Interdisciplinary Collaboration Sheds New Light on the Mounds of Pee Wee Hollow
College of Wooster scientists in geology and archaeology suggest age range of ancient structures
WOOSTER, Ohio — Radiocarbon dating was in its infancy when David Taggart and Robert Wheeler excavated a trio of mounds at Pee Wee Hollow, a Boy Scout Camp north of Wooster, in the mid-to-late 1950s. Some five decades later, two scientists from The College of Wooster picked up where Taggart and Wheeler left off and have provided new insight about those earthworks in an article to be published later this year in Pennsylvania Archaeologist.
Nick Kardulias, professor of anthropology and archaeology, and Greg Wiles, professor of geology, combined their areas of expertise to shed new light on the three mounds that Taggart and Wheeler originally studied between 1956-1959.
"They did a good job in their initial excavation and kept excellent records of their work," said Kardulias. "They noted that each mound had a pit, or dimple, on top, indicating that someone had dug there, probably in the late 19th century, in an attempt to loot the site of any valuables that might have been buried there."
Taggart, a good friend of the College who passed away several years ago, and Wheeler believed that the mounds could have contained human burials, and they attributed the lack of skeletal remains to looting that may have taken place over the years, as well as possible cremation because of the substantial quantity of charcoal. What they did retrieve from the mounds were noteworthy quantities of flaked chert, or flint — the material used in stone-tool production. Also found was a cupstone used for grinding such material as seeds, pigments, or nuts, and remnants of other stone tools. In addition, there was an abundance of red ochre, a pigment that was used to color both pottery and the skin of the deceased.
After reexamining the material collected by Taggart and Wheeler, Kardulias and Wiles found no evidence of human remains from the mounds, leading them to believe that they were used more for ceremonial gatherings where different groups came together for important communal activities to create social cohesion. The authors also believe that the final phase of tool production took place at that site.
The most important part of the research conducted by Kardulias and Wiles was the analysis of charcoal to obtain radiocarbon dates, which was done to determine the approximate age of the mounds. Charcoal was gathered by Taggart and Wheeler in two of the mounds during their excavations in 1956 and 1957. Taggart donated the charcoal along with artifacts uncovered at the site to the Wayne County Historical Society in 1996. Wiles procured those charcoal samples and sent them to Beta Analytic Radiocarbon Dating Laboratory, which provided a date range of 2040-1900 BC for the lowest level of Mound B and 580-660 AD from the samples collected from above the floor of the mound toward the periphery. In the case of Mound C, the dates range from 2580-2360 BC above the base of the mound and near its center and 2470-2300 BC near the base of the mound at its periphery.
According to Kardulias and Wiles, these dates provide a specific time frame and show that the mounds were built, at most, about 260 years apart. The dates from Mound C and the earlier dates from Mound B would place the mounds in the Late Archaic Period. The more recent date for Mound B falls into the Late Woodland period. In general, the authors argue that the mounds probably covered a time span of 1500-2000 years and possibly served as boundary markers between territories, but were likely not used for burial.
"We suggest that the Pee Wee Hollow Mounds experienced sporadic, but long-term use from the Late Archaic through Late Woodland," say members of the research team, which included Nigel Brush, Roger Rowe, and Brittany Rancour (a 2009 College of Wooster graduate), along with Kardulias, Wiles, and Taggart. "Analysis of the artifacts, coupled with the submission of charcoal for radiocarbon dating, indicates that the site was one of considerable importance in this area."