Friday, December 28, 2012

Delmarva Adena at Pig Point

Pig Point is a marvelous archaeological site on the Patuxent River in Maryland, a few miles east of Washington, DC. The site was occupied off and on for thousands of years, and excavators from Anne Arundel County's Lost Towns Project have made many great finds there. But the latest discovery from the site is the best find yet: a burial pit of the Delmarva Adena culture radiocarbon dated to 80 to 240 CE. Actually there are five or six such pits at the site, only one of which has been excavated to date.

"Delmarva Adena" is what we call a group of cemeteries and ritual sites found around the Chesapeake Bay that have produced artifacts imported from the "mound builder" cultures of the Ohio Valley. There are at least a dozen such sites known. They mainly date to Hopewell times, 200 BCE to 500 CE, but the first archaeologists to find these artifacts didn't know that and thought they more closely resembled the older Adena material. Either way they represent a transplant of Ohio Valley culture to the east.

Midwestern artifacts from Pig Point: copper beads from Michigan, pieces of flint ridge Hopewell blades from Ohio, and a gorget made of banded slate.

There are also locally made Delmarva Adena artifacts, such as these quartz blades, which have been found at several Delmarva Adena sites. The breaking or "killing" of artifacts, a widespread habit around the world, was part of the burial practices of some Hopewell and Adena groups.

What Delmarva Adena means is much disputed, and it is a very interesting question. To begin with, what was Hopewell culture about in its homeland? I follow the interpretation of Robert Hall, who argued that the extraordinary funerals of the Mound Builders were part of their political system. In many Indian societies, political transitions were managed largely through funerals and fictive kinship. When a big chief died, a new man would assume his identity and name, and then ceremonially renew his relationships with important allies, vassals, and so on; in Indian parlance these people were now his brothers, children, cousins, or whatever kin term seemed appropriate for the relationship. These political ties were cemented at the funeral, so men with big ambitions had to stage very impressive funerals for their predecessors.

How did this spread to the Chesapeake? Perhaps ambitious chiefs in the east had themselves adopted as the nephews (or some such) of major Hopewell chiefs, offering valuable gifts and inspiring the Hopewell chiefs to give some of their special ceremonial artifacts in return. The Chesapeake chiefs then set up their own systems of fictive kinship, distributing a few of these very rare and special western objects to cement key alliances and raise their own status. Many of these objects ended up in their own graves, as their successors tried to assume the same high status. None of the Delmarva Adena sites seems to have lasted more than a couple of generations (so far), so it seems that even with these imported objects Chesapeake chiefs were not able to establish stable states. But there are hints that Pig Point remained in use for centuries, so that may now change.

Most of the Delmarva Adena sites were dug up decades ago, usually by amateurs. Nobody knows yet what will happen to this one, but the thought that one has now been found by professionals has all of us around here very excited.


Anonymous said...

Is it really a transplant of Ohio Valley culture? Delmarva Adena-Hopewell is clearly a transplant of Ohio Valley "bling" being incorporated into a "local culture". Within the Delmarva Adena-Hopewell complex, the locals are not only "killing" many of the artifacts but they are also doing something radically different than what's going on in the Ohio Valley. They are crushing human bone (i.e., Pig Point) and they are mixing both male, female, and sub-adults into the same final resting places within single burial bone clusters (i.e., St. Jones). You won't see that in Ohio! Also, one of the common items found in the Ohio Adena burial mounds are celts! No celts have been found within the large-small cemeteries or caches here in the Chesapeake. The quartz bifaces you show are unique to the Chesapeake and DO NOT occur in Ohio (or regions to the north with Middlesex-Adena manifestations). The prehistoric ceramics found within the Pig Point feature (that you show) include local types (i.e., shell tempered Mockley and quartz-sand tempered Accokeek). These are not Ohio Valley ceramic types! They are ceramic types that are local in origin. Also, mixed with the Ohio Valley "bling" at all of the cemetery/mortuary-related sites (including Pig Point) are local Fox Creek style bifaces. Delmarva Adena-Hopewell is nothing like what is happening in the Ohio Valley at the time! If you are correct that Delmarva Adena-Hopewell is a transplant of Ohio Valley culture.....then the folks moving east had a major case of cultural amnesia when they moved east and crossed the Appalachian mountains.

Let me create an analogy! You find fancy "Chinese export porcelain" at 18th century sites/features in Annapolis and around the Chesapeake region! Does that signify the "chinese" transplanted their culture to this region? Obviously, the answer is NO! The Chinese porcelain being exported was (largely) much more "fancier" than the porcelain being used at home in China. The porcelain that ended up in the Chesapeake was being incorporated into local traditions/cultural systems. This is virtually identical to what you see with the Delmarva Adena-Hopewell complex (i.e., "Fancy" Ohio "bling" being incorporated into a local culture)! It's nice that you presented the summary of Pig Point.....however, I would suggest that you reevaluate your transplanted cultural concept when addressing the "Delmarva Adena-Hopewell" complex. Sometimes the "sparkle" from the "bling" clouds the mind! Cheers, Darrin L. Lowery

John said...

I believe I did say that the quartz bifaces are locally-made Delmarva Adena artifacts.

My model is that locally-ambitious Chesapeake chiefs reached out to the great lords of the Ohio Valley to get prestige goods for use in local power struggles. Obviously the did not import the entire material culture of the Ohio valley, just certain items. But given our not-so-great knowledge of Chesapeake culture in this period, it would be rash to say they brought nothing but artifacts.

I do not think those objects traveled with no cultural baggage. In Indian cultures, ceremonial artifacts were usually given as gifts, not bought and sold. Thus pipestone smoking pipes were used across the continent, but always with a certain set of rituals and a sense that they were ceremonial, not everyday objects. I do not believe that imported, sacred objects meant no more to Chesapeake Indians than a China bowl does to me.

Come to think of it, in colonial America China teacups (at least) did come with a large cultural baggage: the tea ceremony. Europeans crafted their own version of the Chinese tea ceremony and used it in much the Asian way, for example to welcome guests into the home.

Since I believe (as I said) that the funerals of great men were a key political event across Indian societies, I think special artifacts obtained for use in those rituals would have had even more cultural baggage than teacups did. Obviously those cultural imports did not transform ordinary society around the Chesapeake, since people went on with their lives in their old way, using their old-style pottery and tools.

But what about their ideology, their political vocabulary, their religion? Obviously they very much admired Hopewell culture. I would personally be surprised if they adopted nothing else but half a dozen artifact types.

John said...

Oh, and for the rest of you, this exchange between Darrin and me gives you a sense of what I meant when I said that what Delmarva Adena means is "much disputed."

Anonymous said...

Great men! Both male, female, and the young were included in single burial bone/cluster features at St. Jones and even within the Pig Point feature (that you show). Could they represent "great kin groups"? Also, many of the Ohio Valley artifacts are generational pieces! At Delmarva Adena-Hopewell cemetery sites, it is not uncommon to find a large stemmed biface (with heavy patina in the center of the blade) that was rechipped (expsoing a fresh edge) along the blade edge before being put in the ground. Given the patina on some of these Flint Ridge bifaces, some were in circulation for centuries (before being taken out of circulation and put in the ground).

My view of Delmarva Adena-Hopewell is in a fashion similar to the Susquehannocks circa early 17th century. The Delmarva folks were middlemen in a trade network for the sources of whelk shell, marginella shell, and fossil sharks teeth. Other parishable items such as "Ilex vomitoria" (for the Black Drink) from the lower Delmarva may have also been a valuable commodity traded west. Basically, I see the Delmarva/Chesapeake as one stop shopping for "nautical bling" plus the stuff to make a "potent cup of tea". Ethnographic data shows that even as late as the 19th century, the Objibwa were willing to trade $40 worth of furs for large marine shells (that's a lot of money back in 1872). If you look at the map that you posted (which I created via photoshop by the way), Ohio materials are coming down the Potomac, across the headwaters of the Patuxent, up the Choptank River (source of fossil Carcharodon carcharias teeth), and down both the St. Jones and Murderkill Rivers of Delaware. From where the Murderkill and St. Jones meet Delaware Bay, the Ohio "bling" extends south towards Delmarva's Atlantic seacoast (sources of marginella and whelk). One assumes that some of our stuff is moving west! At Pig Point they have fossil sharks teeth (which could be local)! But, they have also have found marginella....the closest source for this shell is Cape Henlopen, Delaware. The Delaware side of the peninsula (end point of the my proposed trade corridor) has more Ohio "bling" than all of the Chesapeake/Maryland sites combined (including Sandy Hill).

Your China bowl probably doesn't mean much to you! Because you can go to your local Walmart or Target and easily purchase one for less than a cost of a couple packs of chewing gum during an "after Christmas" sale. But, during the 18th century, China meant more to the "status driven blue bloods of the region"! The status meaning behind a whelk shell dipper owned by a Hopewell individual in the Ohio Valley and a giant Flint Ridge stemmed biface meant to an individual living on Delmarva have relative values.

What about their ideology, their political vocabulary, their religion? The Delmarva Adena-Hopewell ideology was radically different than the folks living in Ohio at the time. Much in the same way the early 17th century Susquehannock ideology was different from the English/Dutch/or Swedes who provided the goods that ended up in Susquehannock graves. Just some final thoughts! Cheers, Darrin L. Lowery