Monday, November 9, 2020

Mysteries of Noble-Wieting Revealed

 October 25 Virtual Meeting Well-Attended and Enjoyed

~ report by Anne Wilson-Dooley with Mike Ruggeri ~

Archaeologists expect to learn something new at every site they excavate. But sometimes a site has something very particular that piques our interest. Such is the case with Noble-Wieting in central Illinois. It is a large site in an upland prairie area as opposed to traditional upland edge or bottom land areas and it has ceramics from two related but distinguishable traditions in use at the same time.
Noble-Wieting’s presence has been known for a long time but new work is delving into what we can learn about the use of the site and the organization and interaction of the occupants of the two peoples, one of Middle Mississippian origin and one of the Upper Mississippian Langford traditions. Radio carbon dates and material culture analysis show that the site began to grow in population and complexity during the decline of Middle Mississippian Cahokia from 1200-1350AD and extended into the late 1400s with the northern woodland traditions. Collectors have thousands of projectile points from the general area.

As population indicators, 90% percent of the ceramics at the site are recognized as of the Langford, Upper Mississippian tradition. They are grit tempered following the Late Woodland pattern.  Langford sites are traditionally in the upper Illinois River Valley over through the Chicago area. The remaining 10% of ceramics are shell tempered in the Mississippian tradition and very suggestive of, or directly related to, Cahokia Mississippian, the large metropolis on the Mississippi river bottom across from the St. Louis area. It is believed that most of the pottery vessels were made at Noble-Wieting.

Recent work at the site has been conducted by our speaker, Dr. Logan Miller, Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Illinois State University, Normal, Illinois. He led field schools there in 2017-2019; unfortunately, no work was done last summer due to the corona virus nor expected for this coming summer. However, analysis is ongoing.

Aerial photographs are guiding work at the site. [See lower left image in the screen shot.] A substantial amount is known about the site because of our recent advances in aerial photo analysis. Miller has others working with him on this aspect of site analysis.


The site plan has a central open ‘plaza’ area with many buildings around it. There is the remains of a mound in the center of the plaza, and excavation in the past located burial remains. There are not any plans for further work in the mound. There is a line of post molds in the plaza that suggest a ‘fence’ of some type; there are not any indications in or around the site of defensive palisade construction.
Excavating structures is a recent past and future focus of the work. The construction methods, floor artifacts, and subsequent fill layers develop our understanding of the people, their social organization, and lifeways, particularly the co-existence and cultural blending of two peoples.
The excavated structures are set in deep pits with deep wall trenches dug into the floor of the pit. They are of a size for a family group. It is estimated that a structure might last 5 years and then there is some rebuilding. Knowledge of this will help with population estimates for the site over time. The walls seem to have been erected as individual segments set into the trenches. It is very interesting that whole or partial ax/celt has been found in the plaza-facing wall trenches of the structures; the first assumption is that they were intentionally placed there – interesting.
Over 50,000 material items were retrieved during excavation. Much of it is broken pottery and debris from stone tool production. Aspects of the ceramics have already been covered.  The stone tools and associated chipping debris show that they are using chert from glacial till near the site. None of the tools are of chert types from known other locations.
Other especially notable items located were a copper awl and tubular copper beads, the copper being from Michigan; some polished bone pieces probably associated with a game; and a bone awl.
In the faunal remains it is very notable that elk is the predominant large animal being consumed. No bison remains have been identified. The floral remains contain the traditional cultivated corn, beans, and squash – then locally collected items.

Dr. Miller’s slides and presentation kept our audience engaged and attentive.  CAS appreciates his careful explanation about uncovering the ongoing mysteries of our earliest Illinois settlers.


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