Ancient Herbs Survive a Pot-Shard Bog

Pottery shards from northeastern Michigan reveal ancient herbs Native American villagers used for food, medicine and woven goods.

| October/November 1992

Artifacts from a bog reveal ancient herbs Native American villagers used for food, medicine and woven goods.

Ancient Herbs Survive a Pot-Shard Bog

The fiery morning sun bathed the pine trees in a misty glow as a single shadowy figure moved silently from the village down toward the bog. Deer drinking nearby didn’t even look up as he passed. He knelt on the ground and gently caressed the leaves of a small green plant, then plucked it from the ground and placed it in his leather medicine bag. The Native American herbalist had spent most of his life learning the mysteries of the bog, his knowledge of its plants providing medicine and food for his people. Before the village ­awakened from its summer night’s slumber, he had finished his morning’s search for plants.

He placed an offering—a small amount of tobacco and some shards of pottery—by the side of the water to thank the spirit, or manitou, of the bog for its generous gifts. Then he headed back to his people as the sun rose over the trees.

That’s the scene that crept into my imagination as I carefully removed the pottery shards from the northeastern Michigan muck. Immersed in and protected by the anaerobic conditions of the earth in the bog, these shards had been lying here for perhaps as long as 1300 years. Their style showed me that they were of the Late Woodland period, and I christened the site “Pot-Shard Bog”.

The bog is located about 100 yards east of Old Van Etten Creek in Oscoda, Michigan, near the north end of Saginaw Bay. Another 130 yards east of the creek’s present banks is evidence of older banks which indicate that the water level has been much higher in the past. On one of those older banks, my wife and son and I have excavated extensive remains of the Native American village whose people once depended upon the abundant plants around the bog. Though housing construction is beginning to encroach on the area, a portion of the land over the now-buried village site and much of the surrounding area (including the bog) have remained in their natural state since the village was occupied many centuries ago.

During our early investigation of the site, we became fascinated by the abundance of luxuriant plants growing in and around the bog. In reading about these plants, we learned that almost all of them would have been used by the Woodland people for food or medicine. The more deeply we have investigated the plants and artifacts in and around this ancient village, the more we have come to admire the tenacity and ingenuity of the ancient people who derived their entire livelihood from this area.

7/29/2016 4:11:56 AM

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