Archaeology Magazine Archive

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Caesars Big Dig Volume 53 Number 4, July/August 2000
by Jennifer A. Harrison

One of the largest excavations ever undertaken in the eastern U.S. has revealed a long occupation on the lower Ohio River in Harrison County, Indiana, where Russell Stafford of Indiana State University and a crew of more than 60 have been working since 1997. The dig is informally known as the "Caesars project" after the property owner, Caesars Riverboat Casino. The land will be used for a 500-room hotel and golf course, with an adjacent floating casino.

Carbon dating has verified occupation from 9600 to 2000 B.P. at four different sites on the 234-acre property. More than 30,000 stone tools and other artifacts have been recovered from the silty sediment deposited by the Ohio River over several millennia. The locale was appealing because it afforded easy access to resources from four distinct environments--uplands, caves, the floodplain, and river.

The most important part of the dig is an Early Archaic stone workshop and campsite occupied from 9900 to 8600 years B.P. More than 10,000 stone tools, including points, drills, adzes, scrapers, knives, hammer stones, and what may be a new type of Early Middle Archaic point have been found there, many in caches containing dozens of tools in bowl-shaped holes 12 to 14 inches in diameter. The raw materials include fine-grained, dark blue Wyandotte chert, from the county's northwestern corner, and Muldraugh chert, found nearby.

Study of the Caesars project is expected to take three to five years. Stafford believes that the point may represent a new or transitional cultural period. Bifurcated points generally date more than 8000 years B.P., he says, but these are 5700 to 7000 B.P., a time range not well documented in the Ohio basin, since much of the archaeological record is buried beneath the floodplain. "Large-scale excavations of buried sites like ours have not been common. With our buried context and radiocarbon dates we can begin to fill the gap betwen 5500 and 8000 B.P.," says Stafford.

© 2000 by the Archaeological Institute of America