Central States Archaeological Societies
Central States Archaeological Societies


Mark Leach

Central States Archaeological Societies 2002 July Journal

Chesterfield, Missouri



Four views of a frog effigy pipe excavated at the Greystone 1 site.

Photo courtesy of Craig Sturdevant.

     The City of Chesterfield, Missouri sits along the Missouri River bluffs in west St. Louis County. It offered its ancient inhabitants a rich combination of fertile bottom lands and rich loess soil uplands, sandwiched between the Missouri, Mississippi and Meramec Rivers. Starting in the late 1950s the area began a transition from farmland to a suburban metropolis. Such development necessitated a number of large-scale archaeological excavations, as well as a nearly constant supply of freshly graded land for artifact collectors.

In 1996 a major archaeological excavation was conducted prior to the construction of the Greystone subdivision. This development is situated along a bluff line bordered by the Missouri River bottoms to the north and a perennial flowing stream, Bonhomme Creek, to the south. Anthropologist Craig Sturdevant, of Environmental Research Center (ERC) of Missouri, Inc., served as the principal investigator, leading a crew of five other anthropologists. The work focused on four distinct areas of the property: Greystone I, II, III & IV.  Greystone III was the least productive of the sites, containing evidence of several short-term Late Archaic habitations. Greystone I, II and IV, however represented three distinct Emergent Mississippian and Mississippian villages.

The Greystone I Site is situated in the easternmost section of the Greystone development.  It is on a high, flat terrace above Bonhomme Creek, approximately 600m from the Missouri River bottom. The high bluff line that separates the Bohomme Creek valley from the larger Missouri River valley provided the inhabitants of this site with protection from cold northerly winter winds.

Eleven houses and numerous trash and storage pits were uncovered at the Greystone I Site. The homes, which were set into shallow basins, were laid out in a circular pattern around an open central plaza or courtyard. The houses were fairly well preserved, with well-defined walls and floors. 

Four Carbon 14 dates were obtained from the Greystone I Site:

AD 1290 +/- 60 years  charred log in house (Feature 17)

AD 1220 +/- 70 years  grass mat in house (Feature 17)

AD 1205 +/- 50 years  charred wood in house (Feature 16)

AD 1020 +/-  40 years  hickory nutshell in house (Feature 11)

These dates would place Greystone I into the Mississippian Period, as defined by the sequence of the American Bottom, the area in and around Cahokia Mounds. 

All the houses produced relatively large amounts of bones from small fish. The bones of some larger fish were also found: gar, bowfin and catfish. The remains of fishnets made from twisted fibers of milkweed or Indian hemp stems were also uncovered.  Very few mussel shells were found, which was surprising, given their abundance in Bonhomme Creek. Only two pottery sherds, out of 1,416 sherds uncovered, consisted of shell temper. Only a small number of mammal bones were found: woodchuck, small rodents and deer. The remains of one turtle and one snake also were uncovered.

Nutshells comprised the majority (80%) of the plant remains, mostly hickory, with lesser amounts of hazelnut and walnut. Starchy seeds, such as goosefoot, knotweed and maygrass, were also part of the diet, accounting for 10% of the plant remains. Corn, of the 8-10 row variety, made up less than 1%.  Other plant remains included wild plum pits, black nightshade seeds and 20 tobacco seeds. The tobacco seeds provide a nice sequel to the artifact referenced in this article's title.

A limestone frog effigy pipe was found in the house listed as Feature 16.  The frog was found in two pieces on the floor of the structure, which measured 2.35 x 1.75 meters.  The frog is slightly larger than a manÕs fist, and shows burn marks along the bowl rim. It is not a particularly elegant example of Mississippian art; however, its squatty, hunkered-down posture and its mildly amused smile make it a rather endearing piece of work.  The frog is currently on loan to the Native American Artifact Exhibit at ChesterfieldÕs City Hall. Craig SturdevantÕs statement about the frog, as he loaned it to ChesterfieldÕs exhibit, gives evidence of its endearing nature, "To tell you the truth, IÕll miss the frog. From time to time, I find myself checking him out of storage, just to hold him. I like to ponder the person who made it. The people who smoked from it."

Other stone artifacts at the Greystone I Site included Crisp Ovate, triangular, Scallorn and Reed Side Notched arrow points. A contracting stem point and one corner notched point were also found. Other tools included three discoidials or chunkey stones, scrapers, choppers, perforators, drills, hoe fragments, hammerstones, celts and a soil polished digging pick.

Researchers concluded that the pottery at Greystone I fits the description of the George Reeves Phase of the Emergent Mississippian Period. The near absence of shell temper and a predominance of jar versus bowl forms, as well as surface impressions, lead to this conclusion. The near lack of corn may also support this, although its absence could be attributed to season. This cultural placement into the Emergent Mississippian Period is at odds with the Mississippian Period C-14 dates. Craig Sturdevant and colleagues postulate that the two are not necessarily mutually exclusive. They suggest that some groups may have held onto traditions such as pottery temper, while embracing some of the Mississippian cultural influences from the Cahokia and St. Louis mound groups. This may have been easier for small villages like that of the Greystone I Site that sit a little ways outside of the American Bottom.

If you travel to St. Louis, please feel free to visit the exhibit at Chesterfield's City Hall.  There you'll find information about Missouri's ancient history and view numerous artifacts from the Chesterfield area.

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