June 17, 2014 at 1:42 pm

Life at Patton Bog—3,000 Years and Counting

Location of the Patton Bog site in Athens County.

Location of the Patton Bog site in Athens County.


Patton Bog, as it is known locally, is a small natural wetland in Athens County. Today it is surrounded by dense forest in a relatively unpopulated area, but it hasn’t always been so.

It was once home to villages of Native Americans who used its clay to make their pottery and likely grew crops. They lived on an extensive series of prairies and open grasslands and hunted in park-like forests.

“Rather than envisioning communities carving out a living space within a heavily forested terrace or elevated floodplain setting, the present research indicates that these communities occupied areas that were already largely cleared of trees due to the systematic interaction” of climate change and human modification,” say Dr. Elliot Abrams and Dr. AnnCorinne Freter, both Professors of Anthropology at Ohio University. Read more at “Climate Change in Athens County—Been There.”

Patton Bog is part of the unglaciated Allegheny plateau, and it is the first natural wetland in the region to become the subject of archaeological or paleoecological analysis.

The bog is adjacent to a habitation site occupied from around 1000 B.C. to A.D. 100 by people who used clay from the bog for their pottery. (Red clay from Athens County later became the red bricks of Ohio University.)

Abrams and Freter published “Environmental Change Since the Woodland Period in the Mid-Ohio Valley: Results from Patton Bog Sediment Core Palynological Analyses” in the May 2014 issue of the Midcontinental Journal of Archaeology. Their co-author is Vania Stefanova of the University of Minnesota.

The First People in Athens County

By 8000 B.C., relatively nomadic people practicing a hunting and gathering economy occupied the Hocking Valley. But they appear to have abandoned the area around 4500 B.C., Abrams and Freter write.

When people returned around 3000 B.C., they developed larger, more sedentary communities with a mixed economy made possible by domesticating seed-bearing plants as part of their diet.

With the introduction of maize around A.D. 700, larger communities were established, roughly corresponding with the Medieval Warm Period. Then came the Little Ice Age, and another round of migration out of the valley occurred around A.D. 1450.

Ambrosia—the Food of Athenians?

The vegetation surrounding Patton Bog beginning around 1000 B.C. likely featured an extensive series of open meadow, consisting primarily of Ambrosia. And the evidence suggests early gardening.

Not the ambrosia of Greek Mythology, as in the nectar of the Gods, but the genus Ambrosia, known today as ragweed.

Ambrosia may indeed have been a cultivated grain for native Athenians 3,000 years ago as rising temperatures and less rainfall stressed forests. “Economically, people would have been faced with reduced nut yields” and may have turned to Ambrosia as a source of protein and oil.

But while the percentage of Ambrosia pollen grains in their sample was “striking,” they say is raises the question: “Was the ragweed cultivated, it is an indicator of vegetation disturbance, or both?”

Before the Farmer’s Market…Terrace Gardening?

While climate change might have fueled the transition from forest to grassland, it’s also likely that people played a role by “terrace domestication,” or gardening.

Ambrosia dominates the samples Abrams and Freter found between 1000 B.A. to A.D. 1: up to 55 percent Ambrosia spores, 11 percent Poaceae (grasses), and a very low percentage of oak and hickory indicated an open landscape.

“The presence of a hearth dated to circa 1000 B.C. at the Patton site indicates human habitation adjacent to the wetland, and the presence of Ambrosia seeds in the hearth supports its possible use as a food resource.” Pollen from other herbaceous plants known to be cultivated by Native Americans also was found in the core samples.

“The absence of charcoal in the sediments of the Early Woodland period, however, indicates that fire was neither used to maintain the grassland landscape nor used in economic activities such as gardening.”

That would change.

Using Fire to Manage the Forests

From about A.D. 1 to 400, Abrams and Freter found charcoal data in their samples, “indicating that grasslands were maintained in part through intentional burning by Native Americans.”

The use of fire and the warm temperatures also kept their forests open and cleared of underbrush.

“Within the context of the opportunistic and flexible nature of a mixed hunting and gathering economy, the decision to include and then manage seed-bearing plants would have countered the reduction in nut yield from the now less-productive (trees).”

Just as their Patton Bog project builds on years of research, Abrams and Freter conclude that more work needs to be done “to completely reconstruct the geographic mosaic of environmental changes experience by these past Native Americans.”

Read more at “Climate Change in Athens County—Been There.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *