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The Trailside Site: A Middle Archaic Period Site in Queensbury, New York

Posted by Edward V. Curtin on April 11, 2013 in Archaeology |
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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.

Excavation scene

Excavation at the Trailside site

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).

Bifaces found at the Trailside site

Bifaces found at the Trailside site

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.

Artifact Classes Frequency
Projectile Points 1 (Neville type)
Bifaces and Fragments 8
Utilized Biface Fragments 2 (included in total above)
Graver 1 (possible)
Graver/Burin 1
Uniface 1
Utilized Flakes 13
Shatter 5
Block Flakes 4
Cores and Core Fragments 10
Quarry Block 1
Hammerstone 1
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.

Neville point

Neville point found at the Trailside site

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.

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