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US Route 301 Archaeology Update

Written on: March 25th, 2014 in Archaeology Updates US301

Update for the Levels Road-Rumsey Polk Site

Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?

Eighteenth-century occupants of the Rumsey/Polk Tenant/Prehistoric Site (CRS # N-14492; 7NC-F-112) in St. George’s Hundred near Middletown may not have been at the top of the food chain. They struggled to protect themselves with hunting, trapping, and laws providing bounties for killing wolves. Predation by wolves was not just part of a bad fairy tale. It was a real and frightening part of their lives threatening both livestock and people. Artifact and faunal analysis are underway for the Phase II/III archaeological investigations at the Rumsey/Polk site and are revealing some fascinating tidbits about the lives of the site’s residents. RGA’s staff faunal expert, Dr. Adam Heinrich, has identified the bones of a wolf from Feature 5, a subfloor pit that also yielded fragments of an iron kettle, large pieces of a North Devon gravel tempered crock or jar, portions of a riding saddle, and many fragments of an imported English hand painted creamware canister-shaped teapot. The range of artifacts and faunal remains hints at some of the day-to-day tensions and challenges faced by these folks, tenants of the socially prominent Rumsey family.  The wolf bones include the right and left scapulae (shoulder blades), the right ulna and radius (forearm bones), and most of the right front foot. Even more intriguing, the bones were butchered. The wrist end of the radius and ulna contain cut marks made by a metal knife. The location of these marks near the animal’s wrist indicates removal of the wolf’s pelt after it was killed. The wolf found in Feature 5 may have been shot. An oval shaped pit with crushed bone within it is located on the animal’s elbow, consistent with being shot with the lead balls from a musket or comparable firearm. It is uncertain if being shot in the elbow had killed the wolf, but it may have injured it enough to be finished off more easily. Ongoing analysis is expected to reveal more about the site’s occupants and their lives in this world that was still part of the frontier in eighteenth century Delaware.

Wolf bones from Feature 5

Wolf bones from Feature 5

Cut marks on wolf bone