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Dig uncovers pottery made by ancestors of Iroquois

When members of the North Central Chapter 8 of the Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology brought a piece of American Indian pottery to experts from the state museum in Harrisburg, they found that it was a rare artifact for the area. 

[Credit: Mark Nance/Sun-Gazette]
Though they knew which culture it came from, they weren't sure the purpose of the piece. 

"They started taking pictures of it right away," said Tom Baird, president of the local chapter. "They were pretty excited about it." 

The piece of pottery that had museum experts excited was a top of a clay pot found in Lycoming County that was made by a group of American Indians that is now called the Clemson's Island culture. Baird said the piece dates back to A.D. 1050, more than 1,000 years ago. 

"We know who made it," Baird said, "we just don't know why they made it." 

The Clemson's Island people came from a territory in New York and colonized in our area until war pushed them back to their original territory. Baird said the culture eventually would become the Iroquois. 

"What you have here is ancestors of the Iroquois making pottery," he said. 

Baird's group of amateur archaeologists were able to tell who made the artifact - found in a summer 2011 dig at the site of an old lumber mill - because of round punctates found around the entire rim of the pot. Punctates were a trait of all Clemson's Island pottery. 

"They didn't have a written language but what they left us was pottery," Baird said. 

Baird explained during the dig where they found the artifact, he had been following a fire ring from the same culture. He had uncovered one fire ring already and recently had stumbled upon another. 

"We were down to a depth of 19 inches and I found another fire ring," he said. 

Baird said the ring went into several digging units - 4 foot by 4 foot squares that mark different dig sites - and then he saw something he hadn't before. 

"Right on the edge of the fire ring I started to brush back the dirt," he said. "When I saw this ridge, it was something unusual." 

That day, the group dug up the pieces of pottery fearing it might be a target of looters. Baird then took the pieces back to his home where he cleaned and pieced it together. 

"I was so enthralled by it," Baird said. 

After reconstructing the pieces, Baird said though it was clearly Clemson's Island pottery it also had a lip under the rim - something never seen in this culture's pottery before - which made it rare. 

When the group took the piece of pottery to the state museum they were hoping for answers. But they were unable to get any. 

Since then Baird has made it his personal mission to find what caused the culture to make such a pot. 

"Pottery styles didn't change a whole lot," he said, "that's what makes this so unique." 

Baird has some ideas of who could have made the pot, ranging from a prisoner from another culture or a single mother who would need a handle on her pottery. 

"It's a snapshot," Baird said. "Whoever did this and we presume it was a woman ... was innovative." 

Baird is visiting historical experts and groups in the area and hopes to reach out to anyone who might know the origin of the pottery. He said "It's all in the hunt." 

"You can make remarkable finds ... but if you find one arrowhead - it's a huge thrill - but it's usually consistent," Baird said. "But to find something unique, I guess it's like a Little Leaguer coming up to the plate and smacking a home run first time up." 

Author: Joseph Stender | Source: Sun Gazette [March 22, 2012]

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