The Lamoka Lake Site, Schuyler County, New York: Was There a Southern Connection?

Posted by Edward V. Curtin on June 18, 2013 in Archaeology |


“the Indian Knoll culture…may have been involved in patterns of change that could explain the development of such later cultures as Riverton, or even Lamoka” (Winters 1974:xxii).

Forty-two years before this assessment by Midwestern archaeologist Howard Winters, William A. Ritchie (1932:131), thought that his new discovery, the Archaic community at Lamoka Lake, arrived in Schuyler County, New York with immigrants from the west or northwest.

Looking across Lamoka Lake toward an island

Red Bank Island, Lamoka Lake. Photo Credit: Dorothy Byer

Years later, aware of a growing number of Archaic cultures discovered in Kentucky, Georgia, and elsewhere, Ritchie (1946:104) hypothesized a long isolated, parallel development of the Lamoka and southeastern Shell Mound Archaic cultures (such as Indian Knoll), and pondered a possible distant, western, common ancestor.

By the 1960s, Ritchie cited broad similarities between Lamoka and the upper Great Lakes region (still a possible source of Lamoka origin), and in particular with the Dustin culture or phase of Michigan (Ritchie 1965:78-79). A few years later, he reviewed other Northeastern cultural complexes that used small, narrow-bladed projectile points as part of a regional tradition that included Lamoka and other cultures (Ritchie 1969:78-79). He was unconvinced that an ancestral Lamoka homeland lie far to the south of New York.

In his “Speculations on the Lamoka Culture” written in the 1960s, Ritchie (1965:78, 1969:78) conceded that there is a general similarity between the Lamoka bone artifact assemblage and those of the Shell Mound Archaic and the Stallings Island (Georgia) cultural complexes, citing the work of colleagues published from 1940 to 1950. He observed specific similarity between the Lamoka antler pendant-like artifacts (a.k.a “problematical antler objects”) and those from certain Shell Mound Archaic sites. At the same time, he asserted that there was no reason to believe that the Shell Mound Archaic was ancestral to Lamoka.

However, other archaeologists including Douglas Byers (1959), William Fitzhugh (1972), and Howard Winters (1974) entertained the likelihood (or at least possibility) of the Shell Mound Archaic ancestry of Lamoka and other Archaic cultures dating to approximately 3500-4500 before present (BP). Winters (1974:xxii) came close to saying that the appearance of the Lamoka and Riverton (Illinois) cultures resulted from Shell Mound Archaic people of the Indian Knoll culture leaving their Green River, Kentucky homeland.

Three projectile points

Two Lamoka stemmed points and an untyped corner-notched point from central New York State. Note pebble cortex on one of the Lamoka points. Photo Credit: Ed Curtin

Byers (1959) pointed out the likely blending of a coastal lithic tradition with a Shell Mound Archaic tradition to account for the narrow-bladed, Lamoka projectile point technology within the context of the seemingly southern bone and antler industry.

With regard to Lamoka lithics, I have pointed out elsewhere in some detail that Lamoka chipped stone technology is often based upon pebble cores and a strategy using bipolar reduction, resulting in generally small, unrefined projectile points. Lamoka chipped stone technology therefore is relatively simple and adaptable to local conditions in Northeastern environments featuring glacial till (Curtin 1998). Thus, a Lamoka-like technology would be a suitable alternative for immigrants unfamiliar with, or denied access to significant local stone quarries (Lamoka points, for example, appear to be infrequent among the variety of point types found at the Divers Lake quarry in western New York; Prisch 1976). At the same time, Lamoka-like, Dustin-type projectile points were manufactured and used in Michigan in this approximate time-frame, locally employing similar pebble-core technology (Harrison 1966).

3 chert pebbles

Pebble chert from glacial gravel in central New York State. Photo Credit: Ed Curtin

So Lamoka-like stone projectile point technology is not just coastal, but may involve other conditions of a widespread nature (involving access to quarries, or the adoption of technology useful when the acquisition of high quality stone sources required too much time and travel). These conditions would suit immigrant communities if indigenous people controlled the quarry-chert sources. However, Lamoka-like technology is not necessarily diagnostic of immigration, as pebble sources of chert and other knappable stone are widespread in the Northeast, and could have been adopted by indigenous or mixed native and immigrant communities in order to exploit local stone.

Seeing the Lamoka culture as out-of-place locally, Ritchie (1946:105) stated that Northeastern Woodland cultures “are reared upon a Laurentian platform”, emphasizing specific lines of cultural continuity. Robert Funk (1988:8) also found significant Ritchie’s statement that the Laurentian Archaic is fundamental to Northeastern Indian culture. Lamoka doesn’t fit into this sequence without interrupting it. Ritchie (1944) believed that the Lamoka culture was earlier than and essentially overwhelmed by Laurentian culture; accordingly there was no contradiction to the Laurentian to Woodland sequence. He never fully accepted Funk’s (1966, 1976, 1988) proposed reversal of the sequence for central and western New York (for example, Ritchie 1971:5-6). Following Funk, it seems that today we adopt the Laurentian-Lamoka relationship as historically sequential— with Laurentian preceding Lamoka— without suspecting often enough that populations with these very different cultural affinities actually came into contact, and found ways to interact.

Recently, Kenneth Sassaman (2010) has brought migration and cultural diversity prominently to the fore in explaining the cultural history of the Archaic period in eastern North America. His thesis with regard to Lamoka is that the Lamoka culture represents a migration of people with Shell Mound Archaic ancestry to south-central New York. In this, Sassaman draws attention to similarities between the bone artifact industries, and especially, specific similarities in the manufacturing of bone fish hooks and the practice of line fishing. Following Sassaman’s (2010:48-49; 93-94) argument and terminology, Lamoka Lake may represent a “diasporic” community associated with a more general Shell Mound Archaic diaspora. Interpreting Sassaman further, interment of the dead in simple, flexed form within the Lamoka Lake village midden (rather than in more diverse forms located in separate burial places) may emphasize a common history without historic connection to local landmarks; while the profusion of storage pits at Lamoka Lake, more properly considered as concealment pits, reflects the protection of resources by people who could be considered interlopers by indigenous communities. From this, I infer that in other times and places (such as the Brewerton, New York Laurentian sites), the lack of underground resource concealment, and the use of distinct, or in some way special burial places (especially with mortuary program diversity) reflect the social integration of neighboring communities, including those with long, distinctive histories within the region. Mortuary ritual integrating diverse practices performed at historically meaningful places may have facilitated this.

Given the recurrent suggestions of some kind of relationship (whether descendant, or of distant common ancestry) between the Lamoka Lake site and the Shell Mound Archaic, the reported occurrence of Elliptio (a.k.a Unio) shell— the local freshwater mussel— in the Lamoka Lake midden is intriguing, and seems to underscore the unusual nature of Lamoka culture in the Northeastern United States.

When he began investigating the Lamoka Lake site in the 1920s, Ritchie was not aware of demonstrably earlier populations in the region, and imagined that the Lamoka Lake community one day suddenly found itself confronted with invaders from somewhere else. By the 1940s, he had concluded that the invaders were Laurentian Archaic populations from the north (Ritchie 1944). However, it may have been the Lamoka Lake community that was foreign to the region. For an immigrant Lamoka community, cultural practices oriented to the preservation of identity and affirming common origin may have been favored for a long time, while eventually, dynamic cultural processes must have attended interaction with indigenous neighbors of the Laurentian tradition.

References Cited
Byers, Douglas S.
1959 The Eastern Archaic: Some Problems and Hypotheses. American Antiquity 24(3):233-256.

Curtin, Edward V,
1998 The Archaeology of the New York Archaic: A Reconsideration with Implications for Studies of Hunter-Gatherer Land Use. Ph. D. Dissertation, Department of Anthropology, Binghamton University, Binghamton, New York.

Fitzhugh, William
1972 The Eastern Archaic: Commentary and Northern Perspective. Pennsylvania Archaeologist 42:1-19.

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.

1988 The Laurentian Problem: A Review. Archaeology of Eastern North America 16:1-42.

Harrison, Sidney
1966 The Schmidt Site (20SA192), Saginaw County, Michigan. Michigan Archaeologist 12:49-70.

Prisch, Betty C.
1976 The Divers Lake Quarry Site, Genesee County, New York. The Bulletin, New York State Archeological Association 66:8-18.

Ritchie, William A.
1932 The Lamoka Lake Site. Researches and Transactions of the New York State Archeological Association 7(2), Rochester, New York.

1944 The Pre-Iroquoian Occupations of New York State. Rochester Municipal Museum Memoir 1, Rochester, New York.

1946 Archaeological Manifestations and Relative Chronology in the Northeast. In Man in Northeastern North America, edited by Frederick Johnson, pp. 96-105. Papers of the Robert S. Peabody Foundation for Archaeology, Volume 3, Phillips Academy, Andover, Massachusetts.

1965 The Archaeology of New York State, first edition. Natural History Press, Garden City, New York.

1969 The Archaeology of New York State, second edition. Natural History Press, Garden City, New York.

1971 The Archaic in New York. The Bulletin, New York State Archeological Association 52:2-12.

Sassaman, Kenneth E.
2010 The Eastern Archaic, Historicized. AltaMira Press, Lanham, Maryland.

Winters, Howard D.
1974 Introduction to the New Edition. In Indian Knoll by William Webb, pp. v-xxvii. University of Tennessee Press, Knoxville.

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The Enigmatic Archaic Site at Lamoka Lake, New York

Posted by Edward V. Curtin on June 12, 2013 in Archaeology |


Arthur Parker had long suspected that New York State’s prehistoric past featured a very ancient era before the invention of pottery and agriculture. By the early 1920s, he referred to this poorly-documented period as the Archaic Algonkian (Parker 1922). He also recognized another early culture that he called Eskimo-like due to the presence in artifact assemblages of polished stone (especially slate) items similar to those used historically by Inuit people. The Eskimo-like artifacts included ground and polished ulus (a.k.a. semi-lunar knives) and projectile points or knife blades, which in some places were found with other polished stone types such as plummets and gouges (these later were grouped together as diagnostic types of Laurentian Archaic assemblages; Ritchie 1944). Parker (1922) was not sure which was earlier, the Archaic Algonkian or Eskimo-like culture.

As William Ritchie (1932:81) has related, Parker learned of the Lamoka Lake site in 1905, when he was employed in Albany as the New York State Museum’s archaeologist. Soon after he arrived to direct the Rochester Museum in 1925, Parker gave Ritchie the assignment to investigate the Lamoka Lake site, and perhaps in its depths find confirming evidence of the Archaic Algonkian. Parker’s (1926:14) writing as the excavation proceeded illustrates his prescient thoughts about the age of the Archaic:

“It seems quite likely that the various Algonkian occupations of western New York cover an era of more than 5,000 years and nearly twice as long, for as we enter the archaic period, artifacts become rarer, and many are found deep in the soil.”

At Lamoka Lake, many artifacts indeed were found deep in the soil, as deep as four feet; and pottery— relatively rare at this site compared to stone and bone artifacts or faunal remains— was found only in the upper level. As revealed in Ritchie’s excavations conducted from 1925 through 1928, the Lamoka Lake site was an extremely rich source of information. Eventually estimated as about three acres in size, and covered with a deep midden, the site provided evidence of 380 storage pits (3-7 feet in diameter), many hearths (some in re-used pits), many so-called lodge floors (possibly indicating small houses), 13 large ash-filled features referred to as fire-beds and numerous human burials, some of which were buried in purposefully constructed graves, while others were placed in re-used pits.

Hazy lake scene with trees and boats in foreground

Lamoka Lake at the outlet of the channel

The midden soil is described as dark, organically-stained refuse. It also contained shell (referred to as the freshwater genus Unio, now called Elliptio). It isn’t clear how much shell was contained in the midden, although there may have been a substantial amount, and much may have disintegrated. For example, Ritchie (1932:87-88) describes the midden as extensively “impregnated with calcium salt”, effervescing “furiously” in dilute hydrochloric acid. Ritchie inferred that a “great quantity of calcium carbonate and phosphate was derived from the clam shells, bones and fish scales through the agency of saprophytic bacteria and the action of carbonic acid” as organic matter in the midden decayed. The consideration of fresh-water shell in the midden is important due to later comparisons between the Lamoka Lake site (or a broader Lamoka culture) and the Shell Mound Archaic of Kentucky. Read more…

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Field Techs needed for Eastern New York Work Beginning 6/12

Posted by Kerry Nelson on June 6, 2013 in Archaeology |


Curtin Archaeological Consulting, Inc. is seeking local temporary full time field technicians for 2+ weeks of work beginning 6/12. Projects are in Warren and Schoharie Counties, New York. Starting pay is $12 per hour.  Please email resumes, or if you’ve recently sent a resume, a note about your availability, to jobs-at-curtinarchaeology.com.





The Archaic Period Archaeological Sites at Brewerton, New York

Posted by Edward V. Curtin on May 30, 2013 in Archaeology |


Fort Brewerton Historic Marker "Fort Brewerton, Original Earthworks of Fort Erected by British in 1759"

Fort Brewerton historic marker. Photo credit: Kerry Nelson

Exploring archaeological sites at Brewerton, New York, the famous archaeologist William A. Ritchie (1946:1) found it fitting to consider (with due irony) the opinion of the 1790s French traveler, le duc de La Rouchefoucauld Liancourt. While camped at Fort Brewerton (built in the 1750s near the outlet of Oneida Lake), Liancourt remarked that America basically had no tangible history aside from the forts of the “wars of 1776 or 1756”; and offered the opinion that “past ages can exist here only for generations not yet born.” In the 1790s the United States was brand new, but Liancourt failed to count the ancient history that preceded European colonization. Read more…

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Book Notes, Spring-Summer 2013

Posted by Edward V. Curtin on May 22, 2013 in Book Reviews |


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. Read more…

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Sea Level Rise and Archaeological Sites: The Case of Jamestown, Virginia

Posted by Edward V. Curtin on May 16, 2013 in Archaeology |


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).

Fort wall made of rough posts stands on the river bank

Reconstructed fort wall at the river’s edge. Photo credit: Alyson Hurt

Read more…

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The 2013 New York State Archaeological Association (NYSAA) Annual Meeting

Posted by Edward V. Curtin on May 7, 2013 in Archaeology |


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: Read more…

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Way Down Below the Ocean…Rising Sea-Level and the Atlantean Realms of the Post-Glacial World

Posted by Edward V. Curtin on April 18, 2013 in Archaeology |


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.”

North Sea shoreline, Northumberland UK. Photo credit: Glen Bowman

North Sea shoreline, Northumberland UK. Photo credit: Glen Bowman

Read more…

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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 |


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

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Early to Middle Archaic: Glimpses of Early Ways of Life in Greene County, New York

Posted by Edward V. Curtin on April 4, 2013 in Archaeology |


Looking across a field toward Flint Mine Hill

Flint Mine Hill

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:

Read more…

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