Artifacts provide glimpse of early life in township

By David Fleet
Atlas Twp. — A longtime Atlas Township family recently donated a collection artifacts from very early inhabitants of the region to the Goodrich/Atlas Historical Society.  Robert Hegel, the great, great, great grandson of Andrew Hegel shared the array of arrow and spear heads among other items found on the family farm spanning four generations.  Also, included in the collection was a claw thought to be the last bear shot on the property.
Michael Hambacher, staff archaeologist from the Lansing-based State Historic Preservation Office, studied a series of photos from the collection.
“The items found are typical of many farm collections,” said Hambacher, during an interview with The Citizen on Tuesday. “The collection spans about 8,000 years which are represented among the projection points.  The majority of them (were crafted) about 3,000 to 1,400 years ago during the early woodland and middle woodland periods. During this time burial mounds were on going. It fits with what we know of the pre-contact era in that part of the state.”
The size and style of the unique variety of items represents the evolution and changes of the weapon technology, said Hambacher. An example of the transition in the collection is evident from throwing style spear heads or atlatls, a stick used to propel a spear to the bow and arrow.
“About 2,000 years ago the shift changed from spears to bow and arrows,” he said. “It ties in with how hunting equipment was used and what they were hunting. Simply, the styles of weapons changed.”
One projectile point in the collection dates to the late woodland period and signifies European contact sometime in the late 1700s. The people in Southeastern Michigan would move seasonally, and congregate in small to medium size villages. As the season changed they would move during the year as resources do, he said.
“They practiced residential mobility as resources became abundant they’d go there,” he said. “They ate tubers, fished, ate freshwater mussels, collected berries as they became ripe, gathered nuts, and practiced intensive hunting. Fall was an important time for pelts, since the fur is more dense and then often moved on to the winter hunting grounds. There were many short term hunting camps, that suggest they went to where the game was, rather than going out and bringing (game) back to a specific village.”
Most lived in some variation of wigwams or groups living in longhouses some 60 feet long, multi family dwellings, he said.
“We just don’t have a good idea of what they are living in,” he said. “Some incorporated domestic crops like sunflowers and squash into their diet about 5,000 years ago. Southeastern Michigan was a good spot to live over several thousand of years.”
“It’s very common that we see a broad range of projectile point types in these farm collections,” he added. “Southeastern Michigan was a good place to camp. The township farm was being used as possible hunting camp, however, the hard stone tools (in the collection) or Celts were often used as an ax for some level of woodworking.  They would have had an extensive knowledge of their land and the resources out there. You don’t survive in this climate with sufficient knowledge of your surroundings.”
People have been in Michigan for 13,000 years, he said.
“It’s nice representation of the type of artifacts you’d expect to find in the Southern Genesee County area,” he said. “We can add the information to our database at the state that can be used for research to determine how people lived in the past.”

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