Skeletal Analysis of Burials from the Elkins Site (7NC-G-174)
The unmarked burials were excavated to avoid destruction from the US Route 301 highway project, and the discovery and analysis are being conducted in accordance with state law.
The human skeletal remains recovered from five burials associated with the Elkins Site are in the process of being analyzed under the supervision of Professor Ashley McKeown, a bioarchaeologist and forensic anthropologist in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Montana. An exciting component of the project is the ancient DNA analysis being conducted by Visiting Professor Meradeth Snow, an anthropological geneticist also at the University of Montana. This portion of the study is well underway, and so far, a small portion of the mitochondrial DNA molecule (which is found in the maternally-inherited mitochondria of a cell) has been successfully amplified for each of the five individuals. We are optimistic that this information in conjunction with more complete results can be used to identify any maternal relationships between the individuals. The positive results prove that DNA is present in the samples and may be used for additional research—such as pinpointing the possible familial relationships between all of the individuals.
Alternative Mitigation of the Polk Tenant Site (7NC-F-111)Versar’s recent research into wells is telling us that they represent a very old and very conservative technology. The earliest wells that have been documented archaeologically are from Cyprus. These wells were dug about 10,000 years ago into hard, chalky sediment to reach deep, underground streams that flowed over bedrock. Early colonial period wells in parts of eastern North America such as Delaware were often shallow, tapping layers of water that were relatively close to the ground surface. Called aquifers, these layers were recharged by water directly from the contemporary ground surface and so were easily contaminated. Shallow wells with tainted water were often the source of fevers and more serious diseases. While the technology of wells is old, some aspects of their construction do not appear to have changed much. Wells in Eastern Germany dating to the Early Neolithic, about 7,500 years ago, contained some of the earliest recorded wooden architecture in the world in the form of notched and pegged wooden cribbing used to line the well shafts. Initial results of our survey of Delaware wells indicates that well shafts continued to be lined with wood—cribbing or sometimes barrels—while others used stone or brick. We are looking into patterns in the types of lining as well as geography, soil, and function.
August was a busy month for the Dovetail lab, with the Warwick collection being our top priority. The Warwick site is located at the very southern tip of the Route 301 corridor; it is actually in the State of Maryland rather than Delaware, requiring coordination with both states. The site dates from the Late Archaic through the Early Woodland Period with the assemblage being dominated by lithics, although a stray piece of bottle glass did find its way into the assemblage. All debitage was categorized by basic types (i.e., primary, secondary, tertiary) and then further classified by size, weight, material type and any additional characteristics that would add to the understanding of the lithic reduction process at the site. This categorization was completed on the materials recovered from the daily site field excavation, as well as from the flotation samples which included a moderate number of very small lithics (also known as micro debitage). Variation in the density of microdebitage largely mirrored that of larger debitage fragments, suggesting limited site maintenance and short-term occupation. Small, late-stage flakes dominated the macroscopic collection, indicating initial reduction of cobbles had occurred elsewhere in the region.
A use-wear analysis was completed by Dr. Mike Klein on all projectile points, bifaces and unifaces. Although the predominance of fractures on the upper third of many point blades implied that most of the points broke during use by Native American people, use-wear analysis identified striations consistent with use as knifes as well as projectiles. Edge damage on the stem and lowermost portion of the blades confirmed the inference that most had been hafted or attached to a spear or arrow. Rounding and polish on an extensively reworked point indicated use on silica-rich materials, like plants, while edge damage observed on a flake suggested that larger flakes had been used as cutting tools. The collection provided Dovetail, DelDOT, and both the Delaware and Maryland SHPOs with a new set of data on a notable prehistoric occupation of this region.