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Northwest Wisconsin

Among the First Peoples, Paleoindians of Northern Wisconsin

Museum Archaeology Program archaeologists excavated a rare site type in northern Wisconsin, a Late Paleoindian campsite and workshop. The artifacts and information recovered have helped to increase our understanding of these first peoples. The following text is adapted from “The Deadman Slough Site: Late Paleoindian/Early Archaic and Woodland Occupations along the Flambeau River, Price County, Wisconsin” by Norman M. Meinholz and Steven R. Kuehn of the Museum Archaeology Program, WHS.


The Deadman Slough site
is located adjacent to a
slough of the
Flambeau River

The Deadman Slough site (47Pr-46) is located along the North Fork of the Flambeau River adjacent to Deadman Slough in northwestern Price County. This area served as a focal point for Native American settlement for thousands of years. Archaeological excavations produced a unique assemblage of artifacts and settlement information relating to the region's earliest inhabitants. The evidence includes faunal remains, which are not commonly recovered from such ancient sites. Natural decaying processes tend to break down and degrade organic materials such as animal bone, shell, wood and seeds. Often the physical evidence of past peoples consists of non-perishable items such as stone tools.

Early Peoples at the Deadman Slough site

The earliest peoples at Deadman Slough were Native Americans who camped here between 8000-6000 years ago. They produced stone artifacts that have traits of both Late Paleoindian and Early Archaic tool making traditions. It is possible this is the result of separate occupations by Late Paleoindian peoples and Early Archaic peoples at the site. However, the presence of traits of both Late Paleoindian and Early Archaic stone tool manufacturing has been reported from other archaeological sites in the region that are assumed to represent a single occupation.

Archaeological evidence shows these early people had a broad strategy for survival that depended on knowledge of seasonally available plants and animals. The peoples living at the Deadman Slough had access to a variety of rich natural environmental zones and resource areas. The faunal and floral resources provided food, as well as raw materials for tools, clothing, shelter, and ornamentation. Lithic raw materials and mineral deposits in the area provided materials for tools and other items. The Deadman Slough site was a seasonal campsite, the Paleoindian peoples did not live at this location year-round. Evidence, such as turtle remains, suggests the site was used during the warmer seasons when such animals could more easily be hunted. The site location lies exposed on a high overlook, and the lack of evidence of houses or forms of shelters also support a warm season occupation.

Late Paleoindian and Early
Archaic projectile points found
at the Deadman Slough site.
Museum Division,
Wisconsin Historical Society.

In general, the Late Paleoindian chipped-stone tools are primarily made from Hixton orthoquartzite. It appears this stone was brought to Deadman Slough as partially worked preforms or bifacial blanks and may have been stored or cached at the campsite. Locally available lithic materials such as igneous and quartzite rock were also used on-site to make stone tools.

Two examples of
heat-fractured bifaces.
Museum Division,
Wisconsin Historical Society.

A unique type of artifact consists of large, heat-fractured bifaces These bifaces had been broken through exposure to very high temperatures. The fragments were found scattered across a portion of the site and not recovered from any recognizable feature or artifact concentration. Many of these fragments could be joined to recreate the original tool shapes. These bifaces were made from either Hixton orthoquartzite or other similar Cambrian orthoquartzites that occur in western Wisconsin.

Samples of orthoquartzite biface fragments were submitted to the Indiana Geological Survey for Oxygen Isotope Analysis. This technique has proven useful in determining the probable source of quartz-rich stone used in making artifacts. Recently this method has been employed to source orthoquartzite artifacts and samples recovered from Silver Mound, Arcadia Ridge, and other Cambrian orthoquartzite sources in west-central Wisconsin. The results suggest there are at least two sources for quartzite used to make bifaces found at the Deadman Slough site. One source is the Silver Mound quarry/workshop complex in Jackson County, Wisconsin. This material would have been brought to the Deadman Slough either through trade or by travelling to the Silver Mound quarry site.

To learn more about Silver Mound orthoquartzite visit the Mississippi Valley Archaeology Center at the University of Wisconsin - La Crosse.

Evidence for heat-fracturing and/or intentional breaking of artifacts has been found at a number of Late Paleoindian sites in the western Great Lakes. Archaeologists have associated this treatment of artifacts with some form of ceremonial activity or the cremation of human remains for burial purposes.

Late Paleoindian sites with
ritual activity as reported
in the western Great Lakes.
Meinholz and Kuehn

Sites containing evidence for ritual activities include Renier, Pope, Elmwood Island, Gorto, Cummins, Crowfield, and Caradoc, although only the Renier and Caradoc sites had similar heat-fractured bifaces. At the Deadman Slough site, the fractured bifaces are the result of ceremonial activity, but not related to burial activity. The intentional burning/breakage of the large bifaces and points suggests the ritual offering of these items during a sacred ceremony. Only the Renier and Cummins sites actually contained remains identified as human cremations, and grave goods were only associated with the Renier cremation. While the lack of identified human remains at other sites could be explained by poor preservation, it is also possible that other types of ritual activity occurred which have not been fully recognized.


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