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Fragments of a Life

artifacts found at Timber Hill
Though small in size and few in number, artifacts-ranging from colorful European ceramics, trade beads, and metal implements to earth-toned Caddo pottery sherds helped confirm the age of the site. They also helped establish that it had been occupied by Kadohadacho peoples who were in contact with Anglo-European traders and settlers. While pottery was the only class of artifacts clearly made by the Native Americans, other items, such as a serrated spoon handle and glass sherds flaked along the edges, may have been modified for different uses by them as well.
crew members at work
Crew members sift shovelfuls of sediment from the excavation block, searching for small artifacts such as beads, bone, or sherds.

Click images to enlarge  


Thimbles were frequently traded to Native Americans who perforated them for use as decorative "tinklers" on clothing, particularly dance costumes. The two found at Sha'chahdínnih were unusually small, perhaps manufactured specifically as trade items.
Examples of pressed glass.
brass military button
A brass military button made between 1827 and 1839. Such buttons were used on military coats that were often presented as gifts to Indian tribal leaders. Click to see sketch of detail.
Notches were cut along the edge of this pewter spoon handle, creating a serrated tool effective for cutting or fish scaling. The stamped mark, "Yates," indicates the spoon was manufactured in Birmingham, England, between 1810 and 1840.

"It can now be said incontrovertibly that Sha'chahdínnih (Timber Hill) has been found," Parsons and Bruseth wrote after the excavations were over and the analyses complete. How could the archeologists be so sure? The six days of excavation had netted a mere 1,307 artifacts—including hundreds of thumbnail-sized pottery sherds—a small number, even for such a brief excavation. The archeologists were certain about the site's identity because the artifacts confirmed the information gleaned from historical documents and maps. Step by step, 10-cm level by10-cm level, they had to put together the last pieces of the puzzle.

First they had to establish that the site was occupied by Caddo people, and not just any Caddo people, but members of the Kadohadacho families who lived during the right time period. What was their evidence?

  • Most importantly, the site is in the exact location shown on the most detailed of the historical maps, and the artifacts show that the village was occupied during the time when the Kadohadachos are known to have been at Timber Hill.
  • A number of the artifacts recovered demonstrated that the occupation of the site was by Native Americans rather than early Euro-American settlers. These included a conical metal arrowpoint, silver ornaments, glass beads, thimbles perforated for use as tinklers on clothing, a hawk bell used in a similar manner, a spoon handle modified for use as a scarifier or fish scaler, and sherds of glass with edges flaked to make cutting and scraping tools.
  • The decorations on pottery sherds were similar to those found at other historic Caddo sites in the region. In a sizable proportion of the pottery sherds (41 percent), shell was used as a tempering agent, as opposed to crushed bone, for example, or sand. A tempering agent is a solid material added to the moist clay to improve structure and reduce shrinkage during drying and firing. A large percentage of the pottery from the Kadohadacho homeland in the Great Bend of the Red River is also tempered with shell, but shell temper is uncommon in ceramics from other Caddo sites near Timber Hill. This provided some evidence that the Timber Hill people were originally from the Kadohadacho homeland.

How did the archeologists know the artifacts were remnants of life from the brief period 1800-1840, when the Kadohadachos lived at Timber Hill? Most were of European or Euro-American manufacture, though the villagers had modified some of them to suit their own purposes. So the site was clearly occupied after the Caddos had extensive contact with European settlers. Even more telling, the manufacturing dates of some artifacts could be determined with a fair amount of precision. The handle of one pewter spoon could have been manufactured only between 1810 and 1840, for example, and a piece of English pottery bore a maker's mark used only from 1834 to 1836.

Especially interesting was a military button made between 1827 and 1839. Military coats were common gifts to Indian leaders, and Sibley wrote of such a presentation at an 1807 meeting in Natchitoches, Louisiana, with Chief Dehahuit and another Caddo official:

I gave the Caddo Chief a Scarlet Regimental Coat trim'd with Black Velvet and white Plated Buttons. At the same time gave the Son of Carody the Old Caddo Chief a Blue Half Regimental Coat trim'd with Scarlet and a White Linnen Shirt.

The archeologists noted that this meeting occurred in 1807 and the button was manufactured later, but it was likely that the presentations continued and that the recovered specimen was from such a gift.

at the waterscreen
Tracy Smith uses a water hose draped from a pine branch to quickly dissolve sediments and speed up the screening process.
jewelry and clothing items
Jewelry and clothing items. Top row, glass beads, probably once strung in necklaces; middle row, silver ornaments, a brass thimble tinkler, and a white metal button; bottom, a crushed brass hawk bell, worn on clothing to produce a musical sound during dancing, and a brass buckle frame.
Sherds of early 19th-century European transfer-ware ceramics found at the site. Top row, Quebec pattern; middle, Lions pattern; bottom, red, black and overpainted transfer ware. View examples of complete Quebec or Lions pattern vessels (not from present site).
decorated wares
Fragments of edge-decorated wares (top), banded slipwares (middle), and hand-painted wares (bottom).
smudge pot diagram of excavation unit
What appeared to be an area of stained soil with fragments of charred corncobs was identified as a smudge pot, a pit filled with fuel to produce smoke, possibly for use in curing hides. The feature is shown on left as it was uncovered in the excavation unit and, on right, in a schematic diagram showing it in plan view and after it was sectioned, enabling archeologists to view the profile of the pit interior.
dark-stained soil
A circle of dark-stained soil alerted excavators to what proved to be a large post hole (Feature 4), one of the few indications of structures at the site. The sparse number of artifacts and features suggests that the excavated area might have been a plaza area, where villagers gathered for ceremonies and dances.

It was hoped that the excavations might reveal posthole patterns or other remains that would indicate the location of residential and other structures. But the only such remains found within the 63 square meters excavated were two isolated postholes, one large and one small, and the diffuse outline of a smudge pit.

The postholes did not produce useful information, but the smudge pit yielded important data about subsistence activities. Smudge pits are common features at Caddo sites, found both within houses and outside. They are small pits filled with fuels chosen for their ability to produce smoke. The most widely accepted explanation for the function of smudge pits is that they were for curing hides. Deer hides were especially important to Caddos and other Native American groups in the historic period, since deer hides were an important item of trade with the Euro-American settlers (it is said that the use of the term "buck" to refer to a dollar reflects the economic importance of deer hides in frontier trade). The hides were pinned into a baglike shape and suspended over the smoking pit for curing. A common fuel was corn cobs, and charred corn cobs and a peach pit from the smudge pit are the only direct evidence of foods recovered to date from Timber Hill.

drawing of posthole
Drawing of the posthole, Feature 4. Excavators found it was filled with dark humus-stained soil to a depth of some 2.5 feet below the surface; they thought it large enough (23 cm or about 9 inches in diameter) to have been the central post of a house.
Clements Brushed Keno Trailed Karnack Brushed
Brushed and incised pottery vessels recovered from other Caddo sites in the area suggest what the pottery at Sha'chahdínnih might have looked like. From left, a Clements brushed olla, or bottle, from the Clements site (image courtesy Dee Ann Story); Keno Trailed bowl from the Cedar Grove site in the Red River Valley of southwest Arkansas, ca. A.D. 1700 to 1750 (courtesy Pictures of Record, Inc.); and a Karnack Brushed Incised utility jar, also from the Cedar Grove site (courtesy Pictures of Record, Inc.). The latter is thought to date to roughly A.D. 1650.
native-made ceramics
Native-made ceramics from the site. Top, engraved wares; middle, incised and punctuated-incised wares; bottom, brushed wares.
horse trappings
Horse trappings. Top row, ferrous metal harness buckles; bottom left, metal harness ring; bottom right, possible brass bridle side piece.
ceramic smoking pipe
Aboriginal ceramic smoking pipe. It's presence at the site is puzzling, given the wide availability of European and American pipes by that time. It may have been specifically made for a special ritual.

More Questions

Besides verifying the site's identity, the archeologists wanted to find out how closely the people at Timber Hill followed traditional Caddo ways, and how much they had adopted Euro-American ways. They determined that even though the Caddos had access to metal containers, and did use them, they also continued to create their own traditional ceramics. They tempered their ceramics with a variety of substances—grog (crushed pottery), shell, or bone—according to each vessel's function, a technique handed down through the generations.

In addition, paleoethnobotanist Eileen Goldborer conducted a detailed study of the corn remains from Timber Hill and concluded that the residents were still raising two of their traditional corn varieties. They apparently had not yet adopted the more productive Southern Dent variety.

Because historical sources suggested that by the time the Kadohadachos settled at Timber Hill, they were an amalgamation of several formerly distinct populations, the researchers were also curious about whether any evidence of this would show up at the site. There was just one hint. About 10 percent of the pottery sherds at Timber Hill were from clay vessels with surfaces that had been textured by brushing before firing. This technique was extremely rare in the original Kadohadacho homeland of the Great Bend of the Red River. Therefore, it's possible that this pottery was the work of non-Kadohadachos who had joined the community. It's also possible, of course, that the Timber Hill people obtained the brushed pottery or learned the technique from other groups.

Quite a few questions remain for future researchers to explore. For instance, why did the archeologists find relatively few artifacts, little evidence of structures, and no trash middens? The excavated area could have been a ceremonial plaza or dance ground that was kept relatively clean, or it could have been a portion of the village that was inhabited for only a brief time. Either way, large components of the settlement, possibly scattered over several miles along Jim's Bayou, have yet to be uncovered. More extensive excavations would likely reveal more postholes and middens filled with artifacts.

With more excavation, archeologists might be able to determine whether the formerly distinct groups that contributed to the population of Timber Hill lived in separate areas of the village, especially if their native ceramics were noticeably different from traditional Kadohadacho pottery. If enough excavation is done, it might be possible to trace the history of the village as it responded to population loss from disease. And with luck, archeologists could locate structures associated with political and religious leaders, and in this way better understand the social hierarchy at Timber Hill.

Caddo women gather corn
Caddo women gather corn in this village scene. (Inset from a mural by Nola Davis at Caddoan Mounds State Historic Park, courtesy Texas Parks and Wildlife) Department.
gig or spear
Barbed metal point for a gig or spear. If a gig, it would have only been used for very large fish, perhaps in nearby Caddo Lake.
firearms-related artifacts
Firearms-related artifacts. Top row, barrel lug and two tumblers from gun mechanisms; second row, ramrod guide and gun cocks; third row, gun worm or wad puller; bottom row, lock plate.