Summer approaches. For many it begins with Memorial Day Weekend, and offers a little extra time to enjoy a good book. As the season is rapidly upon us, I make a few suggestions. These books will resonate with a wide audience, but there is one here for people interested in archaeology, one for people who like novels with great historic contexts, and one for people who like folklore (and believe that folklore is still evolving). I also have a business-book suggestion for my colleagues in Cultural Resource Management (CRM) and allied disciplines who build clienteles and consult for a living.
First, The Angel of Darkness (Fiction, paperback, Ballantine Books 1997). The Angel of Darkness by Caleb Carr is a detective story pursued with an early forensic psychiatric method, and features a villain defended by Clarence Darrow. Beginning in New York City and the assembly of a team of investigators, much of the action takes place in upstate New York, in the Ballston Spa courthouse and neighborhoods (not far from where I write this), with side-trips to nearby Saratoga Springs and Stillwater. Replete with psychological drama, The Angel of Darkness is set circa 1897, and very adequately brings you the (sometimes seamy) feel of the Gilded Age.
Next is Riptide (Fiction, paperback, Warner Books, 1998) by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. My two favorite adventure authors tell the story of a dangerous, high-tech search for pirate treasure on the coast of Maine. The cast of characters includes an archaeologist (of course) to mitigate the looting element of the expedition, as well as a single-minded treasure hunter, full of hubris. The hero is a local guy returned home from Boston, who was haunted by a childhood tragedy connected with the treasure-legend. He is pulled in because he inherited the treasure site. As in some other Preston-Child works, the story has a moral: you can’t mess with Mother Nature. Riptide is a wild ride.
Third, Shadows of the Western Door: Haunted Sites and Ancient Mysteries of Upstate New York (Paperback, Western New York Wares, Inc., 1997) by Mason Winfield. Indian legends, ghost stories, or cryptozoology, anyone? I can’t call this book fiction, but I can’t call it non-fiction either. It occupies a spooky space in between. The author intends to convey, perhaps even preserve ghost stories and other strange tales, but he in no sense fictionalizes them; rather he brings a critical perspective to his task. On the other hand, some explanations lean toward the unconventional, particularly in allusion to a so-called Dragon Path across western New York. The book contains many tales of unexplained happenings— some clearly of historical importance, others a little more far-out, depending upon what you believe. There is also much fare for classic folklore-lovers. The stories come from the area between approximately Geneva and Buffalo, New York; from Niagara Falls, Batavia, Wellsville, and many other places worth visiting with Shadows of the Western Door as a guide book— even if you live there (Full disclosure alert: I grew up around some of these places). When was your last western New York vacation/stay-cation featuring a historic adventure right around the corner? (PS: Too bad I hadn’t read this before I visited Roycroft at the end of last summer).
Last, for my colleagues in CRM or other lines of business, The Little Big Things: 163 Ways to Pursue Excellence (Non-fiction, hardcover, HarperCollins, 2010) by Tom Peters. A good book to read in a slow economy, it will also serve you well in better times. This book reminds us that the many little, kind, courteous, communicative, over-communicative, people-focused things we do in work and life count a lot. And it includes you, yourself, as a target of kindness and people-focus. For example (and this is just one, short thought in a book loaded with ideas), The Little Big Things says to take an “internal” vacation, recommending two days at work every month with ample time to recharge your battery through self-development initiatives. Like much of this book, this may sound like something you haven’t been doing (at least not very well), but really should do, even if you feel you don’t have time to. You may convince yourself that you can make the time if you read the first two sections titled “Little” and “Excellence”, and then jump to “Self”. After that, pursue excellence by wandering according to whim and curiosity through the other 149 short, insightful, often iconoclastic essays; and (in the Tom Peters spirit) by wandering more often to see what is away from your desk.
Earlier this week National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered” had a story on the threat of on-going and accelerating sea-level rise to the archaeological site of the early 17th century English settlement at Jamestown, Virginia. The big question addressed pro and con in the story is whether archaeologists should fully (or at least more fully) excavate the site so that the information is recovered before the site is submerged; or whether excavation should be curtailed so that the remaining site is preserved for study in the future, even though it will be submerged.
An interesting back-story is that it was once thought that the earliest settlement— called James Fort— had been washed into the James River by erosion. A concerted effort was made to find evidence of the fort in 1955, including a survey conducted in the river as well as on land. No evidence of the fort was found. The method of surveying in the river involved retrieving clam-shell excavator bucket-loads of river-bottom, bringing them to land, and hosing the mud away with water to try to identify artifacts. Screening, it was noted, was “impractical”. A variety of artifacts ranging in age from the 17th to the 20th century was found. The attempt was made to take bucket-loads at 50 foot intervals 3 or 4 transects away from the river bank, but the inability to control the barge on which the clam-shell digger was mounted missed this standard, reducing it to approximate but “uniform” coverage. Regarding the fort, the project archaeologist, Dr. Joel Shiner concluded that it was probably nearby, but “In all probability it stood on ground that has been washed into the James River” (Cotter 1958:17). A tidewater river, the James is subject to both sea-level rise and upstream flooding, hence the issue with erosion, which was illustrated in National Park Service archaeologist John Cotter’s report (1958:13).
Much later, beginning about 1994, Virginia archaeologist William Kelso rediscovered James Fort. It had lost some ground to erosion along the river bank, but was largely an intact archaeological site. Learning about the early colony has proceeded through excavation and analysis since that time. Much of this was chronicled in a book completed in time for Jamestown’s quadri-centennial observance (Kelso 2007).
Some of the issues to consider today emerge in this brief account. Surely the methods of underwater archaeological investigation are better today than in the 1955 reign of the clam-shell digger. And, mostly left alone, the site of James Fort was there 39 years later for careful, well-informed terrestrial excavation to uncover. Still, it is clear that rising, and especially, turbulent river water is destructive, and the archaeological context of what remains of Jamestown would be lost or significantly reduced if the site suffered the double adverse effect of sea-level rise and associated, enhanced river-bank erosion.
Also in favor of the argument for more excavation now, archaeological methods, techniques, and theories have already advanced a tremendous amount since the 1970s, when I first began to hear stated the position that archaeological resources should be left in place until better methods, techniques, and theories are developed in the future. Archaeology has moved, often rapidly, in the anticipated direction of great effectiveness, often through technical advances in other sciences.
A preemptive excavation program necessarily will assume the continued, very long-term preservation of the artifacts and records of the excavation in secure museum collections and archives. Optimistically, we can hope that this assumption is accurate on the scale of geological time, for the trade-off of now or later is of that scope.
So what do you think? Should the archaeological site of Jamestown be excavated increasingly in mitigation of anticipated sea-level rise, or should the site be left in place for future discovery, when scientists and historians find reason to learn about Jamestown through underwater archaeology? Or is it imaginable that archaeologists will be around when sea-level falls again in a far-distant time, exposing the (greatly jumbled) traces of 17th century English colonial civilization?
1955 Archeological Excavations at Jamestown, Virginia. Archeological Research Series No. 4, National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington.
Kelso, William M.
2007 Jamestown: The Buried Truth. University of Virginia Press, Charlottesville.
On April 26-28, 2013 NYSAA held its annual meeting in Watertown, New York, in conjunction with the New York Archaeological Council (NYAC) April 26 spring meeting.
The NYSAA meeting was well-attended and had one of the largest programs in years, with two sessions running concurrently through much of the meeting. The keynote speaker was Professor Claude Chapdelaine of Université de Montréal, who spoke about the discovery of a fluted point site in Quebec, as well as the extensive record of late Paleoindian occupation along the St. Lawrence.
A sampling of the papers presented at the NYSAA meeting includes:
• The opening paper on Saturday morning by William Engelbrecht, titled “A Point Refit Study of an Iroquois Village” (co-authored with Roderick Salisbury). Continuing Bill Engelbrecht’s long-term study of data from the Eaton Site near Buffalo, this paper provides an amazing view of the often unexpected spatial relationships between projectile point fragments.
• “Documentary Filmmaking for Archaeology: The Lake George Paradigm” by Joseph W. Zarzynski, John Farrell and Peter Pepe gave the audience a very enlightening and authoritative perspective on making archaeological documentaries, with several sunken ship sites as the subject matter.
• “The New York Paleoindian Database Project: 2013 Update” by Jonathan C. Lothrop and Meredith Younge. This well-received presentation is the latest in a series of annual updates made since 2010, and provided up-to-date information on new discoveries and interpretations involving both fluted and parallel flaked Paleoindian points.
• “Archaeological Documentation of a 1500-Year Tradition of Construction and Use of Nonmortuary Annular Mounds at Perch Lake, Jefferson County, NY” by Julieann Van Nest. Summarizing the results of a multi-year examination of the long-pondered Perch Lake Mounds, Julieann Van Nest has provided a large array of radiocarbon dates documenting the long period of use, plus detailed information about construction based upon stratigraphic data.
• “The Celts in the North Atlantic” by Denis Foley, is an intriguing paper that provides more information and fresh insights on the subject of Celtic exploration of the North Atlantic during the early medieval period, and considers the possibility of North American Irish landfalls before the Vikings.
• “The People of the Albany Almshouse” by Andrea Lain. Andrea Lain’s paper was the last in an important series of presentations on the analysis of human remains recovered from county poor farms in the Buffalo, Syracuse and Albany areas. Significantly, Andrea Lain’s paper provided a broad overview of the subject, bringing in information from a variety of almshouse/poorhouse cemetery projects. Andrea Lain integrated osteological and historic information to show how the statistics and conditions of human remains from these kinds of institutional cemeteries parallel and illustrate changes in society’s care for the poor and infirm during the 19th and early 20th centuries.
• ‘“The days are cold and the night’s much colder:” The Archaeology of Col. Zebulon Pike’s 1812-1813 Winter Encampment in Plattsburgh, New York’ by Timothy J. Abel was the lead paper in a session devoted to the archaeology of the War of 1812. This is particularly noteworthy during this period of the war’s bicentennial. The session itself included papers by Matthew Kirk on Sackett’s Harbor (New York), Susan E. Maguire on Old Fort Niagara (New York), Susan Bazely on Kingston (Ontario), and Rebecca E. Belton on the analysis of nails from Pike’s Cantonment. Tim Abel’s paper provided an account of the discovery of the long-sought site of Pike’s Cantonment, and a progress report on the research he is conducting there.
While I could go on with accounts of the papers that impressed me, let these brief mentions suffice to indicate the broad range of subjects covered at this year’s NYSAA meeting, including several summaries of significant bodies of research or interpretation that are ongoing, multi-year projects, including some that have been in the making over a period of years, even decades.
Sea level has been rising since the glaciers of the last ice age began to melt about 18,000 years ago. In a December 2012 National Geographic article, Laura Spinney brought us a story on evidence of sea level change in the North Sea and adjacent estuaries and shores. In this article, we learn the tale of Doggerland, a vast area now below the ocean between the British Isles, Scandinavia, the Low Countries and France. Less expansive (but still substantial) submerged coastal plains fringe France south of Brittany and northern Spain. Britain and Ireland were not islands then— they were the northwestern European mainland. Doggerland takes its name from Dogger Bank, a sand bank (sometimes a ship hazard) located in the North Sea between Denmark and the north of England.
Modern day mapping and spatial imaging technology allows an increasing ability to depict the ocean floor. The article provides illustrations of how Doggerland shrank in the face of sea-level rise from 18,000 years ago to the present, with 7000 BC and 8000 BC Mesolithic period shores noted in particular. Sea level has never stopped rising, but it slowed as the ice sheets disappeared and much of the low-lying land was submerged.
The archaeological evidence Spinney discusses is fascinating: it includes notched bone projectile points, the bones of extinct animals, a human jawbone dredged from the bottom of the sea, and human and animal footprints pressed into the mud 7,500 years ago on a floodplain that is now submerged (except at low tide) in the Severn estuary. In addition, located on the cliffs above the North Sea in Northumberland, archaeologists have found early evidence of a settled way of life, a suggestion that with crowding caused by sea level rise, hunter-gatherer mobility had become limited, and territoriality was becoming important. Spinney (2012:243) concludes: “Migration, territoriality, conflict: stressful ways of adapting to new circumstances, but adaptations nonetheless.”
Doggerland no doubt had large hunter-gatherer-fisher populations that were forced inland over thousands of years, sometimes slowly, but perhaps in mass movements during catastrophic events. One of these catastrophes was an undersea landslide called the Storegga slide, which triggered a North European tsunami. Another was the collapse of the Laurentide ice sheet in North America, which released an immense pulse of meltwater into the North Atlantic. Both of these events occurred about 8,200 years ago.
Sea-level rise is global in scope. While Doggerland was disappearing beneath the North Sea, eastern North American coastal plains also were going below the water. Here archaeologist Michael Faught (2004) has conducted surveys for submerged Paleoindian and Archaic period sites in the Gulf of Mexico, southwest of the mouth of the Aucilla River (along the submerged PaleoAucilla River system). Faught has found evidence of Late Paleoindian, Early Archaic, and Middle Archaic occupation. In the study area, radiocarbon dating of charcoal and wood from different kinds of submerged contexts span the range from approximately 5,900-7,200 years ago, and indicate the progression from various terrestrial and freshwater conditions about 6,700 to 7,200 years ago, to brackish conditions (indicating a developing estuary) about 6,100 to 6,300 years ago, to human activity in a near coastal setting about 5,900-6,000 years ago. The last date is from a now-submerged shell midden.
The importance of this work (at least initially) is to document that the submerged coastal plain and coastal river systems were part of significant human landscapes before inundation. At the same time, we need to consider what happened to people living in coastal locations (as they adapted gradually or more drastically). Sometimes sea-level rise accelerated, but it was persistent over the long run, and human response may have been in flux before restabilizing. Faught (2004:277) speaks of a pulse of meltwater flow after 10,000 BP (the end of the very cold Younger Dryas period), as an event “forcing additional reductions of paleolandscape and readjustments of human settlements and foraging ranges. This took place over the next 5,000 to 6,000 radiocarbon years.”
Elsewhere, evaluating evidence of submerged Archaic period archaeological sites in the New York-New Jersey area, Daria Merwin similarly emphasizes that in order to understand this period fully, we need to know more about the submerged archaeological record. Merwin (2010) has studied an assemblage of artifacts called the Corcione collection that derives from sand dredging operations off the New Jersey coast. Merwin also conducted an underwater survey in this area.
The Corcione collection is particularly interesting since it contains a variety of artifacts including Early, Middle, and Late Archaic period projectile points. I had this kind of evidence in mind recently when I mentioned that rising sea-level may have caused a chain reaction among inland populations during the ameliorating post-glacial environment, especially during the Middle Archaic period (6,000-8,000 years ago).
Merwin (2010) has also studied a submerged section of the Hudson River floodplain near Croton Point in Westchester County, New York. The Hudson River crossed the broad Atlantic coastal plain during the Ice Age (before sea-level rise began), and the New Jersey investigations were made in consideration of this old channel. Sea-level rise over millennia has not only submerged the PaleoHudson channel, it has turned much of the rest of the Hudson into an estuary. The estuary has migrated upstream progressively over time, covering the Hudson’s old shoreline and floodplain near Croton probably no later than 2,500 years ago. Soil cores at Iona Island several kilometers north of Croton Point show a change from dry land to wetland approximately 4630-2500 years before present (BP).
Croton Point is the locale of several Archaic period oyster shell middens. Merwin has documented that stone artifacts extend across the submerged paleo-landscape adjoining this area, adding to the diversity of the local archaeological record, and suggesting a possible relationship between the shell middens and other kinds of sites nearby.
One of the recovered artifacts from the underwater survey is classified as a Steubenville type point dating to about 3400-4200 BP. The effects of rising sea level on human settlements and foraging were felt long into the Archaic.
Evidence of human settlement is relatively abundant on now-submerged eastern North American coastal plains. This requires archaeologists to consider more often that in North America, as well as in Europe, sea-level rise probably caused significant inland migration, and that related “readjustments of human settlements and foraging ranges” had implications for inland populations as well.
Faught, Michael K.
2004 The Underwater Archaeology of Paleolandscapes, Apalachee Bay, Florida. American Antiquity 69:275-289.
Merwin, Daria E.
2010 Submerged Evidence of Early Human Occupation in the New York Bight. Ph. D. Dissertation, Department of Anthropology, State University of New York, Stony Brook.
2012 Searching for Doggerland. National Geographic, December, 222(6):132-143.
The Trailside site was discovered and excavated by Curtin Archaeological prior to construction of a pump station in the mid-2000s near Route 9 in Queensbury. The name Trailside comes in part from the site’s location next to a dirt trail off of U. S. Route 9, which winds through Queensbury and the nearby communities of Glens Falls and Lake George. It also refers to the ancient trail that ran from Lake Champlain to the Hudson River near Fort Edward. This trail (perhaps along varying tracks) passed through the same low-land corridor as Route 9, and was used by military forces during the 17th and 18th centuries.
The initial survey work found that the archaeological site contained a ca. 2,000 year old hearth, Middle Woodland period potsherds, and what seemed at first like small amounts of stone tools and chipping waste.
With additional, close-interval shovel testing, the excavation also yielded something unexpected: in one part of the larger site, there was a small Middle Archaic period camp, estimated to be about 7,000-8,000 years old. Middle Archaic period sites have been infrequently reported in New York State, although they are being found more often as archaeologists become more familiar with the projectile point types associated with this time period; and as archaeologists focus more on small sites (consistent with short periods of occupation by small, extended family-size groups).
An area of 16 square meters was excavated at the Middle Archaic campsite. This was probably more than 20% of its entire area, but near 100% of the area of artifact concentration. The Middle Archaic campsite produced a large amount of debitage, that is, the debris from making and repairing stone tools. A total of 1157 flakes of chert debris was recovered (including 800 from a 1 square meter area). The predominant stone material of the debitage as well as the stone tools (and the cores from which stone technology is derived) was imported from chert quarries in Fort Ann, Washington County, some 15 miles away as the crow flies. The overland route to the quarry may have been a little longer and followed modern Route 149 around the southern end of French Mountain, past Glen Lake, and on toward the northeast, paralleling Halfway Brook for some distance. The quarry material in the form of cores and large bifaces was stockpiled in this small, Middle Archaic residential base for people to work on when they weren’t hunting and gathering (or resting or socializing).
Because Middle Archaic period sites have been identified and excavated infrequently in New York, and often do not contain very many formally manufactured artifacts, the artifact assemblage from the Trailside site provides important information on the technology used at this period of time. The accompanying table provides a list of these artifacts.
|Projectile Points||1 (Neville type)|
|Bifaces and Fragments||8|
|Utilized Biface Fragments||2 (included in total above)|
|Cores and Core Fragments||10|
|Fire Cracked Rocks||18|
Only one projectile point was found, but that does not seem unusual, based upon comparison to Middle Archaic sites in Coxsackie (Greene County) and Clifton Park (Saratoga County), where one or two, or at most a small handful of projectile points were recovered at individual sites. Hunting occurred off-site, and isolated finds of Middle Archaic Neville, Stark, Neville Variant, and Merrimack points are sometimes found outside of campsites. Often, what archaeologists find in campsites are the base fragments discarded when the projectile tips were replaced. However, at Trailside, a finished, unbroken Neville point was found.
The relatively large number of cores (10) and bifaces (8) found in this small area indicates the importance of stone tool manufacturing at this site (consistent with the large number of chert flakes). One hammerstone (apparently much-used) was found, although others may have been removed; or alternatively, much of the stone work may have been performed with antler billets. Eighteen pieces of fire cracked rock attest to food processing or preparation, while a variety of chipped stone artifacts indicate that cutting, scraping, graving, grooving, and splintering activities were performed. Some of this activity may have been devoted to making clothes and tools in perishable materials such as hide, wood, bone, and antler (these are some of the usual products of gravers, burins, unifaces, utilized flakes, and utilized bifaces).
Comparison to other Middle Archaic sites (in Coxsackie, for example) suggests that the Trailside site may represent a rather typical Middle Archaic residential base for an extended family. This type of site tends to be represented by spatially small artifact concentrations that are dominated by stone debitage (waste flakes) and utilized flakes, with few temporally diagnostic artifacts such as projectile points. Altogether, there are few formally-manufactured tools, and most work with stone tools on-site appears to have been performed with expediently or opportunistically manufactured and discarded implements such as utilized flakes, cores, and partially reduced or broken bifaces. In addition, there is an extensive record of off-site activity (not seen near Trailside due to the limited spatial scope of this investigation, but recognized in Coxsackie and elsewhere). Within the larger settlement pattern, off-site activities were often devoted to resource procurement, and are marked by extensive spatial distributions with low artifact density, and high ratios of stone tools to unmodified flakes.
The analysis and understanding of Middle Archaic settlement patterns in New York State are just beginning (but increasing). For a long time, archaeologists assumed that Middle Archaic period sites are rarer than they actually are. Now it is becoming clear that archaeological visibility may be a more significant issue to finding and studying Middle Archaic sites than the rareness of these sites. Part of the problem is that archaeologists in the past have not regularly recognized distinctive Middle Archaic projectile point types such as Neville points, Stark points, and Merrimack points; but this problem is becoming less important with increasing familiarity. The remaining, fundamental challenge seems to be recognizing the Middle Archaic archaeological signature of small residential sites with much debitage, but few temporally-diagnostic artifacts such as projectile points.
Since the days in the 1920s when the New York State Museum’s Arthur Parker (1924) excavated at Coxsackie’s Flint Mine Hill, the flats, ridges, and stream-sides of eastern Greene County, New York, have drawn the attention of archaeologists. Archaeological sites are abundant here, as are important sources of material for prehistoric stone industry in the sought-after cherts of the Normanskill shale and Kalkberg limestone.
As he reworked his report on the West Athens Hill site (located in the Town of Athens), Bob Funk (2004:l-li) reflected on the draw that the stone sources exerted on early Native American pioneers, possibly including people of the Early Archaic period (8000-10,000 years before present; BP). He thus imagined a band of people discovering the chert source:
Having climbed the hill and commenced filling skin bags with the newly discovered Normanskill chert, a party of native men and women discarded two broken projectile points and made new ones to replace them (Bob had found two Early Archaic, bifurcated base point fragments on West Athens Hill). Before long, one of the women found old chert artifacts on the ground and called to the others. Bob further imagined the scene, the puzzlement and the emotions, writing:
“There was a brief flurry of excitement: had other beings, perhaps very different from the people of the band, visited the hill long before and made tools and weapons from its outcropping stone?”
West Athens Hill, best known as a Paleoindian site, was also visited intermittently during the Early Archaic and afterward. In nearby Coxsackie, Flint Mine Hill also saw Paleoindian visitors, while the fields around it abound with evidence of use during the Archaic period. While Early and Middle Archaic sites (8000-10,000 BP and 6000-8000 BP, respectively) have been considered rare in much of New York State, they are noticeably more frequent in eastern Greene County. This could be due to the attraction of the chert quarries, which may have centered the mobile settlement strategies of the Hudson valley’s hunting and gathering populations. This general idea— sometimes called the “lithic-centric” model— was developed by William Gardner (1977) to account for early settlement patterns in Virginia. It has been revived more recently in the context of studying the Early Archaic Hardaway site, North Carolina (Daniel 1998). Stated succinctly, this model views stone sources as significant reasons to establish seasonal settlements nearby. It was not enough to just visit the quarries; the quarries made these locales more attractive than others for settlement.
For Archaic hunters and gatherers, local food sources varied in type or abundance, and could be effectively exhausted, so movement to other sites was usually necessary after a period of time. However, the lithic-centric model sees mobility across the landscape as cycling back to important quarry locales on a regular, perhaps annual basis, even when substantial distances were involved. This settlement pattern would tend to concentrate artifacts such as stone projectile points in the quarry surroundings, while also dispersing these artifact types throughout larger regions, relatively far from the quarries (also, stone would be conserved carefully at distance from quarries, but used perhaps extravagantly near quarries).
This may be an important model for understanding the early periods of human settlement in Coxsackie and nearby towns such as Athens and New Baltimore, because when the larger region of eastern New York is considered, there appears to be a correlation between the abundance of the local chert resources, and relatively high frequencies of Early and Middle Archaic sites and projectile point finds.
Curtin Archaeological has performed several cultural resource surveys in this area, most of which have been supported by the Greene County Industrial Development Agency. One of the results of this work has been the identification of numerous Early and Middle Archaic period sites. Unlike many areas of New York State, the high frequency of local sites of this age makes it possible to go beyond noting the simple presence of population during these periods to making some inferences concerning ways of life.
One approximately 200-acre area has been studied most intensively through surface surveys and data recovery excavations. This area, like much of eastern Greene County, is a landscape in which ancient American Indians (going back to the Paleoindians) hunted, gathered, and likely procured materials for making more perishable technology (such as baskets, nets, and rope), performing many of the related tasks out in the woods and fields, away from habitual residences. They left broken, exhausted, lost, and stored stone artifacts in low densities across the landscape, and occasionally camped for shorter or longer periods, leaving small campsites marked by concentrations of stone artifacts as well as artifact manufacturing waste.
Over time, the study area captured abundant stone evidence of these activities and campsites. As part of a much larger area, it was visited by mobile people who usually dwelt elsewhere; people who moved in, and after a while moved out. During the earliest part of the Early Archaic period, about 10,000 radiocarbon years BP (and for several centuries thereafter), the visitors left isolated, Dalton-like and triangular projectile points, but may not have established campsites. By about 9,000 BP, a couple of small campsites appeared. These sites, associated with early side-notched and corner-notched projectile points, ranged in size from about 50 to 175 square meters. A little later, about 8500-8000 BP, people using bifurcated base points foraged in the area, but no associated campsites were found.
A different picture emerges in the Middle Archaic period, 6000-8000 BP. The projectile point technology shifted to points with stemmed hafts, such as Neville, Stark, Neville Variant and Merrimac points (cf. Dincauze 1976). While the larger landscape continued to be used for hunting and gathering, more campsites were established (possibly as many as 7, although 3 artifact concentrations are so close together they appear to represent one camp). In addition, the Middle Archaic sites varied more in size and content; they range from 75 to 1,000 square meters in size.
With respect to content, one Middle Archaic site has significant amounts of fire cracked rock in addition to chipped stone artifacts and manufacturing debris. Fire cracked rock forms when rocks shatter from exposure to heat, or heat and rapid cooling. Rocks which line hearths crack and shatter, as do rocks that were used in stone boiling. Stone boiling has been used by people who do not have fire-proof containers– such as ceramic or soapstone pots– for heating hot water. In stone boiling, food is prepared by raising the water temperature in containers such as skin sacks or wood or bark vessels by placing heated rocks in the water.
The variation in fire cracked rock occurrence may reflect seasonal differences in either resource processing or consumption patterns. For example, if nut oil was being rendered in heated water, a fall season of occupation would be indicated. If the concentration of fire cracked rock was associated with feasting, the seasonal aggregation of band segments may have occurred
In another interesting variation of site size and content, one of the Middle Archaic sites is composed of three adjacent artifact concentrations each in the size range of 100 to 225 square meters, suggesting that this site was occupied by three households or band segments (rather than just one), reflecting the formation of a community rather than a single, isolated campsite.
The variety in size and content among the Middle Archaic sites probably is associated with the use of the area by groups whose size and subsistence activity varied by season. The larger number and size of Middle Archaic sites, and the suggestion that varied seasons of occupation are represented indicate that population may have been growing, and the territories people used were becoming more localized.
One of the implications of these findings is that Early Archaic populations were more mobile (or mobile over greater distances) than Middle Archaic people. The inferred Early Archaic level of mobility would have dispersed Early Archaic populations over large territories, leading to fewer residential camps even in annually visited places such as the Coxsackie study area.
Seeming to support this idea, a study of the intensity of projectile point use may reflect differing levels of mobility. A minority of projectile points recovered in the study area have evidence of cutting, scraping or other uses in addition to the projectile function. A study of the variety and intensity of these uses (with low-power magnification) shows that Late Paleoindian and Early Archaic projectile points were used more intensively for these purposes than were Middle and Late Archaic period points. The hypothesis developed from this study is that compared to Middle Archaic points, Early Archaic projectile points had longer use lives, and were carried, maintained, and re-used for longer periods of time due to greater travel away from chert sources (for example, one of the Early Archaic points is made from western Onondaga chert from western New York).
The waste flakes from the Early and Middle Archaic campsites also may reflect long- or short-distance mobility differences. The Early Archaic campsites have higher frequencies of large flakes than do the Middle Archaic sites. Since larger flakes are generated in earlier stages of stone tool manufacture, this difference probably means that Early Archaic populations moved on to other sites after roughing out quarried stone material, while Middle Archaic populations more often refined and even finished stone tools within the study area. Moreover, some of the Middle Archaic campsites have 3 to 6 times more chert waste flakes than the Early Archaic sites (this reflects an aspect of the lithic manufacturing process: as waste flakes become smaller in later stages, they also are generated in greater numbers). At the same time, some of the Middle Archaic sites seem not much different than Early Archaic sites with regard to waste flake frequency per square meter, reflecting that while Middle Archaic populations may have been more localized, they were still frequently mobile, and sometimes moved on while substantially staging stone tool manufacture.
The Coxsackie study area is only a small landscape in a much larger region, but it provides a case of a hypothetical pattern of change from Early Archaic to Middle Archaic times. If this area is typical, then Early Archaic populations journeyed far and used stone tools rather exhaustively while away from the Coxsackie sources of stone; but returned regularly at least for short periods, hunting, gathering, and replenishing stone technology while living in small camps. By the Middle Archaic, people were establishing more and sometimes larger sites in the area, possibly because population was larger, and people sometimes lived in larger groups. Different Middle Archaic subsistence pursuits may have been involved, and long-distance, seasonal relocation seems to have been reduced since the Early Archaic.
If reflective of the lithic-centric model, the Early and Middle Archaic patterns appear to represent two different levels of human association with stone sources. While the Early Archaic pattern seems like the lithic-centric model as often discussed in the literature, the Middle Archaic pattern may be associated with differential access to stone resources due to reduced long-distance mobility, and the centering of some settlement patterns in areas lacking chert quarries. More data from other locales and regions are needed to examine whether these perceived differences are real.
If real, the pattern of change may be associated with a warming post-Ice Age climate; and after about 8000 BP, more abundant food resources in a forest increasingly populated by hardwood trees, many of which produce nuts and acorns, a.k.a. mast. Increased mast production provided more food for prey species such as deer, and eventually for direct human consumption. Oak and other nut-producing trees were becoming significantly more abundant by the appearance of the Middle Archaic.
Although this may be imagined as a rather simple cause-and-effect relationship— a pattern of people prospering in good times— it may have been more complicated. For example, sea-level rise was another effect of the warming climate that promoted the Northeastern increase in nut-bearing trees. We can only speculate about whether, over the long run, chain reactions of altered population density and patterns of social interaction resulted from human migration inland as the Atlantic (and its bays and estuaries) transgressed the shore-lines.
Daniel, I. Randolph, Jr.
1998 Hardaway Revisited: Early Archaic Settlement in the Southeast. University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa.
Dincauze, Dena F.
1976 The Neville Site: 8000 Years at Amoskeag. Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology Monographs No. 4. Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Funk, Robert E.
2004 An Ice Age Quarry-Workshop: The West Athens Hill Site Revisited. New York State Museum Bulletin 504, Albany.
Gardner, William M.
1977 Flint Run Paleoindian Complex and Its Implications for Eastern North American Prehistory. In Amerinds and Their Paleoenvironments in Northeastern North America, edited by Walter S. Newman and Bert Salwen, pp. 257-263. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, Volume 288, New York.
Parker, Arthur C.
1924 The Great Algonkin Flint Mines at Coxsackie, New York. Researches and Transactions of the New York State Archeological Association 4(4).
Archaeologists cite 10,000 radiocarbon years Before Present (BP) as the end of the Paleoindian period and the beginning of the Archaic. This reflects a certain reality in the approximate timing of technological change in many regions, but as a year 10,000 BP is arbitrary. In northern New York cultures using lanceolate projectile points, most often called Paleoindian, persisted after 10,000 BP, while in much of the Hudson and Susquehanna valleys cultures using notched, Early Archaic points appeared about the same time. This has been stated succinctly by James Petersen (2004:xviii):
“Early Archaic remains are seemingly coeval with Late Paleoindian remains before 9000 B.P., occurring near the coast at Staten Island, in the lower Hudson, and in the New York portions of the Susquehanna and Allegany valleys…”
Petersen also indicated that while the Early Archaic appeared by 10,000 BP in the mentioned southern areas (as well as points south), in northern areas of the Northeast the Early Archaic emerged between 8000 and 9000 BP, replacing a longer-lingering, Late Paleoindian culture.
Arguably, the period from 9,000-10,000 years ago has the greatest lack of archaeological data of any period of New York State prehistory (the still more mysterious first half of the period once referred to as “The Missing 2,000 Years”; Funk 2004:130).
Considering the calibration of radiocarbon to calendar years, the period from 9000-10,000 radiocarbon years BP is actually a 1,400 year interval, from circa 10,085-11,485 calendar years BP. Thus, this period of the earliest Archaic is indeed a long time lacking important archaeological data. The gap in available information is especially felt in areas south of the somewhat better-documented occurrence of post-10,000 BP Late Paleoindian cultures in the St. Lawrence River-Lake Champlain-northern New England region.
What kinds of projectile points did the earliest Archaic cultures use? How, by their artifacts, may we find them? In New York State the answer may include triangular projectile points unknown in familiar typologies such as Ritchie (1971). Or, the earliest Archaic points may resemble later triangular points, so that their actual antiquity usually goes unnoticed. A group of triangular points from the lower Hudson region provides an example. At Hunter Brook Rockshelter, Hunterbrook Triangle projectile points were found deeper than an Early Archaic period (Palmer type) projectile point (Wingerson and Wingerson 1976), suggesting an age probably greater than 9,000 years for triangular projectile points. Triangular points likely dating to the same period were also found at the Turkey Swamp site in New Jersey (Cavallo 1981).
Robert E. Funk (1991, 2004) focused on the possibility that the earliest Archaic in New York may be characterized by triangular, eared triangular, and weakly notched triangular points that resemble, and thus are easily confused with projectile point types of later periods.
Considering the likely early appearance of triangular projectile points in the Northeast, Funk (1991:60) discussed how closely Northeastern Late Archaic point types such as Brewerton Eared Triangle and Beekman Triangle resemble so called ”Transitional Paleo” points of the Southeast, implying that when found, some of the earliest Archaic projectile points may be mistaken for Late Archaic period points. Funk included the apparently early triangular points within a hypothetical phase or tradition he referred to as “Triangular Dalton”, equivalent to the Dalton horizon in the Southeast.
The Dalton horizon is considered to be late Paleoindian or Early Archaic by different investigators. Many assign a range of about 10,000-10,500 BP to the Dalton horizon, despite numerous radiocarbon dates that suggest it may be younger (Goodyear 1982). Alternatively, Funk (1991:59) has argued that a more accurate chronology may be 9000-9700 BP, based on well-reported data from Oklahoma and Illinois. More recent data from Dust Cave, Alabama suggest that a 10,000-10,500 BP age may pertain to Dalton occupation there. However, the occurrence of projectile point types considered “Middle Paleoindian” in the same soils at Dust cave as the Dalton points indicates that the Dalton points cannot be dated distinctly from possibly earlier occupations (Sherwood et al 2004). The issue remains unresolved, while the known Paleoindian chronology in the Northeast suggests that Funk’s view may be more accurate in this region.
A site in Saratoga County, New York has produced the kind of intriguing artifact assemblage that may be attributable to the earliest Archaic in the region. Indeed, I argue that it contains a very Early Archaic sub-assemblage representing Funk’s hypothetical Triangular Dalton phase. The site’s other sub-assemblage includes a fluted point preform reflecting an earlier Paleoindian occupation (although the specific Paleoindian cultural phase or sub-period is unknown). It is not certain that the fluted point preform is associated with a larger assemblage, but it was found in a location spatially differentiated from the apparent Early Archaic assemblage, in an area with somewhat different lithic attributes.
I refer to this location simply as the Crooked Point site. Although the site was archaeologically excavated and then built upon several years ago, it would still be unacceptable (and illegal) for individuals to trespass into it or adjoining locations for some unauthorized searching or digging.
The spatially distinct areas of the site include a small area of highly concentrated flaked debris from tool manufacture and repair, and a larger surrounding area of lower flake debris density. The fluted point preform was found in the area of lower flake density, about 15 meters (50 feet) southwest of the high density flake concentration. The majority of the projectile points and tools found at the site occur in close spatial association with the flake concentration. Both the flake concentration and the majority of stone tools occur within an area of less than 40 square meters.
One of the differences between the lower and higher debitage density areas is found in the percentage of large chert flakes, which is much higher in the lower density area (44% of flakes larger than 1.5 cm compared to 22% in the high density area). This reflects working with larger pieces of chert in the lower density area, and is most likely associated with stone tool manufacturing, and/or the production of relatively large flakes for expedient cutting and scraping. Since relatively few of the large flakes in either area were use as expedient tools (about 3-4%), it is most likely that the large flakes were produced as by-products of forming stone tools from cores and bifaces brought to the site.
The lower percentage of large chert flakes (and conversely, the higher percentage of small chert flakes) in the higher density area reflects less tool manufacture and more tool sharpening and repair (This is because more refined work yields smaller pieces of stone waste). Thus, the spatial division between lower and higher artifact density is correlated with different kinds work. Whether or not this reflects different stages of work performed in different places during one period of occupation, or multiple occupations at different periods by different kinds of work parties cannot be determined due to the sparse evidence of an early period of occupation.
Nonetheless, the close spatial association between the numerous tools found within the area of artifact concentration seems to indicate one period of occupation in this small part of the site. This is the assemblage that I feel represents a very Early Archaic occupation. It contains the following formally manufactured artifact types:
|1||asymmetrical, triangular, end-thinned projectile point|
|1||weakly side-notched, mildly serrated triangular projectile point|
|2||base fragments of side-notched projectile points|
|2||perforators, reamers, or narrow-bit scrapers|
The end-thinning of the asymmetrical triangular point might also be thought of as mini-fluting, hearkening to Paleoindian and Dalton technology. The eared, weakly side-notched triangular point provokes further consideration of Funk’s statement of expectations concerning the earliest, Dalton-equivalent Archaic in upstate New York. Traces of serration, often considered diagnostic of Dalton and other Early Archaic technology, remains on the side-notched point’s blade.
The assemblage is particularly interesting for the diversity of the stone assemblage, indicating that a range of activities was performed at the site, including weapon repair and probably hide working, among others. Hunting forays in the area likely were based at this site. The large number of gravers is very interesting, as it appears to indicate that engraving was an intensely pursued activity at this site. The long, narrow tools shaped like perforators resemble artifacts referred to as drills associated with the earliest Archaic assemblage at the Shawnee-Minisink site in Pennsylvania (McNett 1985:95; also see the illustrated “Early Early” Archaic graver in McNett’s same photo).
How typical is this site of the earliest Archaic? To answer this question, additional information is needed to confirm the age estimate between 9,000 and 10,000 radiocarbon years BP. At this time, the site’s age is an educated guess. Confirmation of age may eventually come in the form of other, similar artifact assemblages or projectile point types that can be radiocarbon-dated reliably at other sites. Should the age estimate for this assemblage prove accurate, the availability of information from other sites will help to understand activity variation among the sites of this period.
The accompanying photos illustrate the fluted point preform and provide a sample of the inferred very early Archaic artifact assemblage.
1981 Turkey Swamp: A Late-Paleoindian Site in New Jersey’s Coastal Plain. Archaeology of Eastern North America 9:1-17.
Funk, Robert E.
1991 Late Pleistocene and Early Holocene Human Adaptations in the Lower Hudson Valley. In The Archaeology and Ethnohistory of the Lower Hudson Valley and Neighboring Regions: Essays in Honor of Louis A. Brennan, edited by Herbert C. Kraft, pp. 49-67. Occasional Publications in Northeastern Anthropology, No. 11, Bethlehem, Connecticut.
2004 An Ice Age Quarry-Workshop: The West Athens Hill Site Revisited. New York State Museum Bulletin 504, Albany.
Goodyear, Albert C.
1982 The Chronological Position of the Dalton Horizon in the Southeastern United States. American Antiquity 47:382-395.
McNett, Charles W., editor
1985 Shawnee-Minisink: A Stratified Paleoindian-Archaic Site in the Upper Delaware Valley of Pennsylvania. Academic Press, Orlando, Florida.
Petersen, James B.
2004 Foreword: West Athens Hill, the Paleoindian Period, and Robert E. Funk in Northeastern Perspective. In An Ice Age Quarry-Workshop: The West Athens Hill Site Revisited, by Robert E. Funk. New York State Museum Bulletin 504, Albany.
Ritchie, William A.
1971 A Typology and Nomenclature for New York Projectile Points, second edition. New York State Museum and Science Service Bulletin 384, Albany.
Sherwood, Sarah C., Boyce N. Driskell, Asa R. Randall, and Scott M. Meeks
2004 Chronology and Stratigraphy at Dust Cave, Alabama. American Antiquity 69:533-554.
Wingerson, Roberta and Richard Wingerson
1976 The Hunter Brook Rockshelter. The Bulletin, New York State Archaeological Association 68:19-28.
Recently I remembered being an archaeology student, and how the words that archaeologists use for periods, cultures, or traditions often sounded familiar yet unfamiliar: names like the Archaic and the Woodland, Laurentian and Point Peninsula. These are words which sound strange in some ways to everyone who doesn’t deal with them routinely: words sometimes self-evident in meaning (like Archaic), but representing keys into specialized knowledge— arbitrary-sounding word selections that are loaded with unfathomed meanings.
Archaic literally means old, and that is the primary reason that archaeologists have chosen to use it. The Archaic period predates many archaeological cultures as well as the European-Indian contact period by thousands of years. So it really stands for: extra old.
So what does it mean for a tradition (or group of regional traditions) to be so old? That is one of the things that archaeologists in eastern North America continue to study. As Archaic specialists learn more, they consider this question further (sometimes not explicitly, but often in the flow of their research and thoughts). For example, over the last several years, archaeologists have become aware that something extraordinary may have happened at the end of the Archaic, about 3,000 years ago. In many regions, the frequency of large sites that may have been large settlements decreased. Perhaps more accurately, these sites were largely abandoned, at least for a long time. In addition, the frequency of all archaeological sites declined, suggesting that regional populations decreased; or perhaps that communities splintered and occupied much smaller sites not so visible to archaeologists. Communities may have become smaller, more mobile, and more flexible. Interregional exchange relationships also seem to have changed, possibly signaling events of societal reorganization, such as the lapse of old alliances and the creation of new ones. Archaeologists also have begun to consider whether a widespread climatic cooling trend affecting eastern North America about 3,000 years ago may have been a catalyst in these changes.
University of Florida archaeologist Kenneth Sassaman (2010) has recently given significant attention to these issues and other changes that occurred at the end of the Archaic period. To me, one of the implications of post-Archaic changes is that the long Archaic period, ca. 3,000-10,000 years before present (BP) may represent a cycle of history, a cycle encompassing growth, innovation, florescence, and decline, resulting in movement to a new starting point. In this sense the Archaic was much more than a foundation for more recent cultures. It may not have been an effective foundation at all, but a grand process that eventually reached a tipping point.
So this is one take on what it means for a cultural tradition to be as old as the Archaic: it is old enough to be formed through a long history of major events; to be repeatedly reformed until local traditions themselves are both ancient and intertwined; it means for societies to become historical in this largest sense, and then however distinctive, however prominent, however influential, to change so drastically that they were buried in obscurity, awaiting discovery. The Archaic concept distinguishes the very ancient and remote in the way that the Woodland (the next great period) evokes the close precursors of the Eastern Woodlands Indian cultures of the European contact period.
The historical meaning of the Archaic may emerge to archaeologists through study, but it has aspects that were known to native people long ago. For example, 400 years ago, Iroquois (Seneca) people in western New York State found Archaic period projectile points and gave them as grave offerings, as William Ritchie (1969:322) has illustrated. Ritchie referred to the Archaic points placed in a grave from a much later period as probable “hunting charms”. We can only guess whether he was right about that, but may prefer to think of it differently, taking an interest in Iroquois concerns with history more than hunting. People the world over have been keenly aware of ancient artifacts on their lands and in their soils, and stories of the old ones have been offered in explanation, whether stories of ancestors, or of more primal predecessors who occupied the land before the ancestors. For example, European peasants once referred to stone artifacts on their lands as “elf-shot”, while traditional, ancient Irish history is a cycle of peoples, with the Irish being the last to occupy the Emerald Isle, and their predecessors— Bronze Age people to archaeologists— faded beyond memory to a mythic fairy existence that can be evoked by the ancient monuments on the Irish landscape.
In central New York State during the Archaic period, it seems to me that ancient history (as it was known about 4,000-5,000 years ago) may have been a consideration when Archaic people chose Frontenac Island in Cayuga Lake, and two sites at Brewerton ( Robinson and Oberlander No. 1) near Oneida Lake as significant places to bury their dead. These sites were occupied first in much earlier periods such as the Early Archaic (8000-10,000 BP; Frontenac Island) or late Paleoindian (9000-10,000 BP; Brewerton). The burial of the dead at these sites seems to have begun about 5000-6000 BP. It would be surprising if these sites did not have long histories of important events; of repeated visits, the forging of alliances, landscape associations with myths (or the actual ritual performance of myths), and remembrance of the ancestors as their lives resonated with these sites. Eventually, connections to history— and genealogy in particular— were made stronger through the interment of the dead. The Late Archaic period settlements established here 4000-5000 BP may well have been significant as especially meaningful returns to places that had been important in the past.
Ritchie, William A.
1969 The Archaeology of New York State, second edition. Natural History Press, Garden City, New York.
Sassaman, Kenneth E.
2010 The Eastern Archaic, Historicized. AltaMira Press, Lanham, Maryland.
The Archaic period, 3,000-10,000 years before present (BP) saw human adaptation to temperate, eastern woodlands environments after the Ice Age, and no doubt also witnessed population growth, human migration, and interactions between different societies as the environment changed and innovations were made in technology and subsistence. Archaic societies were hunters-gatherers, although the ways they went about this varied considerably.
In some regions, as time went on, Archaic hunter-gatherers who moved their settlements throughout the year became more settled, perhaps even sedentary. Some (not necessarily the most sedentary societies) began to add a form of pre-corn horticulture to the subsistence strategy in a development referred to as the Eastern Agricultural Complex.
In Louisiana at sites such as Watson Brake and Poverty Point, there developed a long tradition of earthen monument construction during the Archaic period, while a variety of shell mounds along the southern coastlines, as well as some of the rivers in regions such as Florida and Kentucky also may represent monumental constructions. Along the Hudson estuary of eastern New York State, accumulations of oyster shell (such as at Dogan Point) also spark the archaeologist’s imagination. Were the various freshwater or marine shell mounds of eastern North America simply food remains, or were they constructed for monumental or ritual use (cf. Claassen 1995:132-133, Claassen 2010)?
During the later years of the Archaic period, ceramic pottery was invented along the Atlantic coast of the southeast, while many societies in the interior, from Georgia to New England manufactured, traded, and cooked in soapstone pots. Soapstone was traded widely. As the Archaic transitioned into the Early Woodland, soapstone pots became important mortuary offerings at sites near Orient Point and Montauk, Long Island.
Archaic cultures in eastern North America increase the knowledge of how hunter-gatherers vary. While hunter-gatherer societies have often been seen as small, family-based, egalitarian, and far from organizationally complex, the record of Archaic societies in the eastern woodlands is full of evidence that belies this conceptualization.
In addition, it is often difficult to show how the developments of the Archaic period are related in a direct way to the societies that came after them, suggesting that many Archaic societies are distinctive and worthy of study in their own right, as opposed to less-developed, formative stages in the evolution of later societies. Often, Late Archaic period sites are larger and more numerous than the sites of the subsequent Early Woodland period, raising questions of why: what does this pattern mean for the histories of eastern woodlands societies?
New York State archaeology has a special place in the study of Archaic cultures, since the concept of the Archaic as a largely preceramic, hunter-gatherer way of life originated in New York. In the early 20th century, some of the first purposefully conducted investigations of Archaic period sites in North America occurred in upstate New York locations including Lamoka Lake, Geneva, Scottsville, Brewerton, and Frontenac Island.
Reference to “the Archaic” developed out of the term “Archaic Algonkin”, used to refer to an early period by New York State Museum archaeologist Arthur C. Parker (1922). In 1925, after he became the director of the Rochester Municipal Museum (now the Rochester Museum and Science Center), Parker commissioned a young employee named William A. Ritchie to begin to excavate at the large Archaic period site at Lamoka Lake in the western Finger Lakes region. It was Ritchie (1932) who (dropping the Algonkin prefix) coined the term Archaic and introduced it widely. Ritchie excavated Archaic period sites into the 1930s and beyond, eventually revisiting Lamoka Lake in 1958 and 1962, and Frontenac Island in 1953 (Ritchie 1944, 1969).
Ritchie’s work on the Archaic period became well-known, and the concept of a preceramic, preagricultural period was widely adopted by archaeologists (as outlined in Willey and Phillips 1958). The cultures that Ritchie investigated intensively— the Lamoka culture, plus a seemingly later culture from the north he called Laurentian, and the apparent product of Lamoka and Laurentian interaction at Frontenac Island— are now referred to as Late Archaic cultures dating to about 4,000-5,000 years ago.
The long history from 5,000-10,000 BP leading up to the Late Archaic was practically unknown in New York State, even at the moment of Ritchie’s retirement from the New York State Museum in 1971 (although it had been under investigation in North Carolina, Illinois, and other places; Coe 1964, Fowler 1959). Ritchie in fact believed that the early Holocene natural environment of upstate New York was a closed, coniferous forest not well-suited for human habitation due to presumed scarce food resources (for example, see Ritchie and Funk 1973:37-38). At the same time, Ritchie was aware of recurrent evidence of Early Archaic occupation on Staten Island, and drew attention to probable southern connections (Ritchie and Funk 1971).
Robert E. Funk, who was Ritchie’s junior associate and eventual successor at the New York State Museum, began to research the Archaic period in the Hudson valley in the early 1960s (Funk 1966). He gave significant attention to the period he referred to as the Early Archaic, from about 5,000-9,000 BP (which now is considered to extend to 10,000 BP). In this work, and later in excavations at Susquehanna valley sites, Funk began to demonstrate the great time depth of Archaic period occupation in upstate New York.
Funk’s Hudson Valley research included excavation at the Sylvan Lake Rockshelter, east of Poughkeepsie (Funk 1966, 1976). At Sylvan Lake Rockshelter, Funk found evidence of deep deposits that broke the 5,000 BP threshold; his earliest radiocarbon-date from a deep level of the site was 6560 +/- 100 years BP. Artifacts in the early deposits included side-notched projectile points similar to Laurentian forms. One of the contributions of Funk’s Sylvan Lake and other Hudson valley research was his inference that a long cultural tradition that involved making Laurentian-like, notched projectile points preceded the appearance of stemmed to weakly side-notched Lamoka-like projectile points. How early the Laurentian-like tradition was remained a question, as the 6560 BP date may have represented a mid-point rather than a beginning of the notched point tradition.
The 1960s and 1970s saw a proliferation of research on the Early Archaic period in several areas of the eastern woodlands, which archaeologists began to differentiate into Early (8,000-10,000 BP) and Middle Archaic (6,000-8,000 BP) segments. Funk later identified a definitive Middle Archaic period occupation at Sylvan Lake Rockshelter when he recognized the occurrence of the Neville point type (Funk 1991). An important sequence of Early to Middle Archaic cultures was found in West Virginia (Broyles 1971), and soon evidence from other stratified sites predating 5,000 BP was becoming apparent in Tennessee (Chapman 1985), Pennsylvania (McNett 1985), and New Hampshire (Dincauze 1976).
Funk’s upper Susquehanna survey and excavations of the 1970s participated in the proliferation of interest in the Early Archaic. The information he obtained from several upper Susquehanna sites showed a long sequence of Early and Middle Archaic period occupations (generally similar to the Tennessee and West Virginia sequences, where Funk saw considerable correspondence). Funk identified a New York sequence of Kirk and Palmer Corner-Notched, Bifurcated Base, Kirk Stemmed, and Neville stemmed point traditions, surmising no significant temporal lag compared to similar sequences in southeastern regions (Funk 1993, 1998; Funk and Wellman 1984). Funk’s upper Susquehanna project also provided a wealth of new information on Late Archaic cultures, sequence, and radiocarbon ages, including the identification of a new regional culture called the Vestal phase (Funk 1993, 1998).
Ritchie developed the concept of the Archaic in the early 20th century, while several of his contemporaries corroborated its broad applicability and expanded upon it. Over time, innovations such as radiocarbon dating provided greater definition to Ritchie’s discoveries in New York. Funk, despite arguments for a post-Paleoindian cultural hiatus, built programs for the study of the Early Archaic into his Hudson valley and upper Susquehanna research on Archaic cultures. Working deliberately toward the goal of Early Archaic discovery, Funk defined the Early and Middle Archaic periods in these regions.
My own investigations frequently encounter Archaic period sites, and I am continually indebted to the compiled data and useful insights of Ritchie and Funk. At the same time, I find that the recent past has been a dynamic period of rapidly developing new information on the Archaic period. Accordingly, I have periodically written about the Archaic in Fieldnotes here, here, here, here, here, and here). In a number of upcoming 2013 blog posts I will consider some of the classic Archaic sites such as Lamoka Lake, Brewerton, and Frontenac Island, as well as a variety of other interesting Archaic period topics, including Early and Middle Archaic technology and settlement patterns in eastern New York, ancient sea-level rise in the Archaic period, the Vosburg Site district, the lower Hudson oyster shell mounds, and cultural history, coalescence, and change during the Late Archaic.
Broyles, Bettye J.
1971 Second Preliminary Report: The St. Albans Site, Kanawha County, West Virginia. Report of Archaeological Investigations Number 3, West Virginia Geological and Economic Survey, Morgantown, West Virginia.
1985 Tellico Archaeology: 12,000 Years of Native American History. Report of Investigations Number 43, Department of Anthropology, The University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
1995 Dogan Point and Its Social Context. In Dogan Point: A Shell Matrix Site in the Lower Hudson Valley, edited by Cheryl Claassen, pp. 129-142. Occasional Publications in Northeastern Prehistory, No. 14, Bethlehem, Connecticut.
2010 Feasting with Shellfish in the Southern Ohio Valley: Archaic Sites and Rituals. University of Tennessee Press, Knoxville.
Coe, Joffre L.
1964 The Formative Cultures of the Carolina Piedmont. Transactions of the American Philosophical Society 54(5). Philadelphia.
Dincauze, Dena F.
1976 The Neville Site: 8000 Years at Amoskeag. Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology Monographs No. 4. Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Fowler, Melvin L.
1959 Summary Report of Modoc Rockshelter: 1952, 1953, 1955, 1956. Reports of Investigations No. 8, Illinois State Museum, Springfield.
Funk, Robert E.
1966 An Archaic Framework for the Hudson Valley. Ph. D. Dissertation, Columbia University. University Microfilms, Ann Arbor.
1976 Recent Contributions to Hudson Valley Prehistory. New York State Museum Memoir 22, Albany
1991 The Middle Archaic in New York. Journal of Middle Atlantic Archaeology 7:7-18.
1993 Archaeological Investigations in the Upper Susquehanna Valley, New York State, Volume 1. Persimmon Press, Buffalo
1998 Archaeological Investigations in the Upper Susquehanna Valley, New York State, Volume 2. Persimmon Press, Buffalo.
Funk, Robert E. and Beth Wellman
1984 Evidence of Early Holocene Occupations in the Upper Susquehanna Valley, New York State. Archaeology of Eastern North America 12:72-80.
McNett, Charles W., editor
1985 Shawnee-Minisink: A Stratified Paleoindian-Archaic Site in the Upper Delaware Valley of Pennsylvania. Academic Press, Orlando, Florida.
Parker, Arthur C.
1922 The Archeological History of New York. New York State Museum Bulletins 235-238, Albany.
Ritchie, William A.
1932 The Lamoka Lake Site. Researches and Transactions of the New York State Archaeological Association 7(2). Rochester, New York.
1944 The Pre-Iroquoian Occupations of New York. Rochester Municipal Museum Memoir 1, Rochester, New York.
1969 The Archaeology of New York State, second edition. Natural History Press, Garden City, New York.
Ritchie, William A. and Robert E. Funk
1971 Evidence for Early Archaic Occupations of Staten Island. Pennsylvania Archaeologist 41(3):45-59.
1973 Aboriginal Settlement Patterns in the Northeast. New York State Museum and Science Service Memoir 20, Albany.
Willey, Gordon R. and Philip Phillips
1958 Method and Theory in American Archaeology. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
While looking into the subject of Vikings in the New World, I came across a magazine article on an often untold part of the Vinland story, comprising an afterword about what happened next.
The Vikings of the Vinland sagas are said to have stayed at most about three years and then returned home. Eleventh century life went on, with a seeming lack of ambition for sustained colonization west of Greenland.
Leif Ericson returned to Greenland, where his father Eric the Red lived, settled down, and within a couple of years met a sea-faring merchant from Iceland named Thorfinn Karlsefni. Karlsefni soon married Eric’s widowed daughter-in-law Gudrid and they raised a new expedition to Vinland. Exploring the North American coast, they overwintered at Hop, a place-name referring to a tidal pool (Some saga interpreters indicate Hop may have been in or near modern-day New York City, although New England and Canadian locations are also considered).
During this visit, Thorfinn’s and Gudrid’s son Snorri was born, becoming the first recorded person of European descent born in North America (and possibly the first in the future State of New York). Eventually, conflict with Native Americans convinced Thorfinn and Gudrid to make a safer life in an established Viking homeland (safer, that is, if you don’t count the potential for Viking blood feuds).
This is the story told (in much more detail, and in differing versions) by the 13th century sources on the Vinland expeditions, Eric the Red’s Saga and The Greenlanders’ Saga. So let’s follow it forward from where it usually ends. The article I recently found adding to this tale is by Eugene Linden, published in Smithsonian in December, 2004. It tells of Karlsefni’s return to settle in Iceland after the Vinland voyage.
Linden’s article was prompted by the discovery made in the early 2000s by American archaeologist John Steinberg on the grounds of the Glaumbaer Folk Museum in northern Iceland (Steinberg 2003). Using electrical conductivity to identify soil anomalies, and then assigning student assistants to dig at the locations of the anomalies, Steinberg found evidence of a large Viking long-house some 100 feet long and 25.5 feet wide. With walls built of turf, the size of the house indicated that it belonged to an important person. Moreover, the straight cut of the house walls resembled the houses of the L’Anse aux Meadows archaeological site in Newfoundland more than typical Icelandic, bowed-wall structures built about the same time. The age of the structure was the 11th century, as indicated by the layering of ash from volcanic eruptions of known age.
Was Steinberg’s discovery Karlsefni’s house? There is nothing specific to say one way or the other, but according to Steinberg, the impressive scale of the house suggests it was built by someone who would have been mentioned in a saga. And in competing sagas, the Glaumbaer locale is one of two places mentioned as Karlsefni’s new home upon his return to Iceland.
The Greenlanders’ Saga and Eric the Red’s Saga both originated in oral history, and both survive in written versions from the 13th century, 200 or more years after the Vinland voyages. The two sagas differ in several details, including whether Karlsefni settled at Glaumbaer or Reynisnes upon returning to Iceland. Linden makes the point that if the house ruin at Glaumbaer is Karlsefni’s, then the Greenlander’s Saga might be considered more accurate than Eric the Red’s Saga. Knowing which saga is more accurate would help to understand the Vinland voyages. The angle of the Smithsonian article is that the (probable) discovery of Karlsefni’s house provides support for the Greenlanders’ Saga. If so, it benefits those interested in Vikings in the New World. Not being a saga expert, I defer this interpretation to others, while noting the possible elision of these versions in histories that state that Karlsefni founded the Glaumbaer farm after an initial attempt to settle at Reynisnes (for example, Byggoasafn Skagfiroinga 2013).
At the same time, I am pleased to be able to see another side of the historical significance of Steinberg’s discovery (assisted with a few additional sources: Byggoasafn Skagfiroinga 2013; Maugh 2002; Nordic Adventure Travel 2013; Sigurdsson 2000). The discovery is important in a larger context than Vinland exploration. The Greenlanders’ Saga relates that Thorfinn and Gudrid had many descendants, founding a prosperous clan. Thorfinn was highly respected, and is credited with the most extensive reports on the Vinland expeditions (perhaps implying that his oral history became the Greenlanders’ Saga). After Thorfinn died, Gudrid is recorded as making a pilgrimage south, later becoming a nun and an anchoress (Sigurdsson 2000:221).
Although placing the family’s home upon return at Reynisnes, Eric the Red’s Saga outlines some genealogy and enumerates some important people descended from Thorfinn and Gudrid through two lines of descent, Snorri’s and his brother Thorbjorn’s. These include a number of important Icelandic bishops (Sigurdsson 2000:224).
In further illustration: as Iceland continued to transform from paganism to Christianity, Snorri is said to have had a church built, while Gudrid journeyed to Rome, met with the pope, and returned to lead a holy life. Gudrid indeed led a remarkable life. She and Snorri are both important historical figures in Iceland– and not just because of the Vinland voyage. Through Gudrid’s travels, in particular, we can see early Iceland in global perspective.
Gudrid and Snorri have long been associated with the Glaumbaer site, where a statue of Gudrid with a small Snorri on her shoulder already stood even before Steinberg’s discovery. Steinberg’s apparent discovery of Thorfinn Karlsefni’s house (sometimes presented as Snorri’s house; Maugh 2002) greatly enriches the interpretation of this important site, in addition to broadening the Vinland story.
2013 The First Farmer. Electronic document consulted on March 5, 2013.
2004 The Vikings: A Memorable Visit to America. Smithsonian (December) 35(9):92-99.
2002 Home May Prove Viking ‘Sagas’. Los Angeles Times, September 16, 2002. Electronic document consulted on March 5, 2013.
Nordic Adventure Travel
2013 Glaumbaer Skagafjordur Folk Museum. Electronic document consulted on March 5, 2013.
2000 The Quest for Vinland in Saga Scholarship. In Vikings: The North Atlantic Saga, edited by William W. Fitzhugh and Elisabeth I. Ward, pp. 232-237. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington.
Steinberg, John M.
2003 The Viking Age Long-House at Glaumbaer Skagafjordur, Northern Iceland. Electronic document consulted on March 5, 2013.