Why didn’t we know about the Stone Street Burial Ground before 2008?

The discovery of archaeological sites unrecorded in historical documents is not as rare as one might imagine. Understanding the land use history of a place is a complicated process. In the case of the Stone Street Burial Ground historical research, especially old maps, helps us to understand how the site eluded detection until 2008. One interesting source for locating archaeological sites is Wilbert B. Hinsdale’s Archaeological Atlas of Michigan published in 1931. Map 9 depicting Genesee County (shown below) shows the location of known Native American sites, but is not detailed enough to help us locate sites on the ground.

Explore this landscape further with an interactive StoryMap

Another source is the state Archaeological Site Files database maintained by the Office of the State Archaeologist. The contents of this database are not available to the general public in order to protect sensitive and fragile archaeological sites. Archaeologist engaged in research or trying to identify a discovery can, however, request information from this database. This is the first query when archaeological artifacts are found – is this a “known site”? Again, in the case of Stone Street, this query turned up no previous report of archaeological remains at this locality, and, as in the case of all newly reported sites, it was given a designation of 20GS136. This site naming format, called a Smithsonian Trinomial, codes the site in terms of state, county, and site number. In the case of the Stone Street Site, 20 is the code for Michigan, GS presents Genesee County, and 136 is the site number (this is the 136th site recorded for the county).

Historical Research

Historical research on the houses located on the 500 block of Stone Street reveals fairly intensive occupation beginning in the late 1800’s when 8 houses were recorded on the property by the Sanborn Insurance Company in 1909 (reproduced below). The new foundations dug in 2008 are overlaid in blue. In addition to excavating the locations where houses previously stood, portions of the former back yards of the structures were also dug up and ended up in back dirt piles. Moreover, the sub-surface impact of these houses was not as great as it might seem; most houses were supported with footings and had small “Michigan basements” that ranged from 320-780 square feet. Therefore, these houses, ranging in total footprint between 564-1138 square feet did not affect many of the burials that lay approximately 4 feet below the current surface underneath and surrounding the homes.

Getting Local Knowledge

Of course, it is always important to engage in community-based research and oral history when understanding land use in a neighborhood. During the archaeological recovery work at the site, former residents stopped by to tell the field crew and volunteers some very interesting stories about the block. Many folks reported that the area around Atwood Stadium was a good place to find “Indian artifacts”. A former resident, Mrs. Fuller, then in her 90’s, assured us that she and the neighbors all knew they lived on an “Indian burial ground”; she recalled her son removing a bone from the cellar wall and taking it to elementary school for “show and tell”.

Read Further About Michigan Archaeology:

“Retrieving Michigan’s Buried Past: The Archaeology of the Great Lakes State, edited by John R. Halsey published in 1999 by the Cranbrook Institute of Science, Bulletin 64, Bloomfield Hills, MI.

“The Archaeology of Michigan: a Guide to the Prehistory of the Great Lakes Region” by James E. Fitting, 2nd edition published in 1975 by Cranbrook Institute of Science, Bulletin 56, Bloomfield Hills, MI.

“Great Lakes Archaeology” by Ronald J. Mason, published in 1981 by Academic Press, New York.