How do Funerary Objects Found at Stone Street Help Estimate the Age of the Burial Ground?

Archaeologists can estimate how old a site, artifact, or human burial is using a few different techniques.

One very popular method is radiocarbon dating, whereby a sample from an organic object (anything that was once part of a living thing, such as animal bone, charcoal from a tree, etc.) is measured by calculating the ratio of Carbon 12 to Carbon 14. Since C14 begins to decay at the death of an organism, we measure the relative amounts of C12:C14 to estimate how long an organism has been dead. So, if there is a high C14 relative to C12, the object (animal, plant, etc.) hasn’t been dead long; the more C12 there is relative to C14, the older the specimen. Radiocarbon dating is a destructive process and many members of the descendant community, including our colleagues at the Ziibiwing Center, did not support the destruction of the ancestors’ bones.

Another useful way to estimate the age of an archaeological find is by comparing the style, material, and features of artifacts at a site to known periods that each had distinctive characteristics we understand from previous research. Associated funerary objects found at Stone Street were very useful to determine the time range when the burial ground was in use. Archaeologists (and, really, all of us when we think about it!) understand that cultures change through time and changes are reflected materially in both style and technology. Archaeologists break the past up into time periods that each featured specific styles and technologies. For example Woodland-Period pottery (like the rim portion of a pot from the Castle Museum collections in Saginaw shown above) can be tracked through stylistic trends(especially decoration) and technological features (such as type of temper used in the clay mixture. firing temperature, etc.), many of which are identified as “types”.

Pottery from a habitation site, which has been dated by radiocarbon, becomes a reference and we can suggest that a certain “type”, if found at a burial ground, is dated to about the same period. At the Stone Street site, pottery types ranged from Early Late Woodland dating to the years 800-1000 (Wayne ware) through the middle Late Woodland ca. 1000-1100 (Vase Tool Impressed) and several shards that extend the date to as late as 1500. Therefore, the burial ground was used for about 900 years, from as early as the year 600 until as late as about 1500.