Ancient Native American cooking vessel found in Superior National Forest

Superior National Forest archaeologists recently received lab results revealing that an ancient Native American cooking vessel discovered in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness dates back to 1,750 – 1,600 years ago (254-403 common era).
In partnership with the Forest Service, scientists at a lab in California conducted radiocarbon dating on carbonized food residue found on the interior of a sherd (broken piece of material) from the ceramic vessel.
The sherd’s decorative elements are associated with the Laurel Cultural Tradition, which was prevalent in the Upper Midwest and Canada approximately 2,100-1,200 years ago.
“The site location and artifacts suggested a long history of ancestral Native American use of the site during the summer months for both fishing and manoomin (wild rice) processing; however, the radiocarbon date gives a really specific point of time to contextualize that use. We are fairly confident we have sites on the Forest that are as old as 9,000 or 10,000 years ago, but it is really rare for us to get a good radiocarbon date to confirm precise dates of human use,” said Lee Johnson, Superior National Forest Archaeologist.
David Mather, the National Register Archaeologist for the Minnesota State Historic Preservation Office, highlights the significance of the date: “The Laurel world was so vast, extending from the Lake Superior up into Manitoba and Ontario. Laurel people were the earliest in this area to adopt mound building and continental trade networks. Out of that large area, the BWCAW has perhaps the best representation and preservation of all that history. It is powerful to connect an artifact-in this case, a meal that was cooked-to a specific point in time.”
Staff from the USFS Northern Research Station in Houghton, Mich. helped prepare the samples, which were analyzed by a lab at University of California-Irving.
The dating technique, referred to as an absolute dating technique, measures the amount of Carbon 14, a radioactive isotope, present in an organic sample.
As Carbon 14 decays at a set rate over time, absolute dating indicates the time period of an artifact based on the amount of Carbon 14 remaining in the sample.
Jaylen Strong, Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa, works with the Superior National Forest to ensure that archaeological and historic sites are managed according to federal regulation and that the Tribes have a voice in the process.
Strong supported the Forest Service’s research efforts and said, “It is important to get accurate dating along with utilization, to demonstrate the sophistication of the people and their land uses here for thousands of years. Artifacts like this help to improve the knowledge of people who used this land that can often be misrepresented.”
This radiocarbon dating builds on previous analyses from this site. In 2008, an obsidian flake discovered from the site was sourced to Bear Gulch, Idaho.
The flake’s origin indicates that trade networks extended there from present-day Minnesota.
Researchers from Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ontario also identified corn and wild rice remains on ceramic sherds and in soil samples at this site in 2010, pointing to available food sources at the time.
“It is exciting for us to get a good radiocarbon date from the Forest, as the soils are shallow and there is a history of contamination from wildfires,” said Johnson. “The dating techniques helps us in interpreting the long history of human-landscape interaction, the wide-ranging trade networks, and Native American land tenure in the Superior National Forest and the wider Border Lakes region.”