Archeologists dig into the soil of Lorain County, Ohio, looking at life thousands of years ago

Researchers from CLE Museum of Natural History

SHEFFIELD, Ohio - For 4,000 years, the hand-made tools made by earlier inhabitants of what is now Northeast Ohio lay buried in the rich soil of Lorain County, but archeologists are digging into the land to better understand how the people lived.

The archeologists are piecing together their findings which give them an understanding of how lives were lived nearly 3,500 years before Christopher Columbus ever set food in the lands which would later be called the Americas.

The people archeologists and volunteers assisting them are researching were native to what would later become Ohio. "They were ancestors of modern Native Americans, but we don't know a tribal name," said Brian Redmond, Curator of Archeology at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History which is sponsoring the dig. "We don't know what to call them because they were here long before Europeans who, of course, made the first written records," he said.

However, the soil in which the archeologists dig can give up the secrets it has held for thousands of years. Researchers have found knives, drills, and other items made of flint. "This is a piece probably of a large hunting or butchering knife," said Redmond as he held a piece of stone less than two inches long. "We also found the tip to this knife and it's over there," he said, pointing to a box where each item found has been bagged and tagged.

The archeologists from the Cleveland Museum of Natural History have been working this plot of land for several years after they discovered it was filled with items used by people.  They brought in special equipment which could look into the soil of a meadow and tell whether it had been disturbed by human hands. Usually, soil has a yellowish color to it. "It should all be yellowish, but something dug below that at some point in the past and in this case, based on that, what's in that dark soil, it was humans," said archeologist Brian Scanlan.

He said charcoal from burning fires has blackened the soil. "We are finding evidence of fires and that tells the people were here for a pretty long period of time -- an extended period of time -- where they came back repeatedly over probably millennia," said Scanlan.

The dig is on land in Sheffield on the Jabez Burrell Homestead owned by Lorain County Metro Parks.  When Burrell built the brick house, which still exists, in 1820, he was not the first inhabitant on the land. Over thousands of years, people native to this region had lived there. "They hunted, gathered, and fished in the Black River," said Redmond, who noted his crew has found spear tips and even drills made of flint stone which he said were probably used to drill through wood.

Several volunteers assist the archeologists. They are people who are steeped in history and have an interest in uncovering what is beneath the surface of the land. Among them is Emily Winnicki, 11, who helps by digging in the soil and sifting the soil through a screen as she looks for whatever may have been uncovered in the dirt. "I am learning how to be an archeologist because when I grow up, that's what I want to become," she said.

The items found in the dirt, including deer antler and bone which were used as tools, are all cataloged and bound for the Cleveland Museum of Natural History where they will be further studied. Some of them will be displayed for viewing by visitors to the museum, giving the people of today a better understanding of life thousands of years ago.

The meadow at the Sheffield dig is a few hundreds yards off East River Road. The people working the soil are looking into the history of the location. In many way, they are putting together pieces of a 4,000-years-old puzzle which every day, gives a bigger and better picture of life at that time. The area is rich in archeological treasures because the people who settled this area knew there was something special about the area. "Native Americans found that this area along the lakeshore (Lake Erie) was also a great place to live," said Scanlan. "So this particular point that overlooks a few streams and creeks in this area was a spectacular place to be just as it is now," he said.

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