Who were the people of Spracklen? Studying Native American community through their tools

Illinois State University contributor

Featured Scientist: Tyler R. E. Heneghan, M.S. 2018, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Illinois State University

A picture of Tyler Heneghan is in front of a table, setting stone piece onto trays.
Tyler fills the Midwest Archaeological Lab with the Spracklen collection, sorting and separating the lithics by material type. 

Birthplace: Shelbyville, IN 

My Research: I study tools made of stone to understand prehistoric Native American communities. The tools I study come from a place called Spracklen, an archaeological site located in Ohio. 

Research Goals: I use a technique called use-wear analysis to better understand what the Ohio Hopewell peoples did in the uplands, and show archaeologists that more information can be gleaned from current collections, without the need to excavate more. 

Career Goals: I am currently a student at Boston University School of Law studying international cultural heritage law. Cultural heritage law involves protecting, regulating, and repatriating cultural items, including the return of historic real property, ancient and historic materials, artwork, and intangible cultural heritage. The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act is one federal legislation regulating museums’ and federal agencies’ collections. 

I hope to aid in the return of cultural heritage around the world and bring it back to the people and communities to whom it belongs. This summer, I will intern with the environmental nonprofit law firm, Earthjustice: Tribal Partnerships. This law firm provides legal aid to Tribes, such as the Standing Rock Sioux, in their fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline. Upon graduation, I hope to use my legal degree, coupled with my M.S. in Anthropology from ISU, to continue in this field and better protect the past for the stakeholders of today and tomorrow. 

Hobbies: Flintknapping (creating stone tools), vexillology (study of flags), scuba diving, and board games. 

Favorite Thing About Science: I love the fluidity of science and how we will never run out of things to learn and improve upon. 

Organism of Study: Stone tools 

A series of 6 small stones, carved into different shapes.
Sample of bladelets recovered from Spracklen. 

Field of Study: Prehistoric Archaeology 

What is Prehistoric Archaeology? Prehistoric archaeology is the study of human culture through the analysis of the things that people leave behind. These may be structural items, plant, animal, lithic, or ceramic remains. 

A magnified image of different stones, focusing on the grooves and points of the tools.
These are examples of use-wear traces from the stone remnants found at Spracklen. We look at the grooves of the stone to figure out what it was used for. Evidence of scraping can be found at the edge of the stone. Repeated scraping leads to striations that are perpendicular to the blade edge, but cutting leaves more generic striations. Evidence of use for softer materials (i.e. hide and meat) can be found further back on the stone. Evidence of harder contact materials can be found on the edge of the stone. 
A) Meat cutting (magnified 50x) ; B) Bone cutting/incising (magnified 200x) ; C) Dry hide scraping (magnified 200x) ; D) Dry hide cutting (magnified 200x) ; E) Fresh hide scraping (magnified 200x) ; F) General/Unknown (magnified 50x) 

Check out my original paper: “Spracklen (33GR1585): New Insights into Short-Term Middle Woodland Sites in the Uplands”

QR Code for original publication
QR Code for original publication

Citation: G.L. Miller, T.R. Heneghan, Spracklen (33GR1585): New Insights into Short-Term Middle Woodland Sites in the Uplands, J. Ohio Archaeology. 5: 1-15 (2018). 

Research at a Glance: This paper is a summary of my recent fieldwork and analysis at Spracklen (33GR1585), a small upland site in Greene County, Southwest Ohio. Most of my analysis of prehistoric Ohio focuses on large Hopewell earthworks. Earthworks are man-made or otherwise artificial soil deposits that result from the humans that inhabit the area. Examples of these such earthworks are the Fort Ancient Earthworks, Mound City, and Seip Earthworks. The regions that surround these earthworks are called uplands and they remain understudied. Because of this, the whole picture of Hopewell peoples is incomplete. 

At my field site, Spraklen, we found artifacts and structural features that showed us that the site was occupied for short periods of time, mainly during the Middle Woodland Hopewell period (100 BCE to 500 CE). During this time, the Hopewell peoples used stones to create tools. Bladeletes are the sharpened tools they used for cutting. Bladelet cores are the stones that were used to create these tools. As the bladelets are carved from their cores, small pieces remain. These are referred to as chert debitage. Spracklen contains dozens of bladelets, bladelet cores, and non-local chert debitage, consistent with other Middle Woodland Hopewell sites. 

Highlights: The major portion of my master’s thesis focuses on the use-wear of the completed stone tools at Spracklen. However, my publication focuses on the stone remnants, or by-products, that were found at my archaeology site. This is called lithic debitage. My job was to find the source for all of the lithic debitage I gathered at the site by comparing it to remnants from other known locations. Upwards of seventy percent of the 3,679 lithic debitage pieces I found were from Indiana Hornstone (a.k.a. Harrison County). Indiana Hornstone and Spracklen are not neighboring sites, so these tools must have been carried from one site to the other. I am continuously fascinated by how tools can reconnect prehistoric trade networks and voyages.

Another contribution I made to the article involved identifying lithic debitage, or “flake,” size and shape. Previous research had identified signs of initial tool making. However, my advisor Dr. Miller and I found what we believe are by-products of tool resharpening. At the Spracklen site, we found thin flakes that were short and/or narrow in size. We compared the median thickness to the median relative thickness of these flakes to classify them into one of four categories: unitensive core reduction, intensive core reduction, tool resharpening, and tool manufacture (Figure 1). Unintensive and intensive bladelet core reduction is the process of shaping chert into small pieces. Once those pieces are small enough for transportation, they are turned into finished tools by the tool manufacturing process. 

A data figure that shows the relative size of stone flakes and their location of origin. A group of flakes are of similar size and are classified as being used for Tool Resharpening. Flakes of this size come from Flint Ridge, Upper Mercer, Harrison County, and Unknown locations. Essentially, this figure shows that flakes found in Spraklen were largely used for Tool Resharpening and are from multiple different areas.
Figure 1. Debitage shape analysis from Spracklen. For each individual flake, I recorded median thickness and a relative median thickness. I plotted these two values against each other. The size of each individual flake is denoted by an X on the chart. Flakes of different sizes were grouped together based on their predicted use (colored ovals) and the color of the X signifies the original location of the flake. As you can see, the majority of the X’s fall in the tool resharpening region, supporting the idea that Spracklen was a short-term settlement. This chart shows that tool resharpening was the primary process of stone reduction at Spracklen. 

The flakes found at Spracklen indicate that the tools were mostly resharpened at this site. Spracklen was a short-term campsite and tools had to be durable for a successful trip to the uplands. Thus, tool resharpening allowed the Spracklen people to spend more time at the site before locating materials to make more tools. Since we found non-local stone remnants, or cherts, we can say that the general tool strategy for the Hopewell peoples was tool resharpening. This also supports that Spracklen was a short term site. 

What my Science looks like: To the right are magnified images of use-wear analysis traces. 

A picture of a single stone tool. Four edges around the stone are magnified to look at the patterns on its edges.
Use-wear traces indicating lithic use. The top two images show fresh hide scraping use-wear (100x). We can tell because of the perpendicular striations from the snapped bottom edge. The bottom two images show meat butchering use-wear traces (100x) we can tell by the polish developing further back from the blade edge. This polish pattern would develop as bladelets penetrate the meat. 

The Big Picture: Many archaeological sites consist of lithic and/or ceramic remnants. Without structural remains, these tools and ceramics are the best way to understand past life. I predominantly study the polish and striations on stone tools. I study this using a microscopic analysis called use-wear analysis. Use-wear analysis provides key insights into past life and allows for a better understanding of what people were doing at a point in time. Additionally, it is neither intrusive nor destructive to the tool. 

Decoding the Language: 

Bladelets: A stone tool used for many purposes and synonymous with the Ohio Hopewell peoples (think a prehistoric Swiss Army knife).

Bladelet cores: A stone used to create bladelets. 

Debitage/flakes: The by-products of stone tool production. 

Earthworks: Large man-made deposits of soil that indicate the presence of prehistoric human inhabitants.

Lithics: Stone remnants found at an archaeology site.

Non-Local Chert: Chert is a fine-grained sedimentary rock. This was a universally preferred material for making stone tools. In the context of this paper, non-local chert is chert that was transported to the site via trade or travel (i.e. chert originating from Indiana found in Southern Ohio). 

Striations: Lines that indicate the direction that the tool was used. These are created by repeated motions from using the tool, such as cutting or scraping. This use creates diagnostic lines. For example, lines going perpendicular to the edge of the tool towards the center indicates scraping.

Use-wear analysis: The process of looking at stone tools under a microscope to analyze the polish and striations to understand how the tools were used. 

Learn More: 

Use-wear analysis: https://texasbeyondhistory.net/varga/images/use.html Hopewell culture: http://www.ohiohistorycentral.org/w/Hopewell_Culture Tyler’s thesis: https://ir.library.illinoisstate.edu/etd/928/ 

Synopsis edited by: Aleksandra Majewski, M.S. (Anticipated Summer 2020) and Rosario Marroquin-Flores, PhD (Anticipated Spring 2022) School of Biological Sciences, Illinois State University

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