Lichliter - Section II

Section II: Project Summary and Data

Introduction: The Lichliter Site

Where did the Lichliter collection originate?

The Lichliter site excavation began as DSNH's first excavation in 1962 and multiple seasons of fieldwork were conducted at this unique site until 1970.  The site was excavated carefully utilizing a methodology that was well-informed and forward thinking in its time.  Despite the completion of the fieldwork and strong interest from the scholarly community, Lichliter remains one of the most poorly reported sites in the Ohio River Valley nearly a half-century later.  After the completion of the fieldwork, the original excavator Virginia Gerald continued to work on the analysis of the collection for many years.  In 2012, her family made arrangements to return the collection to DSNH's possession so that it could be made available to other researchers.

What is the Lichliter site and why is it significant?

The Lichliter collection represents a unique opportunity for scholars to investigate an important cultural period in the prehistory of the Eastern United States.  The site is one of only a few Late Woodland (ca. A.D. 450-1000) sites ever excavated in the Ohio River Valley and one of the most completely excavated sites of its kind.  By definition, there are no written records from prehistory to indicate the name of this culture in their own (or any) language.  Midwestern archaeologists often use the term “Late Woodland” to describe the people of this cultural period, but this term can be problematic since it is not used consistently from one region to the next.  Other related terms in current or past use in the Midwest might include "Newtown," "Intrusive Mound Culture," and others.  Despite inconsistent terminology outside of the Ohio River Valley, this time period encapsulates similar contemporary lifeways throughout much of the Eastern U.S.  It is a period that is poorly known and often described as a "dark age," yet notable for dynamic cultural change: the formation of the first nuclear villages; the adoption of maize agriculture as a staple of prehistoric economy; and the adoption of the bow and arrow. 

The collection holds potential for understanding broad trends of national significance.  For example, the site’s layout and chronological position indicate that it is one of the earliest (perhaps A.D. 350-500) and greatest concentration of large non-mortuary architectural structures known anywhere in Eastern North America during this time period.  (It is not yet known if Lichliter should be termed a "village" because the function and possible contemporaneity of its large wood frame structures have not been established.)  In addition, the period is of particular interest to scholars because it follows immediately after the poorly understood collapse of the earthwork-building Hopewell culture and precedes the rise of hierarchical Mississippian chiefdoms in the Midwest and Southeast.  The site is essential to understanding not only the period within which it is chronologically positioned, but in modeling the extraordinary cultures that temporally bracket it.  The Lichliter site is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

What is included in the Lichliter collection?

The Lichliter collection includes artifacts, maps, field notes, photographs, and related documentation by the original investigator, however the scope of the project described here is limited primarily to a discussion of cataloging artifacts.  The maps and field notes from the excavation have not yet been digitized.  Most of the excavation was concentrated upon a series of large circular wooden structures (as represented by postmolds), portions of other structures, and adjacent activity areas.  Most of the artifacts are from a shallow non-discrete midden layer that includes many objects, but few features.  In contrast to other sites excavated by DSNH, few pit features or thermal features were encountered.  Artifacts include ceramic sherds, projectile points and other chipped stone tools, an unusual number of chipped slate discs, and a few ground slate objects.  Ecofacts include carbonized botanical samples (seeds, nutshell, and wood fragments), modified and unmodified animal bone, and soil samples.  A small percentage of the overall collection is represented by finished formal tools or ornaments.  The majority of artifacts represent waste products or byproducts of human activity across a broad range of domestic activities such as the manufacture of tools, butchering animals, processing plant foods, and cooking.  Some objects were recovered from the plowzone, some from the general low-density midden underlying the plowzone, and some from subsurface features.

Project Methodology

Training guide for the Lichliter project.  ArcheoLINK requires structuring information according to a specific nomenclature that determines how database fields relate to each other and to the spatial data of an archaeological site.  Although this nomenclature is flexible enough to accommodate many different conventions, it represents a standardized approach that enhances both ongoing and future research potential of a collection.  This section explains how project staff adapted the Lichliter field methodology to the nomenclature of ArcheoLINK and explains some of the decisions that were made during the cataloging process.

The Lichliter site collection was returned to DSNH in a state of disorganization with specimens, samples, and documents intermingled.  Although it was clear that the site had been carefully excavated, the collection had become extremely jumbled from several cross-country moves by the original investigator.  Untangling the site collection was highly challenging and in many ways, this collection was a perfect storm of everything that might go wrong in the curation of an analog legacy collection.  This section explains how project staff organized a chaotic and confusing mess into a collection with research potential equivalent or superior to that of sites being excavated today.

Summary of the steps for entering new finds.  This section includes the step-by-step instructions for how specimens were added to the ArcheoLINK database.

Summary of processing steps for storage of finds.  This section includes the step-by-step instructions for how specimens were placed in storage.

Description of project specifications, hardware, and storage mediums.  This section details the equipment and materials used in this cataloging project, including computer hardware and materials used to label and house the Lichliter collection.

Evaluation of ArcheoLINK performance in the Lichliter Project.  This section explains the capabilities and limitations of ArcheoLINK as a cataloging tool for archaeological research collections.  Although ArcheoLINK may not be the right solution for all managers of archaeological collections, it may prove extremely useful for some curators and collections managers depending on their needs and goals.

Database and finding aids.  This section provides summary information about the Lichliter collection that was cataloged in this project.  It includes a downloadable copy of the ArcheoLINK database for review and exploration.  Since it is unlikely that most readers already have access to ArcheoLINK, data has been exported to Microsoft Excel spreadsheets for readers who are interested in the site collection itself.  The summary information and spreadsheets in this section are intended to serve as finding aids for researchers with interest in gaining access to the collection.

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