Cooperation in the Name of Preservation:

  Southeastern Michigan Site Excavation and Analyses by the River Raisin Chapter -MAS and University of Toledo

December 1999

David M. Stothers and Andrew M. Schneider

Western Lake Erie Archaeological Research Program

University of Toledo

Western Basin Tradition Pottery Rimsherd


     The Western Lake Erie Archaeological Research Program (WLEARP) at the University of Toledo, in cooperation with the River Raisin Chapter of the Michigan Archaeological Society, has undertaken the following site excavation projects and site analyses during the past few years.  Past and present members of the River Raisin Chapter who have been, and continue to be, instrumental in promoting these research endeavors are:  President Dale Niesen, Mr. and Mrs. Richard Micka, William Karoly, Ralph Naveaux, Tom LaDuke, Ed Green, Bob Wittersheim, Gerry Wykes, Mike Burcewicz, Chuck Sonoras, and the late Ed Petteys and Norman Grogitsky.


     The Lake Erie Site

     The Lake Erie Site (20WN166) is located in Brownstown Township Section 12, Wayne County, Michigan on the shore of Lake Erie.  The site, located within the Lake Erie Metropark, is also known as the Cherry Island Site and was discovered by and excavated in 1971 by William Karoly.  The site collection is currently on display in the interpretive center at the park.  During the summer of 1998, a documentation of the site collection was undertaken by the WLEARP with the assistance of Jerry Wykes, curator of the Lake Erie Metropark interpretive center and William Karoly, who provided original photographs and notes of the excavations.

     The site consists of four burial features excavated from eroding contexts along the shore of Lake Erie.  While three of the burial features contained no accoutrements, the fourth burial (Burial Feature 2) may be characterized as one of the most lavishly accompanied prehistoric burial features recorded in southeast Michigan.  The burial feature contained two complete ceramic vessels, a bone and antler tool kit containing 20 tools presumably used for flaking lithic tools, and copious amounts of Upper Mercer (a.k.a. Black Upper Mercer Flint, source southern Ohio) preforms and debitage.  The included ceramic vessels are representative of the Gibraltar Phase (ca. A.D. 500-750) of the Western Basin Tradition.  Wood charcoal was donated to the University of Toledo for radiocarbon dating.  A date of A.D. 780+60 was obtained from the sample.

     Subsequent to the original excavation of the burial features, the WLEARP and members of the River Raisin Chapter initiated a shovel test survey of the area in which the burial features were discovered.  Although investigations continue, no additional features have been discovered.


Dana Site

      The Dana Site (UTMR5) is located in Frenchtown Township Section 19, Monroe County, Michigan.  The site is located along the north bank of Stony Creek.  The site was discovered by Chuck Sonoras subsequent to the removal of the plow zone in preparation for a parking lot associated with the construction of a church.  Sonoras observed several exposed pit features and salvaged one of these feature.  The feature (Feature 12) contained ceramic rimsherds from five different Springwells Phase vessels as well as non-diagnostic lithic debitage.  With the help of Chuck Sonoras and Mike Burcewicz, permission from the property owner was granted to the WLEARP to conduct salvage excavations.  A total of 17 features were identified and excavated by River Raisin Chapter members and the WLEARP over the course of three Saturdays.  Diagnostic ceramics indicate the site was occupied by a Late Woodland Springwells Phase (ca. A.D. 1200-1300) population of the Western Basin Tradition.  Several complete projectile points, recovered from surface contexts by Tom LaDuke, were donated to the WLEARP for study.  These projectile points document an earlier Late Archaic/Early Woodland time period component.


Labo Site

     During the salvage excavations of the Dana Site (UTMR6), a Mr. D. Trouten stopped by to observe and inquire about the excavations.  Mr. Trouten said he had salvaged an entire ceramic vessel from a pit feature exposed during the construction of a house not far from the Dana Site.  Mr. Trouten offered to donate the ceramic vessel to the University of Toledo, if we were willing to reconstruct the vessel and send a picture.

     The ceramic vessel, a collared Vase Cord-Marked Springwells Phase vessel of the Late Woodland Western Basin Tradition, was reconstructed at the University of Toledo Laboratory of Ethnoarchaeology.  The site, known as the Labo Site (20MR6) is located on a sand knoll north of Labo Road in Ash Township Section 29, Monroe County, Michigan.


Sisung Site

     The Sisung Site (20MR5) is located one kilometer inland from Lake Erie, along Stony Creek in Frenchtown Township, Monroe County, Michigan.  The Site was originally surveyed by the University of Michigan during the 1960's.  In one test unit, a Gibraltar Phase pit feature was located which contained charred 8-row maize associated with a radiocarbon date of A.D. 700+120 (M-1519).

     Subsequently, through the assistance of Dale Niesen, the WLEARP obtained permission from Mr. William Sisung, to conduct excavations at the site.  The WLEARP investigation of the site consisted of a ca. 5 acre shovel test survey of the site.  When one of the shovel tests disclosed nearly an entire ceramic vessel, it was decided to open excavations units in the area.  Excavation in this area has continued over the course of the past 4 years, and to date 175 square meters has been excavated by the WLEARP and River Raisin Chapter members.  Although the site has disclosed evidence of a Late Archaic/Early Woodland component, the major components consist of several Late Woodland Western Basin Tradition camps.  Ceramics indicative of the Gibraltar Phase (ca. A.D. 500-750) and Riviere au Vase Phase (ca. A.D. 750-1000), Younge Phase (ca. A.D. 1000-1200), and Springwells Phase (ca. A.D. 1200-1300) have all been recovered.  Several features and numerous postmolds indicate the presence of several house structures at the site.


Morin Site

     The Morin Site (20MR40) is located in Section 32 of Erie Township, Monroe County, Michigan.  The site, situated on a sandy knoll on the north side of Halfway Creek, was discovered when property owner construction discovered various cultural and skeletal remains.  The skeletal material was salvaged in 1966, and testing in the form of one test unit was undertaken in 1967 by Earl J. Prahl, University of Toledo.  A radiocarbon date of A.D. 1070+100 (M-2087) was obtained from charcoal recovered during the testing.  Subsequently, between 1985 and 1991, River Raisin Chapter member Ed Petteys with the assistance of fellow members Dale Niesen, Gerry Wykes and others undertook salvage excavations at the Morin Site.  Under the direction of Ed Petteys their excavations established the location of the prior testing and opened areas around the former unit.  These excavations produced a significant cultural assemblage, including decorated ceramics.  Based on these investigations, the Morin Site represents a Western Basin Tradition Younge Phase base camp/habitation camp which was inhabited throughout a large part of the warm season, from at least spring through early fall.  


The Gibraltar Site

     The Gibraltar Site (20WN9) is located within the city limits of Gibraltar, Michigan.  The first professional work undertaken at the site was in the 1930's by Emerson Greenman of the University of Michigan.  After the University of Michigan excavations, several Detroit Aboriginal Society members salvaged numerous features and recovered a rich cultural assemblage of artifacts.  These were all recorded, tabulated and curated by the late Norman Grogitsky.  Grogitsky, a life-long avocational archaeologist, had assisted Greenman with the original excavation of the site.  Before Grogitsky's death, his extensive Gibraltar Site collection, as well as numerous other site collections, were recorded by the WLEARP.  Grogitsky's collection contained bone from Burial Feature 3 which contained many elaborate and diagnostic burial goods.  The bone sample was donated to the WLEARP and produced a radiocarbon date of A.D. 590+50 (Beta-61459, CAMS-5818).  Other smaller collections from the Gibraltar Site have been loaned or donated by Dale Niesen and Ed Green.  Preliminary reporting of these collections will be in the Cranbrook Institute's book, Retrieving Michigan's Buried Past, edited by John Halsey (State Archaeologist of Michigan).  

     The Gibraltar Site has played an integral role in the revision of the Wayne Tradition.  The Wayne Tradition is now considered to be a non-existent cultural entity, and instead is viewed as the Gibraltar Phase (ca. A.D. 500-750), the earliest phase of the Western Basin Tradition.

     The Gibraltar Site Complex represents an extensive Western Basin Tradition mortuary district, for which the best information and documentation pertains to the Gibraltar Phase although there are indications of the later Riviere au Vase Phase, Younge Phase, Springwells Phase and Ontario Iroquoian presence.  Indeed, a Younge Phase burial  (Burial Feature 10), including Younge Phase ceramics, with a C12/C13 corrected date of A.D. 1190+50 (Beta-130046) was present.  These occupations have been interpreted as representing ritualistic feasting and ancestor worship, undertaken at this long-lived Western Basin Tradition mortuary district.


The Monroe Fountain Site

     The Monroe Fountain Site (20MR734) is located in downtown Monroe, Michigan, within the northwest lot of Loranger Square, near the Detroit Edison Building.  Archaeological testing took place in 1997 by River Raisin Chapter members under the direction of Gerry Wykes and Ralph Naveaux.  While no features were identified, prehistoric ceramics as well as historic materials were recovered.  Two burials were discovered, recorded, excavated and studied at the University of Michigan, and were later reintered at the site.  Ceramics are indicative of the Western Basin Tradition Younge Phase (ca. A.D. 100-1200).  Among the rest of the artifact assemblage, are two barbed antler harpoons.  It is also interesting to note the sparse evidence of a Sandusky Tradition Wolf Phase occupation at the site, as represented by a Parker Festooned rimsherd and several body sherds, all of which are shell tempered.


Enrico Ferme/Edison Survey

     With assistance of Dale Niesen (President, River Raisin Chapter) and Mr. and Mrs. Richard Micka, the WLEARP has tentatively secured permission to conduct an archaeological survey of the Enrico Ferme Nuclear Power Plant land holdings in Monroe County, Frenchtown Township Sections 16, 21.  This Lakeshore area, which is located between Stony Creek and Swan Creeks, has never before been surveyed.  Next year, once full permission has been secured, the WLEARP and River Raisin Chapter will cooperatively document historic and prehistoric resources within this important coastal area.


For more information contact the University of Toledo, WLEARP:

C/O Dr. David Stothers - Department of Sociology and Anthropology, University of Toledo,Toledo, OH 43606-3390

Phone: (419) 530-4650



Home  Point Types Meeting Schedule News