Traverse City Record-Eagle

November 10, 2012

Dig turns up artifacts — in homestead's trash pit

Farm explored by family descendent


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---- — BRIGHTON TOWNSHIP (AP) — Tim Bennett and other volunteers have dug up thousands of artifacts at an 1800s pioneer homestead in Brighton Township, and many of those items were found in the homestead's trash pit.

As the adage goes, one man's trash is another man's treasure, and that suits Bennett just fine.

The weekend archaeologist said he's discovered a lot about his ancestors, the Warners, who settled in 1837 in Livingston County, which was wilderness, a few prairies and had no roads. He said these were real pioneers who carved farms out of the wilderness by cutting down and burning trees, did back-breaking farmwork using only horses and plows, and struggled to survive diseases such as ague and scarlet fever.

"This is the dream site to work on," Bennett said. "Every archaeologist would want to work on their own family's homestead."

"It's about you," he added.

Bennett is a direct descendent of the Warner family, who lived on the site at Pleasant Valley and Buno roads for 170 years. Although he co-owns a software company, the Clio man spends most of his weekends at archaeological digs in Michigan, Ohio and Canada. Bennett didn't grow up on the property, but his mother did.

After six years of conducting an archaeological dig at the Warner homestead, Bennett discussed his findings at the State Historical Center in Lansing during Archaeology Day. A collection of 19th century artifacts found on the site were displayed.

Bennett, vice president of the Michigan Archaeological Society, recently gave a talk titled "Pioneer Farmers of Pleasant Valley: Rediscovering a sesquicentennial farmstead."

The site is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Bennett said his ancestors settled here as pioneers but gradually became large-scale farmers. By 1875, they were managing 500 acres and had the second-largest farm in Brighton Township and the 11th-largest farm in the county.

During the dig, he has found beads that could have been used to trade with American Indians who lived in the area. He said settlers often would exchange glass beads for venison.

Other items found include pottery, ceramics, nails, bones, buttons, coins and bones from food.

Bennett also found a Radio Orphan Annie Decoder, which could have come from the 1930s.

The six-year archaeological dig started when a dog began digging a hole and his then 3-year-old daughter found a piece of pottery in the dirt.

"She's probably the youngest person in Michigan archaeology to stumble on a site," Bennett said.

He said they've spent the past six years digging around the site, which is where the trash was dumped. Back then, he said, people didn't have trash service, so unused items were thrown outside.