Feature 9


by Gary L. Petherick

Feature 9 was a large, deep, cylindrical pit located within Structure 1 at 247.4R56.6. The pit was 5.0 ft long, 4.7 ft wide, and 2.9 ft deep below subsoil. A massive rock that extended into the pit on the south side appeared to have been heated repeatedly. Feature 9 is an excellent example of a pit facility that may have undergone several transformations in its function prior to its abandonment. The fill zones of this feature reflect these potential transformations.

The bottom zone (Zone 3b) consisted of masses of charred bark and clusters of carbonized corn kernels, all on the pit floor. The masses of corn had been contained in woven baskets, portions of which were recovered during excavation. These baskets seem to have been intentionally placed on the pit floor around the inside perimeter adjacent to the walls. The pit floor beneath the bark lining, as well as the lower pit walls, was colored brick-red from having been fired. The only animal remains from this zone were numerous fragments of charred foot bones from an unidentified small mammal. A few flakes and small glass trade beads also were found.

If Feature 9 had functioned as a storage facility the bark lining and corn could represent materials that were left in place when the first observable transformation of the facility occurred. Although most corn was probably stored on the husk, Harrington observed that the Seneca stored roasted and dried green corn in bags (Harrington 1908b:589).

An alternative interpretation of Zone 3b is that it represents initial preparation of the feature for use as a fire pit (This does not rule out the possibility that the pit was originally used for storage). The containers of corn kernels may reflect ritual behavior associated with feasts of thanksgiving at the end of the corn harvest, such as those described by Lawson (Lefler 1967:67, 177). Such harvest ceremonies were common throughout much of North America (Hudson 1976).

Zone 3a accumulated on top of Zone 3b. This zone reflects repeated episodes of fire building. Numerous fire-cracked rocks and uncracked hearth stones were present in this zone. Associated with these hearth stones were a damaged and burnt steel axe head, several lumps of sand-tempered potter's clay, and a small hammerstone. One of the large rocks showed evidence of having been used as a grinding stone. These items were contained within a rich organic, ashy-clay loam matrix. Numerous lenses of brick-red fired clay were present throughout this zone as were many fragments of charred wood and bark. The soil matrix, rocks, fired clay, and fire-reddened and hardened pit walls and floor strongly suggest that this zone of fill accumulated in-place as a result of repeated fires.

The plant food remains from this zone were both abundant and diverse. This seems to imply that plant food preparation on a large scale might have been an important behavioral component in the formation of this zone. However, it is possible that much of the corn (which represents 68% of the plant food remains by weight) might have originated from the same activities that produced the corn kernel clusters in the underlying zone. Although there was a diverse assemblage of seeds present in the fill, most of these seeds were of weedy species and could have been introduced into the fill by natural processes. It fact, an open fire pit might be expected to "capture" an assortment of seeds from nearby plant communities. The other seeds represented in this zone were grape, maypops, and sumac, all of which could have been consumed while people were sitting within Structure 1 taking sweat baths.

Zone 2, a mottled clay loam, contained a mixture of cultural materials, including potsherds, lithic artifacts, animal bone fragments, glass trade beads, wood charcoal, and charred plant food remains. The mottled composition of the fill suggests that it was a mixture of subsoil and humus excavated to fill the pit after it ceased to function as a fire pit. This zone was more organically rich where it was bounded by the underlying and overlying zones of rich organic material. All of the species of plant food remains from this fill were present in the overlying Zone 1 deposit and may have originated from the same activity that produced that zone. Zone 2 extended to the top of the feature (base of the plowzone). At that level it appeared as a 0.3-ft ring surrounding a central ashy deposit (Zone 1).

The upper zone of fill (Zone 1) was a basin-shaped deposit of dark, yellowish-brown sandy ash containing a mixture of diverse plant and animal remains, along with a variety of artifacts. The artifacts within this zone consisted of potsherds, lithic debris and tools, glass trade beads, kaolin pipe fragments, wood charcoal, fired clay, and daub. This zone was a very homogeneous and fine-grained deposit of ash. There was a relatively high percentage of plant food remains, which included hickory nutshell, acorn shell, peach pits, walnut shells, corn, grape seeds, and maypops seeds. A variety of other carbonized seeds representing non-plant food remains were also present. Four species of animals (deer, raccoon, bear, and a single horse molar) were represented as bone fragments in the fill. The textural qualities of the fill and the relatively small amounts of nonbotanical remains represented in the flotation sample suggest that this zone accumulated in situ. The basin shape of the deposit probably resulted from partial re-excavation (cleaning out) of the pit aboriginally. The large and diverse assemblage of plant food remains imply that this facility may have been used for the large scale preparation of food, perhaps with feasting that occurred as part of the mortuary practices of the occupants of the village.