Lynn M. Simonelli

William Kennedy

Dayton Society of Natural History

Ohio Archaeological Council © 2003

Recent research at the Wegerzyn Garden Center Site (33 My 127) has allowed some interesting comparisons to be made between this site and the SunWatch Indian Village/Incinerator Site (33 My 57). Wegerzyn and SunWatch are both Fort Ancient culture sites that were excavated by the Dayton Society of Natural History in Dayton, Ohio. Although these sites share spatial and temporal proximity, there are some disparities in their burial and artifact assemblages.

In this paper (originally presented at the 2003 Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology), we will compare and contrast samples of feature fill and burial accoutrements from these two sites. Based on the characteristics of the sites, disposal patterns, and their artifact assemblages, we propose that the population at the Wegerzyn site conducted the same economic activities as the population at SunWatch, but they were less socially and politically complex. We propose that this difference in complexity is best explained by a pattern of heterarchy (Ehrenreich et. al. 1995) as applied by Henderson (1998) in her study of Kentucky Fort Ancient sites.

The Wegerzyn Garden Center site is situated on the east bank of the Stillwater River just north of downtown Dayton. Ten years of excavation have yielded the remains of three structures, fifteen pit features, six human interments, and three thermal features (Figure 1). Temporally diagnostic ceramic traits and seven radiocarbon dates from this site place it at approximately A.D. 1200- 1250. In contrast to most contemporary Fort Ancient villages, including SunWatch, the Wegerzyn site does not appear to be a nucleated circular village with concentric zones of activity. Instead, the features are arranged in clusters of adjacent activity areas.

Figure 1
Figure 1


SunWatch Indian Village (also known as the Incinerator Site) is located on the west bank of the Great Miami River six miles downstream from Wegerzyn. This circular, stockaded village consists of at least 17 structures, over 300 pit features, at least 141 human burials, several possible sweat lodges, and a central pole surrounded by a vacant plaza (Figure 2). We estimate that about sixty percent of this village was excavated by the DSNH between 1971 and 1988 (Heilman et. al. 1988). Ceramic traits and 12 radiocarbon dates place this site at approximately A.D. 1200-1250, making it contemporaneous with Wegerzyn.


Figure 2
Figure 2


There does not seem to be any difference in the economic focus or environmental context of either site. A previous study of soil fertility by the junior author (Kennedy 2000) indicates that both sites are located on highly fertile soil and have soil catchments whose fertility index exceeds that of most other Fort Ancient sites. In addition, the presence of bell-shaped pit features and carbonized maize kernels also suggest that the economic focus of both sites was primarily maize agriculture. At SunWatch, carbon isotope data and the presence of shell hoes further support this interpretation. The presence of storage pits, burials, and structures point to extended occupations on at least a semi-annual basis, if not year-round. Therefore, we propose that differences in the artifact assemblages are not the result of differences in the economic activities practiced at these two sites.

Feature Fill Comparison

In the course of excavation and analysis of the Wegerzyn assemblage, we noted that the frequency of artifacts and the variation in artifact forms was less than that of SunWatch. We suspected that this idea might have been influenced by the extreme differences in the sizes of the collections from these sites. Although the assemblage of artifacts from Wegerzyn is large, the sheer volume of material recovered from SunWatch dwarfs this collection. For example, we have approximately 10,000 ceramic sherds from Wegerzyn in comparison to roughly 80,000 sherds collected from SunWatch.

In order to make a statistically meaningful comparison, we examined 14 trash pits from Wegerzyn and a sample of 25 randomly chosen trash pits from SunWatch, and compared the frequency of artifacts in relation to the volume of feature fill. We calculated the volume of these pit features by measuring the surface area of the pit and multiplying this figure by the maximum depth. This method artificially inflates pit volumes by treating them as cylinders, but the bias was equally applied to all pit features at both sites. Before comparing the frequency of artifacts by pit volume, we compared the volumes of the 14 pits at Wegerzyn against all 308 pits at SunWatch. Our measurements indicate that the mean volume of pits at Wegerzyn is twice that of the mean volume of the pits at SunWatch, although with large standard deviations. An independent sample t-test with an alpha of .05 indicates that the Wegerzyn pits are significantly larger than those of SunWatch. This large size makes the lack or infrequent occurrence of certain varieties of tools even more apparent.

We measured the frequency of 38 artifact types in the Wegerzyn features against the sample of features from SunWatch. However, many of these types occurred infrequently at both sites and could not be compared statistically with any expectation of validity. We compared the ten most frequently occurring types, generated a ratio of each type to the volume of feature fill, and tested these ratios for significant differences with an independent samples t-test.

Of these ten artifact types, five occurred significantly more frequently at SunWatch than at Wegerzyn (Table 1). The low frequency of splinter bone awls, shell hoes, and fishhooks at Wegerzyn illustrates a pattern that extends to include other bone and shell tool types as well. At Wegerzyn, bone and shell tools not only occur with less frequency, but also exhibit less variation in form, and are generally broken before disposal. There are numerous examples of undamaged and ostensibly useable bone pins, awls, shell hoes, and fishhooks disposed of at SunWatch.

Table 1: Feature Fill Comparisons.

Significant Differences                                      Non-significant Differences
Grit-tempered neck sherds Antler tip points
Grit-tempered rim sherds Triangular stone points
Splinter bone awls Bone pins
Shell hoes Shell-tempered sherds
Fish hooks (including evidence of manufacture) Shell-tempered neck sherds

The pattern of occurrence for grit-tempered neck and rim sherds is similar to that noted for bone and shell tools. At Wegerzyn, ceramic sherds occur with less frequency and less variation in decoration than at SunWatch. Wegerzyn ceramics tend to be plain, with cordmarking as the main decoration. Rims and necks are not commonly smoothed and incised, although such examples exist. Wegerzyn vessels tend to have lug handles (although loop handles have been noted infrequently), whereas SunWatch ceramics commonly exhibit loop and lug handles. The average rim and neck sherd from SunWatch is incised with a guilloche of some variety, whether rectilinear or curvilinear, or line-filled triangles. The quantity of decorated sherds is greater at SunWatch and exhibits more variability.

When the Wegerzyn site is considered as whole, there are a number of artifact types that are completely absent from the assemblage in comparison to SunWatch (Table 2). Most surprisingly, we have not recovered a single example of a shell hoe or any evidence of fishhook manufacture. We propose that these differences in artifact frequencies are best explained as a difference in disposal patterns, which we will explore later in this paper.

Table 2: Artifact Types Absent from Wegerzyn.

Shell Hoes
Fish hooks (including evidence for hook manufacture)
Ground or worked stone tools (axes, celts, chisels)
Ground or worked stone tools (axes, celts, chisels)
Most forms of ornamentation (drilled or cut shells; stone or shell pendants; elk incisors)
Chunkey stones; pottery disks
Turtle shell bowls
Deer scapulae awls
Antler pins
Raccoon baculums
Beaver incisor chisels
Pipes (present, but only one pipe found)

Human Burials

Six burials have been recovered from the Wegerzyn site. Certainly there are more present, but our policy has been to avoid areas that we anticipate may include burials. Even with this limited sample, we have noted anomalies that we suggest can speak to the generally simple mortuary practices at Wegerzyn; specifically the absence of limestone slabs, burial position, and the amount of grave goods recovered. We compared the small burial sample of Wegerzyn with the much larger sample at SunWatch, which is comprised of 141 burials. The size of the burial sample at Wegerzyn does not permit us to make any valid statistical comparisons, but three distinctions were noted.

No stone slabs were present at Wegerzyn, although they are found covering fifty-one percent of the burials at SunWatch. Stone slabs are also common at many other Fort Ancient sites in southwestern Ohio, although less frequently than at SunWatch (Figure 3).

Figure 3
Figure 3

The burials at Wegerzyn are all in a semi-flexed position, except for one young child who may have been in an extended position. At SunWatch, almost half of the burials are in a semi-flexed or flexed position and about forty percent in an extended position. In this respect, the low frequency of extended burials at both Wegerzyn and SunWatch stands in contrast to that of the other southwestern Ohio Fort Ancient sites (Figure 4).


Figure 4
Figure 4

At Wegerzyn, the sum total of grave goods consists of three marginella shells in a double burial of an adult woman and an infant. At SunWatch, grave goods were found in association with about one-third of the burials, but were more likely to be found with adult males. Looking only at the percentage shown in Figure 5, it would appear that the Wegerzyn burials exhibited a pattern consistent with that of SunWatch and other Fort Ancient sites. The nature of these goods is quite different between the sites and we suggest that three small marginella shells are a modest inclusion in comparison to burial accoutrements at SunWatch, which included relatively extravagant goods such as modified wolf jaws, lightning-whelk shells, shell discs, and shell barrel beads. The people of Wegerzyn appear to have been modest in the mortuary treatment of their dead.

Figure 5
Figure 5


There are two explanations for the apparent disparities in conduct between the populations at Wegerzyn and SunWatch. First, we propose that the disparities in artifact frequencies can be interpreted as a difference in disposal patterns that is related to differences in the structure, layout, and size of these two sites. SunWatch is a rigidly planned community with distinct designated zones of activity. In contrast, the zones of activity at Wegerzyn are more loosely distributed, which is possibly reflective of a smaller population who appear to have been more casual in the planning of their community. The enclosing stockade at SunWatch and the close proximity of houses would encourage the community members to utilize trash pits to dispose of tools, ceramics, and other refuse. The unenclosed and smaller Wegerzyn population could have easily discarded some waste without necessarily using trash pits. This interpretation accounts for a lower frequency of artifacts per volume of feature fill, but does not account for the lack of variation in the extant assemblages.

Second, we propose that heterarchy can explain the broader distinctions between Wegerzyn and SunWatch. Heterarchy is a condition that results when one village or group of villages gains temporary influence over others. According to Henderson (1998:343), a "pattern of variability" coupled with a lack of hierarchy and disjunctive ranking may indicate situationalism and heterarchy when that variability cannot be attributed to temporal, spatial, or functional differences, or to deficiencies in the archaeological data. Wegerzyn and SunWatch are demonstrably close both temporally and spatially, with a similar economic focus at both sites. Deficiencies in archaeological data are unlikely, since preservation is excellent at both sites and the same principle investigator led both excavations. In lieu of these other sources of variation, we interpret the distinctions between the sites as indicative of different levels of social complexity.

At Wegerzyn, the lack of variation in artifact form is accompanied by a lack of variation in ceramic decoration, personal ornamentation, and mortuary behavior. We propose that these traits, in conjunction with a lack of community planning and a small population size, can be used as rough proxy measures of the level of social complexity. If these traits are related to status and/or social ranking, they indicate that the inhabitants of Wegerzyn had different social priorities. We conclude that the Wegerzyn population was less socially complex than SunWatch, as one might expect to find when comparing a small population to a larger one.


In conclusion, a comparison of a sample of artifacts from feature fills and burial characteristics between the Wegerzyn Garden Center Site and at SunWatch Indian Village indicates that the inhabitants of the former had less complex social and political practices than the latter. Their disposal patterns appear to be more casual and less restricted. The more complex social and political activities at SunWatch may be related to periods of temporary, heterarchical dominance over Fort Ancient communities in the area. The Wegerzyn site may represent a community likely to be periodically subordinate to that social and/or political dominance.

References Cited

Ehrenreich, R. M., C. L. Crumley, and J. E. Levy (editors)
 1995  Heterarchy and the Analysis of Complex Societies. Archaeological Papers No. 6, American Anthropological Association, Arlington, Virginia.

Henderson, A. G.
 1998  Middle Fort Ancient Villages and Organizational Complexity in Central Kentucky. Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, Department of Anthropology, University of Kentucky, Lexington.

Heilman, J. M., Malinda C. L., and C. Turnbow (editors)
 1988  A History of 17 Years of Excavation and Reconstruction – A Chronicle of 12th Century Human Values and the Built Environment, Vol. I. Dayton Museum of Natural History, Dayton, Ohio.

Kennedy, W. E.
 2000  Interpreting Fort Ancient Settlement Variability. Unpublished Master's thesis, Department of Anthropology, Kent State University, Kent, Ohio.

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