North American Archaeology

Henderson skull

Bison skull from the Henderson Site, LA-1549, Roswell, New Mexico

The North American collection houses archaeological materials and extensive related documentation (e.g., field notes, site maps, plans and stratigraphic sections, photographs, unpublished manuscripts, and other archival materials) from all states except those in the Great Lakes area. The collection contains in excess of one million artifacts, including hundreds of thousands of ceramic sherds, hundreds of complete or nearly complete ceramic vessels, and tens of thousands of flaked and groundstone tools, items worked in bone and teeth, marine and freshwater shell, galena, mica, fluorite, red and yellow ocher, gypsum, copper, silver, wood, and other both perishable and nonperishable materials. Some of the range's largest and most important collections are from Archaic, Woodland, and Mississippian period sites in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois (including Cahokia), Kentucky, West Virginia, Maryland (including Accokeek Creek), and the Lower Mississippi Valley portions of Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana.

The collection also houses large quantities of subsistence-related animal bones from sites in New Mexico, and smaller assemblages from Illinois, Kentucky, Ohio, and elsewhere. The faunal materials include a large collection of well-preserved late prehistoric bison skulls and postcrania from southeastern New Mexico, representing a rare record of Southern Plains bison from the period just prior to their near total extinction in the 1870s.

The North American division curates the type collections and voluminous associated photo and textual documentation for the Ceramic Repository created by Carl E. Guthe and James B. Griffin in the 1930s as the principal basis for establishing the chronology of Native American occupation in Eastern North America (prior to the development of radiocarbon dating, ceramics provided almost the only means for establishing the region's prehistoric chronology). Despite the widespread availability of absolute dating techniques today, the Ceramic Repository continues to be one of the most heavily used collections in the North American division because it allows scholars to examine and compare ceramic type collections from sites throughout Eastern North America. The documentation associated with the Ceramic Repository, which is held in cooperation with the Bentley Historical Library as part of the Griffin Papers, also remains a vital resource for archaeologists because the archive contains detailed notes and photographic records of many classic excavations that for one reason or another were never fully published by their excavators. Also, in cooperation with the Bentley Historical Library, the North American division maintains the records for the University of Michigan radiocarbon dating laboratory, the first facility to be established following the original development of the technique at the University of Chicago. Under both H.H. Crane and Griffin's supervision, Michigan's C-14 lab played an instrumental role in resolving chronological issues worldwide, and these records today provide an invaluable historical window on the development of archaeology as a discipline.