I am very pleased to introduce Jeremy Moore, the author of this post. Jeremy is the son of David and Theresa Moore of Schaghticoke. He is a graduate of Hoosic Valley, where he was my Spanish student for years, has his B.A. from the University of Evansville, Indiana and his M.A. in experimental archeology from the University of Exeter in Great Britain. Take it away, Jeremy!
Most people around the area are aware that Schaghticoke was once home to Native Americans. If you didn’t know that the name Schaghticoke meant something like “where the waters mingle”, the mascots of both Stillwater and Hoosic Valley sport teams (Warriors and Indians) should have tipped you off. I am sure some of you out there are still wondering where the evidence is. Sure, your grandfather once found an arrowhead while walking through a cornfield or you have a dusty old “artifact” on a shelf in the basement or you’ve been to the Witenagemot Oak near the Knickerbocker Mansion, but is there any solid research out there that backs up what we all think is true? Well, the answer to that question may come from an unlikely source.
In the early 1990’s a housing community was proposed for land between Stillwater-Bridge Road and the Hoosic River transected by Bevis Road, now the site of the Liberty Ridge Farm. Because of its location, New York State mandated the land to be investigated for archaeological potential before construction could begin. This process was initiated by Hartgen Archeological Associates which first had to determine if any significant archaeological or historical sites were on or near the property. They determined there were 18 sites of historic or prehistoric significance within a one-mile radius, therefore field investigations were necessary.
entrance to Liberty Ridge Farm, source of the town’s small archealogical collection
A Phase I archeological survey was conducted shortly afterward consisting of small test pits dug on a grid across the site, usually about 50 feet apart. Hartgen found five concentrations of artifacts produced by man. This meant that further archeological work, called a Phase II investigation, needed to occur, by NYS regulations.
Work continued later that year, conducted by a second firm, Greenhouse Consultants, an archaeological firm based in Atlanta with an office in New York City. They focused on the five areas of artifacts previously discovered. They dug further shovel tests, opening up larger holes, units 1 meter by 1 meter or larger, and used heavy machinery to dig large trenches and strip away topsoil. As is the case with most land in the region, the proposed construction area had been extensively farmed over the years which leaves the top foot or so of soil disturbed from decades of cultivation. This area is referred to as “plow zone” and must be removed before scientific excavation can occur, since the plow zone is too mixed up to produce any significant data. Archaeologists rely heavily on the concept of stratigraphy in the layers of soil excavated to analyze results and determine the relationship between artifacts and features uncovered.
After the survey was complete, landowners Robert and Cynthia Gifford donated the artifacts found to the Town of Schaghticoke. These boxes of artifacts and the documents which describe them have been in the Town Historian’s office since that time. Recently I analyzed them.
Greenhouse began work on five small sites within the project area previously identified by Hartgen Archeological Associates. Of the five sites identified, only three were investigated archaeologically because the construction plans were adjusted so sites 4 and 5 would not be disturbed. Of these three the archaeologists determined that only one was of prehistoric significance and warranted inclusion in the State and National Register of Historic places. In excavations they discovered several stone tools, fire cracked rock, prehistoric pottery and a pit, likely to have been a fire pit. The most exciting part of these discoveries are of course the tools. The presence of stone tools tells us a couple of things, first of all that there was prehistoric activity in this area of course, but more importantly the amount and type of tools can tell us what the inhabitants were doing here.
The tools discovered in this excavation include several projectile points (commonly referred to as arrowheads), a drill tip, several generic biface tools, and a large hand-axe. A biface tool is simply a tool which was worked on both sides of the stone in order to make the tool in a specific way. This tells us that the individuals at the site were likely doing specific tasks over a larger amount of time because bifacial tools require more skill and time to produce and therefore were likely to be used for specialized activities. There was also a core, a piece of chert from which small blades or drill tips were being made. The tools were also made of different types of stone.
While it is good to see bifacial tools, the more exciting items found are most definitely the projectile points. We refer to these as projectile points because they were not always just for arrows. They could have been for spears or other tools. As an archaeologist I can tell you that whenever you find a projectile point, it is exciting. Of course it is always nice to find tools of any sort, but the more exciting part is that projectile points are what we call diagnostic artifacts. This means that this artifact can tell us something specific about the culture that produced it. Unlike flint flakes or generic bifaces, projectile points have stylistic forms which vary from culture to culture. Each group of people made their points differently at different periods of time which can tell us where and when the tools were made.
The interesting part about the projectile points from this site is that there are four different types, including a Normanskill and several Levanna. The Normanskill points date from the Late Archaic period (around 3000 BC) and the Levanna to the Late Woodland period (650-1890 AD). The Normanskill point was associated with the artifact concentration noted as Site 2 and this finding was backed up by a carbon date from one of the charcoal pits of 3240 BC, while the Levanna points were found in excavations throughout the project area.
What this tells us overall is that the area was used by multiple cultures over a wide span of history. The lack of evidence of structures indicates this site was not inhabited permanently, but likely used for a hunting and fishing camp, thanks to its proximity to the river, or as a stop- over while traveling. The presence of tools like the hand axe and the drill tips tells us that the individuals using the site were doing more than just sleeping, they were likely spending some time away from home gathering materials or processing the animals and fish killed for transporting. Also, the time span extends to when Europeans began to settle the area, around 1700. This is also indicated by the large number of artifacts found in such a limited investigation. The multiple cultures represented by the different projectile points means this site was used over thousands of years by a variety of people.
So the next time you are driving down Stillwater Bridge Road, you might want to take a moment and think about the people who game our town its name and used the land to its fullest thousands of years before any of us ever set foot in the corn maze!
This photo shows a small sample of the artifacts found, with a pen for size. In future I plan to exhibit a larger group at the town hall, but construction of the exhibit will take a little while. In the photo, the top left projectile point is called “Normanskill” and dates from around 3000 B.C. stylistically. It was found near a charcoal pit- where there had been a fire- which dated from 3240 B.C., which confirms this date. The bottom left projectile point is a “Levanna” point stylistically, dating from the late historical era- from 650 A.D. on. Points like this were found in several places in the excavation area, and would have been used by the Schaghticoke Indians whom the first European settlers encountered in our town.
The other two items are called “biface blades,” and could date from a wide range of time. They could have been used as spear points or knives or scrapers. The one at the lower right is unfinished. Who knows why it was not done? Interesting to think about. One of the other items in the collection, but not pictured, is a core of flint, which would have been used for making blades and points, indicating manufacture on the site.
I thank Jeremy Moore for his help with all of this. As I have written the above without him- he is off touring the world- I take responsibility for any errors!