The Ja Mar site is located along the Nemasket River in historic Middleborough, Massachusetts. It was occupied from the Middle Archaic to the Late Woodland period, and around A.D. 1400 it served as a Wampanoag village. The Nemasket River was a vital resource and the reason the village was located here. To this day, the river has one of the largest herring runs on the Eastern Seaboard. The river may also be why this area around Middleborough has one of the highest densities of Native American sites in the state of Massachusetts.
The site had been periodically subjected to surface collecting and amateur digging during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The first documented excavations occurred in the 1930s by the Massachusetts Archaeological Society (MAS), during which little was found. Excavations by the MAS in the 1950s and ‘60s uncovered a large number of artifacts, including grit-tempered pottery with incised or stamped surface treatments, and several unfired clay balls that may have been evidence of pottery making. Stone tools such as atlatl weights, drills, knives, scrapers, pestles, an adze, grooved axes, hammerstones, pendants, and projectile points were also found, as well as debitage from tool manufacturing. A carved bear head effigy pestle was also recovered from the site.
This excerpt was published in our WINTER 2018 Issue of American Archaeology.
Browse the article excerpts in our last issue: FALL 2018.
In the summer of 1894, archaeologist Ernest Volk of Harvard University was excavating a promising prehistoric site in New Jersey’s Delaware River Valley when he hit an unyielding obstacle: money. “Owing to lack of funds,” he lamented in his journal, he had to suspend the dig.
More than a century later, Volk’s financial frustration has a familiar ring to many archaeologists working in the United States. Although archaeological research is less expensive than many other scientific endeavors—there’s no need for a billion-dollar atom smasher or interplanetary spacecraft—archaeologists often struggle to find the cash they need to conduct digs, date objects, and catalog and curate collections. Some spend as much or more time writing grant proposals and fundraising as they do conducting research. “There’s a lot of anxiety around funding,” said Peter Gould, a consulting scholar at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. “You get the sense that everywhere money is tight, and the competition is intense.”
The angst is understandable. Archaeologists working at universities, for example, face sobering odds in trying to win a prestigious grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) or the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), two of the U.S. government’s biggest funders of academic archaeology. Together, the two agencies award several dozen major archaeology grants each year, which amount to a small fraction of the requests they receive.
Other trends are contributing to the problem. Over the past few decades, the pool of money that academic archaeologists can compete for, from both the federal government and private foundations, has stagnated, even as the costs of projects have often grown. At the same time, some state and local governments have pared support for programs that help study and protect cultural resources. In Congress, conservative lawmakers have repeatedly questioned whether taxpayers should be supporting archaeology and other “soft” sciences; they have singled-out specific NSF-funded archaeology projects for ridicule, and called for the money to be spent on other things. President Donald Trump’s administration has echoed some of those views, proposing deep cuts to agencies that support archaeological projects.
More in our Winter 2018 Issue of American Archaeology, Vol. 22 No. 4. Browse Contents: Winter 2018.
Napoleon should have listened to his brother. Joseph Bonaparte, the defeated emperor’s older sibling, had offered to trade places as the English closed in on them in 1815, hoping their captors would mistake him for Napoleon. The two did look remarkably similar. Joseph had organized a ship to the U.S., but Napoleon chose not to trade places, believing the British would simply exile him to an estate in the English countryside. As we now know, Napoleon would have fared far better by accepting the offer of the loyal brother he’d cajoled, controlled, and made a king of Naples and Spain.
So Joseph took that ship, along with an entourage including his interpreter, chef, and secretary, who had sewn emergency cash into his clothes. Napoleon ended up on the remote island of Saint Helena—”this cursed rock,” as he called it—in a damp, leaky house infested with rats and buffeted by relentless winds. Joseph, on the other hand, soon acquired a country estate near Bordentown, New Jersey. The estate, known as Point Breeze, included a house that was purportedly removed so that he could build a mansion. He bought more and more land, until his property sprawled over roughly 2,200 acres.
Point Breeze is the subject of an investigation by Monmouth University archaeologist Richard Veit, who conducted field schools there from 2006 to 2008. “Our project was to see if anything had remained of his grand estate,” Veit said, “the most famous landscape in the early nineteenth-century Mid-Atlantic region.” The project’s co-director, Michael Gall, added, “We wanted to know how the king was living in New Jersey, particularly in an area that was Quaker-dominated.”
Excerpt, Read More in our Winter 2018 Issue of American Archaeology, Vol. 22 No. 4. Browse Contents: WINTER 2018 .
In 1535, an outbreak of scurvy ravaged the crew of French explorer Jacques Cartier’s expedition to the St. Lawrence River. Twenty-five men died before a friendly Iroquois chief summoned tribal healers to prepare the crew a drink from the bark and needles of “a magical tree.” Thanks to that vitamin C-rich hemlock tea, there were no further deaths. Cartier wrote later that “no amount of drugs from Europe or Africa could have done what the Iroquois drugs did.”
In 1561, Diego de Landa, who would later become the Spanish bishop of the archdiocese of Yucatán in Mexico, began cataloging hundreds of medicinal plants used by Maya healers, and declared “there is no disease to which native Indians do not apply the plants.” For five centuries, doctors, explorers, botanists, ethnographers, and archaeologists have marveled at—and puzzled over—the nature of healing in ancient America. Anthropologist Daniel E. Moerman’s Native American Medicinal Plants describes more than 2,700 plants whose uses ranged from toothache remedies to contraceptives. Most of what is known about the subject today comes from historical accounts and ethnographic studies of living traditional healers. Lately, however, archaeology has been providing its own fresh insights into the world of ancient medicine.
At Piedras Negras, a large Maya site in northwest Guatemala, U.S., Canadian, and Guatemalan archaeologists recently identified the ruins of an open-air market that, according to Brown University archaeologist Andrew Scherer, was a focal point not only of ancient trade and commerce, but also of ancient medical practices. Prior research at the site in the 1930s and 1990s identified and unearthed several nearby sweat baths, which were traditionally used by indigenous people for spiritual and physical healing. The identification of the sweat baths was based largely on their architectural form. In 2016 and 2017, Scherer, Charles Golden of Brandeis University, Guatemalan archaeologist Mόnica Urquizú, and their team returned to Piedras Negras for further investigations. They employed current excavation methods and sophisticated laboratory techniques such as paleoethnobotany to better understand what ancient activities took place at this part of the site. They found traces of a virtual pharmacopeia of medicinal plants, and an astonishing number of decayed and cavity-ridden teeth that, because they are unassociated with any human remains, may be signs of a thousand-year-old dental practice.
Excerpt, Read More in our Winter 2018 Issue of American Archaeology, Vol. 22 No. 4. Browse Contents: WINTER 2018.
On an August day in 1810, in a courtroom in Albany, New York, a thirty-seven-year-old mother of three signed a document that changed her life forever. The woman, named Susanah, didn’t actually sign the document; being illiterate, and she could only mark it with an “X.” Susanah had spent her life doing household work to maintain the lifestyles of others, specifically a wealthy Albany civic leader named Abraham Ten Broeck, who had served as a general in the Revolutionary War, and then later as Albany’s mayor, and his wife, the former Elizabeth van Rensselaer, the sister of the largest landowner in the region.
The Ten Broecks lived in a large Federal-style mansion that sat on a hill in the outskirts of Albany, giving them a sweeping view of the schooners and sloops sailing into port on the nearby Hudson River, and an equally sweeping view of Rensselaerwyck, a vast estate that had been in Elizabeth’s family for generations. During this time, when the labor of enslaved African-Americans was fueling the rise of huge cotton and tobacco plantations in the South, slavery also thrived in the North. Throughout the colonial period, wealthy merchants bought and sold slaves openly in the taverns of New York City, and slaves constructed roads and docks and built landmark buildings, including New York City’s first city hall. Slave labor also fueled the rise of agriculture throughout the Hudson Valley, and newspapers like the Albany Evening Gazette ran for-sale ads of girls, boys, men, and women of African descent.
Slavery ended in New York in 1827, and by the mid-1800s, once downtrodden former slaves and their children had formed a remarkable community of middle-class black abolitionists. Historical accounts sketch out a rough narrative of how they fought for equality and whisked hundreds of fugitive slaves to freedom, making Albany a major hub on the Underground Railroad. Nonetheless, little is known about the day-to-day lives of these people as they made their transition from slavery to a free, middle-class life. But archaeological digs at the Ten Broeck mansion and several nearby homes are changing that.
Excerpt, Read More in our Winter 2018 Issue of American Archaeology, Vol. 22 No. 2. Browse Contents : Winter 2018.
Hearing reports of fascinating and incredibly preserved artifacts emerging from the dredged muck on Florida’s southwest coast, Frank Hamilton Cushing with the Bureau of American Ethnology in Washington, D.C. led an expedition to recover these items. The expedition, which was sponsored by William Pepper of the University of Pennsylvania and philanthropist Phoebe Hearst, landed on Key Marco in 1896. Cushing and his small crew began to methodically dig in the boggy area where previous finds had been made by the landowner. They began uncovering perfectly-preserved carved and painted wood, shell, and other artifacts from a previously unknown pre-Columbian civilization Cushing called the “Key Dwellers” and who we have come to know as the Calusa Indians. These artifacts dated to the period between A.D. 500 and 1500.
The crew recovered at least twenty-three wooden face masks and carved and painted wooden animal figureheads such as the renowned Key Marco Cat. Cushing surmised that these must have been used ceremonially. “These [face masks] were found just as they had been put away…in sets, each complete, with its appropriate animal figurehead, and each evidently designed for use by a single priestly actor in the old myth-dramas,” he wrote.
The researchers found other objects made of gourds, bone, teeth, antler, and stone as well as a variety of carving tools such as shark-tooth knives. They also uncovered cordage, woven mats, ceramics, and fishing gear. While submerged in the briny muck, the artifacts remained pristine, but once exposed to the air, many disintegrated practically before the researchers’ eyes. Expedition artist and photographer Wells M. Sawyer captured many of the artifacts’ details in his beautiful watercolor paintings.
Excerpt, More in our Winter 2018 Issue of American Archaeology, Vol. 22 No. 4. Browse Contents: Winter 2018
The most recent issue of American Archaeology Magazine, Winter 2018-19, is now available!
COVER: These are three of the amazing items discovered by archaeologists who excavated Key Marco in southwest Florida in 1896. These fragile items are thought to be somewhere between 500 and 1,500 years old.
CREDIT: Department of Anthropology, Smithsonian Institution. Photo by Lucia RM Martino. Catalog #A240915, A240424, and A240203
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Please help save irreplaceable archaeological treasures threatened across the country. Become part of one of the most important forces protecting America’s cultural Heritage – the ONLY national non-profit organization preserving archaeological sites across the country. With the help of generous donors like you, we have saved more than 525 significant sites in 45 states – including colonial homesteads, Rock Art sites, Iroquois villages, Chacoan Pueblos, Paleo-Indian campsites and the list goes on. BUT there are still MANY MORE that need your help.
Among the sites we were able to save this year the East Saint Louis a Mississippian period (A.D. 1000-1500) mound and village center located about five miles west of the World Heritage Cahokia Mounds. The site covers seven house lots and is the latest addition to the Conservancy’s East Saint Louis Mound Group Preserve, an ongoing project that started in 2006. This mound group, is a platform mound that lies north of The Conservancy’s East Saint Louis Mound Group Preserve, an ongoing project that started in 2006. This mound group, first mapped in 1880, was comprised of about 45 mounds and extended for about a mile in a crescent east of the Mississippi River. Unfortunately, all but one mound disappeared under the once prospering city of East St. Louis. To date, the Conservancy has preserved 40 parcels covering about four acres and hopes to one day incorporate the mound group into the Cahokia Mound.
Threatened by development, we preserved Ebbert Spring, a stunning multi-component site centered around a limestone spring in south-central Pennsylvania. This 8.5-acre site was occupied from early Paleo-Indian times until today. Today working with our partners the historic home will become a museum, and the surrounding site a public preserve for families to visit.
This year Ja Mar Farms was also added to the 525 sites the Conservancy has protected, over our 38 years. This 41-acre site contains artifacts and features from the Archaic period to the Late Woodland, with the primary occupation dating to circa A.D. 1400.
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Who We Are: The Archaeological Conservancy is the only national, nonprofit organization that identifies, acquires, and preserves the most significant archaeological sites in the United States. Since its beginning in 1980, the Conservancy has preserved over 525 sites across the nation, ranging in age from the earliest habitation sites in North America to a 19th-century frontier army post. We are building a national system of archaeological preserves to ensure the survival of our irreplaceable cultural heritage.
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By Debra Reid, email@example.com; in the Lovelock Review-Miner, Nevada 5/30/18; published by permission
This summer, a University of Nevada, Reno archaeological team will “re-visit” the Leonard Rockshelter near Lovelock. Updated excavation and radiocarbon dating methods may confirm the site was occupied even earlier in time by some of the first residents of North America.
The project will test a previous claim the site contains evidence of the “Clovis” people who scientists believe were the ancestors of modern Native American tribes and lived around 13,000 years ago. If the claim is true, it would increase Leonard Rockshelter’s scientific significance.
Past research indicated prehistoric human occupation ranged from about 8700 to 700 years before present but that could change with the UNR Leonard Rockshelter excavation project.
Dr. Geoffrey Smith described his project in a proposal for The Archaeological Conservancy (TAC), owner of the site south of Lovelock. Smith is an Associate Professor and Executive Director of the UNR Department of Anthropology’s Great Basin Paleoindian Research Unit.
“It (the proposal) lays out the reason why we are returning- to evaluate an old claim that the site contains a Clovis-aged occupation,” he said last week. “If that is correct, it would be a really big deal. However, with the only information collected by the site’s original excavators, we have no way of knowing.”
To protect the site for such research, TAC bought 640-acres of private land in 2002 from the Santa Fe Pacific Gold Corporation, said Cory Wilkins, Western Regional Director for TAC. Those interested in Leonard Rockshelter must contact the group and request a tour of the site.
Leonard Rockshelter is part of a series of caves and shelters in the Humboldt Range. Shelters and caves were eroded by the wave action of Lake Lahontan. Scientists say the giant lake reached its final highest level around 15,300 years ago then gradually receded leaving behind the evidence of prehistoric human occupation.
After guano miners found artifacts in 1936, Leonard Rockshelter was excavated in 1937 and 1950 by archaeologist Robert Heizer of the University of California, Berkeley. He unearthed a “modest assemblage” of stone, fiber and wooden artifacts including wooden atlatl foreshafts, obsidian flakes and projectile points.Obsidian flakes were recovered by Heizer from below a layer of bat guano radiocarbon dated to around 13,000 years ago, Smith said.
If the age of obsidian flakes and other artifacts found below the 13,000 year old material is confirmed, that could indicate the rockshelter was inhabited prior to that time during the terminal Pleistocene Epoch. The Pleistocene Epoch, otherwise known as the Ice Age, lasted from about 2.6 million years ago to 11,000 years ago and was followed by the current Holocene Epoch.
“If clear evidence of human occupation (e.g., obsidian flakes) does exist in a primary context below deposits dating to 13,000 years ago, then the site could join the growing list of Clovis-aged (and perhaps, pre-Clovis) occupations in North America,” Smith said.
Leonard Rockshelter artifacts were some of the first to be radiocarbon dated, a new research method at the time. Wooden foreshafts that served as part of a weapon system tipped with chert or obsidian projectile points were directly dated to around 7900 years ago placing them near the beginning of the middle Holocene Epoch. Smith said radiocarbon dating has improved so new dates on sediment and artifacts should be more accurate than Heizer’s earlier estimates.
In his research proposal, Smith details the nature of the evidence he is looking for:
“The primary goal of our proposed work is to test the hypothesis that Leonard Rockshelter contains evidence of human occupation dating to the terminal Pleistocene. Evidence needed to support this hypothesis includes artifacts or features of unquestionable human origin situated at the same depth or below organic material (guano, charcoal, wood, etc.) radiocarbon dated to the terminal Pleistocene.”
Smith said his team will excavate smaller increments of sediment in some of the four trenches dug earlier by Heizer’s team. A large block of roof fall, from the cliff above the rockshelter, may be broken up and removed so the ground below can be excavated, Smith says in his proposal.
Meanwhile, Wilkins would like to recruit local volunteers, known as site stewards, to help him keep an eye on the place. Site stewards visit TAC preserves and report any threats to the sites.
Vandalism and theft can destroy unique evidence of ancient human history. The group’s objective is to preserve the Leonard Rockshelter and other sites for further research.
“The site is fragile and susceptible to looting,” Wilkins said. There can be big penalties for looting or damaging archaeological sites but they vary from state to state, he said.
Wilkins said he’s looking for more sites in need of protection. TAC buys archaeological sites on private property that would otherwise be paved over and destroyed by modern development.
“Right now, my push is Great Basin archaeology,” he said. “We’re looking at anything out here but, the challenge in Nevada is there’s so much public land. The BLM, Forest Service and other public agencies own 82 percent of Nevada so that limits private property that’s for sale that has archaeology on it. Lovelock Cave is BLM property so BLM archaeologists manage that site.”
Wilkins said he’ll give tours of Leonard Rockshelter upon request. There are petroglyphs on layers of tufa “pillows” covering parts of the cliff above and fallen boulders below conceal dark chambers that could still hold undiscovered clues about the shelter’s former inhabitants.
Smith said petroglyphs are difficult to age but researchers believe the Leonard Rockshelter motifs were carved sometime in the last 4,000 years due to their elevation. In earlier times, the shelter floor was lower and carved areas would have been more difficult for the artists to reach.
The view from Leonard Rockshelter includes other rock outcroppings and what from a distance look like more rockshelters. Wilkins said he’s got more exploring to do in Pershing County.
Those interested in serving as site stewards or a tour of the Leonard Rockshelter are asked to get in touch with Wilkins. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org
5/30/18 in the Lovelock Review-Miner, published by permission
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The area in east-central Louisiana, where the Mount Bayou Mound is located, is characterized by flat, poorly-drained land that is subject to flooding and is interlaced with bayous, rivers, and lakes. The Ouachita, Tensas, and Black rivers meander throughout these parishes and the forest cover is a mixture of hardwoods. The rich soil makes the higher land surfaces that do not flood ideal farmland, and the woods and bottomlands are a haven for hunters and fishermen.
But today’s farmers and hunters are not the first to take advantage of the natural bounty of this part of Louisiana. Ceramics found at the site indicate that people were living at the Mount Bayou Mound, in Catahoula Parish at least as early as A.D. 700, a time when what archaeologists refer to as the Coles Creek culture began. The Coles Creek were socially complex people who did not practice maize agriculture. Instead, they were expert hunters, gatherers, and foragers. Coles Creek people are considered socially complex in part because they constructed mound sites throughout the southern portion of the Lower Mississippi Valley. Ceramics made by Plaquemine people, who date to about A.D. 1200 and who also built mounds, have been found at Mount Bayou Mound as well.
When The previous owner learned that the approximately six-foothigh mound of dirt on his property was actually a Native American mound, he contacted Chip McGimsey, the Louisiana State archaeologist, who visited the site. McGimsey confirmed that it was an ancient mound that had previously been recorded, and he suggested approaching the Conservancy about preserving it. The Conservancy was able to negotiate a price for the mound and will maintain it as a permanent archaeological preserve. The Mount Bayou Mound will hold the secret of its origin for future archaeologists.
This excerpt was published in our FALL 2018 Issue of American Archaeology.
Browse the article excerpts in our last issue: SUMMER 2018.