What lies beneath?

By Valerie Urbanik

June 6, 2014

Have you ever wondered what people used to do or make things out of more than 200 years ago?

Archaeologists study human activity in the past through the recovery of material left behind. Brian Scanlan, president of the Firelands Archaeological Research Center, said his team can spend three to five years at one site looking for artifacts.

“Archaeology is a slow and very tedious process,” he said.

The research center is based on Milan Avenue in Amherst and since 1991 has worked with the Cleveland Museum of Natural History and Lorain County Metro Parks to secure dig sites across the region. Some have been known since the 1940s and 1950s.

“We know about a lot of sites, far more than we could ever excavate,” Scanlan said.

FARC works very closely with the community and welcomes volunteers to work with the team at sites.

The group recently finished five years at a site near Milan, Ohio, where it found a ceremonial circle — a place where people would have gathered to perform rites.

The team did not have to dig very far below the earth’s surface to find what they were looking for.

“We dig down about 20-25 centimeters because the land has been plowed over so many years,” Scanlan said.

He said one major artifact the group found was bladelets.

A bladelet is a retouched piece of stone used as a cutting edge of a weapon or tool by late Stone Age people. They only existed for about 400 years and mostly in southern Ohio.

“We dig slowly sometimes, pulling out toothbrushes and paint brushes,” Scanlan said.

Archaeologists used to go into a site completely blind, never knowing exactly the best spots to start digging. Scanlan and his team do not have that problem any longer because they use a magnetometer, which measures and maps patterns of magnetism in the soil.

The machine allows the team to have an accurate mapping documentation of each site along with their discoveries.

Now FARC is returning to dig in Sheffield at an historical site that last was explored in 2008.

Normally archaeologists only dig at a site once, but the Sheffield site has new discovers waiting to be revealed, Scanlan believes.

Valerie Urbanik can be reached at 440-775-1611 or on Twitter @ONT_valurbanik.