Tankersley has also documented a Native American burial complex, called an ossuary, at the southwestern end of that earthwork, roughly where the Mariemont Swim Club stands today.
And, over the past several summers, his student team has found in the area indigenous artifacts consistent with Ice Age-era Clovis technology, including a tell-tale, knapped flint spear point and a failed point that was “recycled” into a multi-tool that Tankersley called a “Clovis Swiss Army knife.”
“Clovis isn’t a people. That’s what most people don’t understand. It’s a technology,” Tankersley explained. “I call it the first weapon of mass destruction, because it’s the first time a person could singlehandedly kill any animal on the planet.”
What might all those clues add up to in Mariemont? Continuous habitation, or repeated episodes of habitation, over the past 14,000 years.
“It’s here by Clovis,” Tankersley said of the site. “Mariemont is prime real estate and always has been.”
But why? What made the area so special to the historical tribes in the area (primarily, the Algonquian-speaking Shawnee, Miami, and Leni Lenape or “Delaware” peoples), as well as their ancestral Algonquian predecessors?
For one, the soil on the surface of the overhanging bluff is comprised of loess — windblown, loose deposits that would have been easier to cultivate (relative to the hard, clay-rich soil of the flood plain below) with shell- and bone-derived agricultural implements known to have been used by the indigenous peoples inhabiting this area.
Secondly, it abuts the Little Miami River which, to native peoples, functioned not only as a source of fresh water, aquatic game and pottery-tempering shells, but as one superhighway in a riverine network that connected foraging, hunting and habitation sites throughout the land.
Third, large game was, at least periodically, plentiful. During the “Little Ice Age” — a sudden, extended period of global cooling that began around 1300 CE and ended in the mid-19th Century — a widespread transition from well-watered woodland vegetation to dry climate grasslands attracted buffalo to the area.
Tankersley has discovered, via direct bone-to-bone correlation of slaughtered buffalo remains, pre-contact congress between the Mariemont (or “Madisonville,” as it’s known in the archaeological world) site and known Native American hunting grounds at Big Bone Lick, in Northern Kentucky.
The Algonquian longhouse he and his team are currently excavating in the Mariemont floodplain was likely, in his view, a seasonal habitation, with agricultural activity taking place on the loess bluff above.