is a post-contact era historical site.
Among the metal artifacts found in the Larson collection are several projectile points, a musket ball, an axe head, pieces of scrap metal, tinklers and beads. Here is a small sample of some of these metal artifacts:
These projectile points were possibly cut from sheet metal, as was common during the time of Larson’s occupation. Metal projectile points show how foreign trade goods were adapted to traditional uses. Metal projectile points were lighter and easier to manufacture compared to chipped-stone projectile points.
Made from sheet metal and shaped into little conical tubes, tinklers were attached to fringe on buckskin clothing and accessories. They are named for the tinkling sounds made when the person or item moved.
Axes, like the one shown above, were more efficient than stone tools in shaping and fitting beams and posts of the earthlodge frame (Lehmer 2001).
This musket ball, possibly made of lead, was discovered among human remains found at Larson, and may suggest a tragic death.
The metal objects discovered at Larson not only shed light on the lives of site residents (through trade and technology), but also help tell the story of their deaths. Traditionally, Arikara burials were in a formal cemetery outside the perimeter of the settlement. However, RBS excavators found numerous human remains within the boundaries of earthlodges at Larson, and many of whom exhibited evidence of violent deaths (Bamforth 1994; Bass et al. 1971). Additionally, the presence of metal objects like musket balls and metal projectile points “within and among the skeletons” suggests the people of Larson died defending their village from an attack (Bamforth 1994). As Bamforth further explains, “Arikara traditions tell us that, when their defenses were breached, the Missouri River farmers often retreated into their houses, where the battle-worthy members of the household guarded the doorways in occasionally successful attempts to protect their weaker or defenseless family members.” These traditions are reflected in the excavation data: of the three excavated lodges, RBS archaeologists found a total of 71 individuals, 61 of which were found on house floors and 10 just outside the houses. In addition, osteological data shows evidence the victims’ bodies were mutilated. The graphic manner in which the people of Larson died is similar to recorded historical behavior of post-contact Plains raiders, who arrived on the Plains through the westward expansion of the American frontier (Bamforth 1994). Therefore the presence of metal artifacts, along with the context of data from the osteological studies and historical records, helps clarify what happened to the people of the Larson site.
This blog post is the first installment of a five-part series introducing the objects found in the Larson site collection at MSC. As we have discussed above, the array of objects of a single material type can provide multiple insights into the lives and deaths of historic peoples. Therefore, it is important for us at Rogers Archaeology Lab to continue cataloging and preserving the objects in the collection to ensure the archaeological record is maintained for future research and discoveries.
Coming up next in the Cataloging the Larson Site series -- bone artifacts!
Authors: Kendra Young with Lotte Govaerts and Kelly Lindberg
Bamforth, Douglas B. 1994. “Indigenous People, Indigenous Violence: Pre-Contact Warfare of the North American Great Plains.” Man 29: 95–115.
Bass, William M, David R Evans, and Richard Jantz. 1971. The Leavenworth Site Cemetery: Archaeology and Physical Anthropology. Publications in Anthropology 2. Lawrence: University of Kansas.
Johnson, Craig M. 2007. A Chronology of Middle Missouri Plains Village Sites. Smithsonian Contributions to Anthropology 47. Smithsonian Institution Scholarly Press.
Lehmer, Donald J. 2001. “Plains Village Tradition: Postcontact.” In Handbook of the North American Indians, edited by William G Sturtevant, 13:245–55. Washington D.C.: Smithsonian Institution.