The Early Archaic Period and the “Missing 2000 Years” in Hudson Valley Prehistory

Posted by Edward V. Curtin on September 28, 2011 in Archaeology, Artifacts |

(This is the first in a series of posts on the Archaic period in New York State)

Kirk Corner-Notched

Kirk Corner-Notched point from Coxsackie, Greene County, New York

On September 16, 2011, Kerry Nelson and I enjoyed the hospitality of the Incorporated Orange County Chapter, New York State Archaeological Association at their monthly meeting in Middletown, New York. I gave a talk on “The Missing 2000 Years”. This is the period associated with Kirk Corner-Notched, Palmer, St. Charles, and perhaps other projectile point types. These point types are relatively rare in New York State, but when found indicate evidence of human occupation following the end of the Paleoindian period about 10,000 years ago.

The “Missing 2000 Years” refers to the period 8,000-10,000 years before present (BP). The former New York State Archaeologist Robert E. Funk (2004:130) used this concept to refer to the poorly known Early Archaic period. It pertains to evidence of occupation earlier than the widespread evidence of bifurcated base projectile points. Bifurcated base projectile points were in use in eastern New York by approximately 8,000 BP, and some early bifurcates may fill part of the chronological gap after 8,500 years BP.

Bifurcated base points from Coxsackie and nearby New Baltimore

In the 1960s, Funk (1966:246-252) grappled with the implications of a similar 2,000 year gap in the prehistoric record of the Hudson valley, perceived then as the period between the Laurentian tradition and the Paleoindians, about 7,000-9,000 BP as reckoned at that time (research since the 1960s has refined the chronology earlier than the Laurentian, and pushed the poorly known Early Archaic period about 1,000 years deeper into the past).

Bucking more established positions, Funk (1966) argued that Early Archaic cultures must have been present in the Northeast, but were undocumented except for rare bifurcated base points and Plano-like, unfluted, lanceolate points (often referred to as late Paleoindian points). Based upon intriguing discoveries at Sylvan Lake Rockshelter (east of Poughkeepsie), Funk (1966:246-252) developed the hypothesis that the typical projectile points of the Early Archaic period would be early side-notched points that resemble Laurentian tradition point types such as Otter Creek and Brewerton Side-Notched (also see Justice 1987:61-62). Although Funk (1966) documented an assemblage with Otter Creek-like points apparently older than about 7,000 years at Sylvan Lake Rockshelter, additional evidence this old involving the Laurentian tradition (or an immediate ancestor) has been lacking at other New York sites.

Meanwhile, a more clear chronology involving stemmed, bifurcated base, and corner-notched points has been developed, largely based upon Funk’s (1993) research in the Susquehanna valley. At the same time, a complex of early side-notched points has been identified in parts of the Southeast (Anderson and Sassaman 1996; Sherwood et al 2004). Since the known Northeastern Early Archaic point forms generally have Southeastern cognates, it seems a fair question to ask whether evidence of early side-notched points also occurs in the Northeast, but may be “hiding in plain sight” if these points have been misidentified as more familiar Late Archaic point types (this harkens to Funk’s 1966 position, and the somewhat similar view expressed by Justice 1987:61-62).

Left to right: Kirk Corner-Notched point, Palmer point with deeply concave base similar to Hardaway-Dalton, and possible early side-notched point. All from one small site in New Baltimore

My talk in Middletown on September 16 examined some of the evidence for the cultures or cultural phases that seem to have been present in the Hudson valley 8,000-10,000 years ago. Much of the evidence I presented derives from archaeological surveys and excavations conducted in the Greene County Towns of Coxsackie and New Baltimore, while some evidence was presented from Moreau in Saratoga County, and Guidlerland in Albany County. Some of the Early Archaic point types that have been found in the Hudson valley include Kirk and Palmer Corner-Notched (prevalent about 9,000 BP); and Dalton or similar triangular points (about 10,000 BP). Rare examples of Agate Basin or other Plano-like points have been recovered (suspected age, 9,500-10,000 BP). Certain corner-notched points with deeply concave bases may by intermediate between the Dalton and Palmer-Kirk types (see Ward and Davis 1999:53-54). Certain side-notched points are suspected of being very early (9,000-10,000 years old) due to association with Early Archaic corner-notched points, or the presence of Early Archaic technical attributes such as end-thinning, pronounced opposite face, alternate-edge beveling, or blunting of the base by burin removal (Justice 1987).

Early points from Coxsackie and New Baltimore: left, possible early side-notched; center, 3 Daltons; right, Agate Basin.

Although a general, time-sequence involving some of the point types can be constructed, extending from Dalton-like triangular (10,000 BP) to Kirk-like corner-notched (9,000 BP) to bifurcated base point types (8,000 BP; Funk 1991:53), some of the point type variability may signify traces of cultural diversity as the geographical ranges of Late Paleoindian and Early Archaic cultures overlapped across the Hudson valley (see Petersen 2004); or as migrating Early Archaic populations with different concepts about projectile points coalesced into new societies.

References cited

Anderson, David G., and Kenneth E. Sassaman (editors)
1996 The Paleoindian and Early Archaic Southeast. The University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa.

Funk, Robert E.
1966 An Archaic Framework for the Hudson Valley. Ph. D. Dissertation, Columbia University. University Microfilms, Ann Arbor.

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.

1993 Archaeological Investigations in the Upper Susquehanna Valley, New York State, Volume 1. Persimmon Press, Buffalo

2004 An Ice Age Quarry-Workshop: The West Athens Hill Site Revisited. New York State Museum Bulletin 504, Albany.

Justice, Noel D.
1987 Stone Age Spear and Arrow Points of the Midcontinental and Eastern United States: A Modern Survey and Reference. Indiana University Press, Bloomington.

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.

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.

Ward, H. Trawick and R. P. Stephen Davis, Jr.
1999 Time Before History: The Archaeology of North Carolina. The University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill.

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  • frank sarratori says:

    Ed..very interesting stuff here andcongrats on the lecture.Be safe and well my friend..Frank…class of ’71..GHS

  • […] of new posts in the coming months.  Fieldnotes will offer a continuing series of posts on the Archaic period in New York State, utilizing information collected by Curtin Archaeological as much as possible.  […]

  • Kyle says:

    Hello, I am not very knowledgeable about archaeology. I was reading about paleoindians today. Trying to understand more about native americans here where I live on Long Island NY. I thought to let you know that I found an arrowhead that looks similar to the Bifurcated base points from Coxsackie and nearby New Baltimore. I found it digging when I was probably about 6 years old. I loved that stone and had it my whole life until I could no longer locate it as an adult. Beleive it or not I had a dream last night where I was a native american 10,000 years ago in these parts and I wanted to know more about it. I know exactly where I found that stone. It was blue as well. Navy blue stone. Maybe jade?

  • Edwin Bliss Struve MD says:

    I am a retired physician and avocational archaeologist in the North Jersey suburbs 22 miles from
    Manhattan. I have been finding Early and Middle Archaic artifacts in the Upper Passaic Valley for
    half a century. Your postings from Green County are therefore of great interest.
    In 1998, Funk in his Volume 2 of Archaeological Investigations in the Upper Susquehanna Valley, New York State reported on the dating of a Bifurcate from the Gardepe Site of 7430 BC, several hundred years earlier than the dating of MacCorkles at the St. Albans Site in West Virginia and from
    Chapman’s excavations in Tennessee. The Gardepe Site Bifurcate looks like a Susquehanna Bifurcate described by Fogelman in 1998. The Bifurcates you illustrate from Greene County also appear to be Susquehannas, which I find are the most common Bifurcates I see from the Upper Hudson Valley.
    Could Susquehanna Bifurcates be the earliest Bifurcates of the eastern United States? Tom Weinman informed me that an archaeologist from SUNY at Oneonta or Binghamton believed that this is the case.
    In 2003, Mournier reported on the 28-BU-7 Site in Burlington County, NJ, where a Susquehanna
    Bifurcate and some LeCroys dated from 4350 to 4690 BC. This would make the Susquehanna
    Bifurcates the most enduring Bifurcates of them all.
    Are you aware of any other dates for Susquehanna Bifurcatess? Thank you for your kind attention.

  • Ed Curtin says:

    Dr. Struve,

    Thank you for your comment and insight. I have long thought about the early radiocarbon date from the upper Susquehanna valley, and to me the most logical explanation is that it indicates a period when there was a stable ground surface that persisted for a long time, but radiocarbon determination dates an event much earlier than the bifurcated base point. However, there is a site called the Haviland with a later(ca 8400 BP)radiocarbon date and bifurcated base points. The Haviland site is near Cobleskill, NY, not all that far from Oneonta and the sites of Funk’s Early Archaic investigations.

  • Ed Curtin says:

    The Haviland site is referenced in my September 5, 2012 blog.

  • Edwin Bliss Struve MD says:

    Thank you for your reply. I guess what you are saying is that the Gardepe Site date does not mean that the Susquehanna Bifurcated point necessarily goes back to 7430 BC. The later dates of Susquehanna Bifurcates from the Haviland Site and Mournier’s work in South Jersey also suggest that they are much younger.
    While projectile point morphology and lithics are not the best means of dating points, if you compare Susquehanna and MacCorkle Bifurcates made from local materials in the Upper Susquehanna Valley within Pennsylvania, the MacCorkles appear to be the younger, given their cruder workmanship and not-so-fine lithic materials. Also based on morphology and lithics, Susquehanna Bifurcates in that region seem more closely related to Kirks than the MacCorkles in the area. Thus, it would appear that the earliest Upper Susquehanna Valley Susquehanna Bifurcates seem to fall between the local Kirks and MacCorkles in projectile point evolution.
    In the area around the forks between the West and North Branches of the Susquehanna, collectors have found an astounding number of Early Archaic points and Bifurcates of many varieties. It was therefore only natural that Gary Fogelman first described the Susquehanna and Penn’s Creek Bifurcates in that region. This suggests that the forks of the Susquehanna may have been the locus of of Early Archaic populations and early Bifurcate evolution, antedating what Broyles found at the St.
    Albans Site. Thus, the Gardepe Site dating might be correct.
    I have a large number of Early Archaic and Bifurcate points from the forks of the Susquehanna.
    When arranged in what appears to be a proper chronological sequence, the Susquehanna Bifurcates
    fall mid-way between the Kirks and MacCorkles. If you wish, I can attempt to send pictures. If you haven’t seen material from the forks of the Susquehanna, it will be an eye-opener.
    In stark contrast, what we find in the Upper Passaic Valley in northeast Jersey would be entirely familiar to you after your experiences in the Upper Hudson Valley. Archaeological speaking, the two
    regions are virtually identical and peripheral in terms of Bifurcate evolution.
    The forks of the Susquehanna seem to be where the action was in Early Archaic and Bifurcate
    Horizon times.

  • Ed Curtin says:

    This is indeed very interesting. I have sometimes looked at some of the Hudson valley bifurcates and thought that they looked like Kirk Corner-Notched points with an additional notch in the base. I consider bifurcated base points to be strongly associated with the Appalichian region, and consider places like New Jersy and the Hudson valley to be peripheral to their strongest spatial concentration.

    I am still not convinced that the Gardepe date is associated with bifurcated base points. I would want to see other similarly old dates associated with bifurcatd base points in good context at other sites. Meannwhile, in association with a series of Kirk C-N and Kirk stemmed points from the nearby Johnsen No. 3 site, Funk obtained several radiocarbon dates covering the range 8385-9965 BP. However, the ddepest levels at Johnsen No.3 (Zones H and I) did not yield projectile points. So there is a bit of a mystery, and 2 of the dates from Zones H and I fall in the 9000-9665 range. But for now I continue to doubt that these deep levels might have contained bifurcated base points. I think that they are associated with early Kirk occupations where no points were left behind.

  • Edwin Bliss Struve MD says:

    The only other extremely early, solid dating of Bifurcates that I know of came from the deeply-stratified Sandts Eddy Site along the Delaware River in Northampton County, PA, which was reported in Raber, Miller, and Nesius’s 1998 Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission publication, The Archaic Period in Pennsylvania, in a paper by Bergman, Doershuk, Moeller, LaPorta, and Schuldenrein entitled, An Introduction to the Early and Middle Archaic Occupations at Sandts Eddy. Stratum XI in the deeper levels of the Sandts Eddy Site yielded a single Bifurcate of a most unusual form; it superficially resembles a LeCroy, but has a lengthly barb on one side. Other such Bifurcates are found in the region, but are extremely rare; I have seen but half a dozen during my lifetime, and have just a single specimen in my collection from nearby Alpha, NJ. The Sandt’s Eddy Bifurcate was dated between 7300 to 7420 BC. In their discussion, the authors mentioned that Funk’s Gardepe Site Bifurcate had yielded a similar early date, and stated that they believed Funk’s dating was accurate. They stated that Bifurcates were therefore hundreds of years older than Broyles and Chapman had led us to believe, and that MacCorkles were not the first Bifurcates on the scene. This certainly would fit the evidence we see coming out of the forks of the Susquehanna area. Not being a professional archaeologist, I don’t know enough about radio-carbon dating to pass judgement on the Gardepe and Sandts Eddy results.
    I have wondered if perhaps some recent Cultural Resource Management excavations which have yet to be reported to the general public have yielded more early dates on Bifurcates.
    Thank you for your interest in this interesting enigma. I have been puzzling over it for years.

  • Ed Curtin says:

    Thank you once again. Generally speaking, Bob Funk looked at the general trend of the upper Susquehanna Early to Middle Archaic chronology, and thought it reflected a set of pan-regional horizons that linked Chapman’s Tennessee sequence with the upper Susquehanna in New York. This is one way of looking at things that most of Funk’s upper Susquehanna Early-Middle Archaic data seems to support. However, the possible early bifuracte age at the Gardepe site does not conform to this. I had forgotten about the Sandt’s Eddy bifurcate evidence, but I notice that in the same publication, Ken Sassaman considers it as a possible example of a time-trasngressive process involving the appearance and spread of cultural traits. This is the other point of view. I think that in the case of bifurcates in the Northeast there are still too few radiocarbon dates to sort this out. However, your typological observations are a good part of the discussion. PS: My September 5, 2012 blog discusses a CRM project that found a small pit with a ca. 8700 BP radiocarbon date, but alas,there were no projectile points!

  • Edwin Bliss Struve MD says:

    Thank you once again for your comments. We appear to be in a situation where we will have to wait for new evidence in the form of excavated Bifurcates with firm dating to confirm that we are indeed dealing with a time-transgressive phenomenon with regard to the origin of Bifurcates in different areas. We have in the past assumed that Bifurcates of different types originated and spread throughout the entire eastern United States very rapidly (indeed in the blink of an eye, archaeologically speaking) when this may well not have been the case. I had been hoping that deep in the bowels of Army Corps of Engineers or some state highway department files were the dates we are seeking. We will all have to be patient.
    Thank you.

  • […] 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 […]

  • Edwin Bliss Struve MD says:

    Dr. Curtin,
    I recently became aware of Dr. John Ferguson’s fascinating 1995 report in the Bulletin of the NYSAA on the Haviland Site, a single-component Early Archaic workshop in Schoharie County slightly older than 8400 BP. I was particularly interested in the nine projectile points illustrated in the Haviland Site report. While two, f and i, appear to be ordinary Upstate New York Susquehanna Bifurcates, and one, h, is an ordinary Stanly/Neville such as we commonly see in North Jersey, the remaining six Bifurcates are unusual. One, e, resembles the sixth McKibben Site Bifurcate, x, in Prufer and Sofsky’s 1965 report, and many others vaguely resemble Bill Taylor’s Taunton River Bifurcates or two of the twenty western Vermont Bifurcates (third row, third and fourth specimens) illustrated by Thomas in 1992. But as Ferguson pointed out in his report, the Haviland Site Bifurcates are exceptionally thin, and most have narrow stems, deep basal notching, and long barbs. They really don’t fit as Kanawhas, which tend to be thick, and have wider stems, shallow basal notching, and no
    Gary Fogelman and I recently visited a private collector in Chittenango, who had a large number
    of Bifurcates similar to the Haviland Site specimens that he found around Lake Cayuga.
    After visiting New York, I went over my own material from North Jersey and eastern PA. We do see
    a certain number of thin, narrow-stemmed, highly variable Bifurcates not unlike the Haviland
    Site specimens. I have been seeing others in private collections in eastern PA. Gary has some from
    the Upper Susquehanna Valley. Thus, the Haviland-type Bifurcates appear to occur in Upstate New York and adjacent areas of Vermont, New Jersey, and PA. They would seem to be contemporaneous
    with, but not identical to, the Kanawhas.
    Gary Fogelman and I recently visited with Dr. Dean Snow at Penn State to show him our specimens.
    Dr. Snow agreed that the Haviland Bifurcates appear to be a new Bifurcate entity, better described as
    a cluster than a single type.
    I was wondering if you have been seeing anything like the Haviland Site Bifurcates. Has any work
    been done on the site since 1995? Gary and I would be happy to show you our material.
    Thank you for your kind consideration.
    Edwin Bliss Struve MD

  • […] (2004) provided much of this awareness, calling attention to the “missing 2,000 years” at the beginning of this time frame, and documenting it in the upper Susquehanna valley (Funk 1993). Contract […]

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