Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Greg Shipley: Exploring the Fascinating Collections of an Amateur Archeologist by James Blake

It’s not every day you get to put your hands on America’s historic material culture. In the fall of 2014, I was invited by my friend Greg Shipley, an Amateur Archeologist, to spend the day with him at his quiet, but beautiful home in Urbana, Ohio.  Greg retired from Honda motors as a quality control specialist in 2009.  He now enjoys spending more time with his wife Linda and with archeology.  Additionally, Greg is an accomplished public speaker with many speaking engagements and symposiums under his belt.  I recently had the pleasure of attending one of Greg’s presentations at Campus Martius Museum in Marietta, Ohio.  In a jam-packed room where I was lucky to get a front row seat, Greg gave an eye-opening presentation on the recovered material culture found at the Ft. Loramie (Ohio) site up to that point in time.

     Now, looking over his vast collection of early American artifacts, I was amazed to find that the majority of Greg’s collection was dug by himself and a couple friends and  that most of it comes from the state of Ohio. Greg has been digging (as I affectionately call it) for 30 plus years in Ohio and around the country. Greg, clearly influenced by his mother who was a history teacher, has a deeply rooted passion for history and a fascination for the Egyptian and Greek cultures.  At the young age of six, he was bitten by the archeology bug during a family trip to Colonial Williamsburg. There, as he witnessed a dig, he saw workers unearth a broken arrowhead.

      As we sat down that day and had a cup of coffee before delving into his collections and archeological finds, I noticed he was a man of deep concentration and precision.  Watching him prepare the coffee, I observed exactness in his mannerisms in the way that he carefully measured the coffee grains and poured the coffee, something I, as an artist, can recognize and identify with.  As we had our coffee, Greg told me that when he was in the 4 and 5th grades he would read college level archeology books.  I suspect that helped steer him in the right direction when it came to accurately identifying historical site locations and material culture.

     Greg employs modern tools which allow him to conduct very thorough archaeological investigations. He surveys a site using Ground Penetrating Radar to gain geophysical site data, as well as the usual metal detectors and pinpointers to locate metallic materials. He also incorporates computer programs that blend traditional artifact cataloging with modern matrix formulas and GPS mapping of the discovered site.

       Greg has surveyed and dug many sites in Ohio including Native American villages and military forts and outposts.  His work has provided   many interesting and priceless contributions to the academic world of Ohio archeology.  In the summer of 2014, Greg worked the site of Ft. Loramie with permission from the Flickenstein family who now owns the property. Fort Loramie is known historically as the site of Pierre Loramie’s Indian trading post (1769-1782). During the 1782 campaign of General George Rogers Clark, Colonel Benjamin Logan led an attack on the trading post and it was burned to the ground. In 1794 General Anthony Wayne built a fort on the site which was occupied by Wayne’s legion.  Greg uncovered original post molds on the fort’s site, which when fully collected and laid out in scientific terms and graphs, will be indispensable information for modern day military historians.  In terms of material culture at the site, Greg’s good friend and fellow amateur archeologist, Bob Evans, unearthed an intact stellar 18th century copper teapot. That and other material culture plus the copious amounts of  military buttons  and the post molds which Greg and his partners have unearthed,  would seem to prove the different time periods of the fort’s occupation.

       The results of Greg’s digs have proven to be very rich in Indian material culture and trade goods in which I am particularly interested.  So, as Greg pulled out various cases of trade silver and trinkets along with his site dig notes, my eyes widened and I had to step back and take a breath.  I was totally overwhelmed by the vast amount of silver, especially the trade silver religious crosses and the many varieties he had eloquently displayed. I examined the crosses and their various touch marks and wondered about their origins: Who had made them? How did they get to Ohio?  And, who, ultimately had handled or worn them?

    A  American Indian site that Greg has had the privilege of excavating and digging is McKee’s Town Village (1778-1786) in Logan County, Ohio. The town was home to British Indian Agent and trader, Colonel Alexander McKee (1735-1799). The village was also home to Shawnee, Mingo, and Cherokee Indians.  First Nations people from around the surrounding areas would travel to McKee’s Town to get supplies and trade goods at the post set up by McKee.  Greg’s excavations of the Shawnee hut floors in the village have turned up some interesting items, including Continental Army pewter coat buttons; a French flintlock pistol gunlock; various musket balls, and trade silver ornaments.  He has also found over three dozen Jew’s harps in both brass and iron, a common noise making device which was traded to the Native Americans.  Looking at the abundance of material that Greg had found from various Shawnee village and midden pit sites, I realized that Greg had found some real gems.  As a Native American material culture student, I know that Shawnee material culture items are hard to come by and laying before were many, many examples and specimens,  again, I was aware of the invaluable information that Greg’s work has contributed to the early history of Ohio and its native peoples. 

      Greg’s work has also produced an extensive collection of Indian trade gun parts from various Shawnee, Ottawa, and Wyandot village sites. He has found musket parts from both French and English sourced trade guns, including serpent side plates and fully intact gun locks and barrels and the appropriate cleaning and maintenance tools of the period including gun worms, and musket ball casting molds.

      One of Greg’s prized finds, recovered at a Shawnee village site, was an English made "Screw-Barrel" flintlock pistol (an early Queen Ann type).  Greg said it was a race against time to preserve this rare piece as once these types of items are pulled from the ground it exponentially starts the decay process. Greg successfully stabilized the iron wood and hardware via his own efforts and expenses.

      I asked Greg about trade beads and what he has found in his digs.  He proceeded to pull out two glass display cases full of trade beads he has recovered and then began explaining to me the process by which he recovers most of his beads:  a technique he calls water sluicing. Greg puts suspected bead saturated soil onto a series of solar mesh screens. He rinses the soil with water on the first layer of screen to extract rocks, musket balls, and pieces of lead, as the smaller stuff trickles down onto a finer screen. Greg continues to run water over each successively finer screen separating the dirt from the hard materials until finally, in the last screen, Greg’s  collects any beads that would have otherwise gone unnoticed. Greg says, “You can’t just pull the tiny seed beads from the dirt as they are usually unnoticed by  the naked eye. You must erode the dirt away from the beads”.

      Inquiring further about some of his finds, Greg relayed he sometimes will go back and revisit old sites that he has dug on and in doing so, he has found additional materials that were missed the first time around. As an example, Greg told how he once found a fragment of a red catlinite pipe, and then many years later scouring over the same ground, he came across the other half of the pipe!  Greg has many similar stories.  He also showed me a matching pair of cufflinks and the story behind them. In October of 2013, Greg was conducting a test dig at the Fort Loramie site when he happened across a cufflink; a great find in and of itself. The following summer, he and his associates were excavating the site again and found the other cufflink. With the pair united again, Greg exclaimed, “It was like it was fate and meant to be!”.

      Greg plans to continue his excavations on the Fort Loramie sight in the coming years.  He is sure to exhume more fascinating material and in the process continue his contributions to the study of Ohio History and its Material Culture.

      Greg Shipley uses Facebook to share his research and findings with the world. Be sure to look him up.     

Copy and photos supplied by James Blake.

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