An Unexpected Discovery...
In June of 2021, over 70 Native American projectile points were discovered in the attic at the Barnes Museum. This was surprising because as far as we know, there are no Native American ties to the Barnes family of Southington, CT. The paperwork that accompanied the projectile points analyzed them in the 1930s. Since archaeological classifications have changed over the years, it was now our job to tell the story of these artifacts. The paperwork also mentioned that some of the points may have been found as close as Southington and as far away as Florida. For the purpose of this post, we are going to concentrate on the artifacts found in Connecticut.
Archaeology in Connecticut
While Connecticut is known for its colonial history, it is also rich with Native American prehistory dating as far back as the Paleo-Indian Period in 12,000 BC. Prehistoric rock shelters can still be seen today along many public hiking trails in Connecticut. Rock shelters are mostly located in higher elevations and close to a fresh water source. During the warmer months, Connecticut was actually ideal for hunters and gatherers. With its forests and proximity to rivers for fishing and trading, it was a perfect area for prehistoric Native Americans to settle for a season. Hunters and gatherers were most prevalent in Connecticut during the Archaic period which stared in 5000 BC. The Archaic period is also where we found that most of the artifacts were from.
Late Archaic Period
The oldest artifacts were found in the Late Archaic Period which spans from 5000 BC to 3000 BC. The Native Americans in the Late Archaic time period attained their sustenance through foraging nuts, fruits, wild plants, and hunting small mammals such as deer, and fishing. They would process their food by baking, roasting, and drying. They lived in seasonal base camps with smaller temporary campsites along the Connecticut and Farmington river. They had two separate populations; Laurentian and Narrow Point.
The Laurentian people settled into camps near the rivers and lakes. Their main residence was a base camp with a man made pole structure, seasonal rockshelters, and temporary open air camps.The projectile points found in this time period were Brewerton Notched Points.They are points commonly found in New England, New York, and the Ohio Valley.
Brewerton Notched Points are identified by the notches on their stems. They have a slightly concave base and an expanded stem. They were mainly used as spear points when hunting large mammals. Some of the projectile points were also used as knives. They are made mostly of quartz and chert.
The Narrow Point people settled in micro-environments such as open air camps, quarries, highlands, shell middens, rock shelters.Their lithics include lamoka and squibnocket points made of local quartz and quartzite.
Lamoka points are small points with an expanding stem and straight base. Like the Laurentien Points, Lamoka points are found in New England and the Ohio valley. They were used as dart points attached to a spear or an atlatl.
Squibnocket points can either be stemmed or triangular. The stemmed point is really thin with a long stem and excurvate base. The squibnocket triangle point can either be equilateral or isosceles. The base is concave. Both points were used as dark points to attach to a spear.
Terminal Archaic Period
The Terminal Archaic period spans from 3000 bc to 1000 bc. It evolved from the Late Archaic period. During this time, Native Americans started to expand trading along the rivers and coasts in Connecticut to obtain exotic materials from distant regions. The two traditions were the Narrow Point Tradition and Susquehanna/Broad Spear Tradition. Although they lived in the same time period, archaeologists have debated whether their traditions were truly separate like the Late Archaic period.
The Narrow Point people evolved from the descendants of the Late Archaic period. They lived in similar dwellings and areas as their predecessors. In their camps, residents were broken up and lived together according to labor. They still used squibnocket and lamoka points as spear points connected to an atlatl.
The Susquehanna/Broad Spear tradition evolved from the Laurentian tradition. They settled near rivers and lakes. Rivers made trading easier. They were known for their snook kill and orient points. These points were used as knives, scrapers, and spears.
Late Woodland Period
We also found a few projectile points that dated back to the Late Woodland period which spans from 1000 bc to 1500 ad. During this time, the Woodland people were living in more permanent year-round settlements where they grew crops and hunted local, small mammals. They lived near marshlands and estuaries. They established trade networks with European settlers which spanned throughout most of North America.
The main crops that they grew were corn, beans, and squash which were known as the “three sisters” crops. They would cook their food in clay vessels.
This is also when projectile points were used as arrowheads to hunt their food. The Levanna point was one of the first true arrowheads that was attached to a bow and arrow. These points have a mostly straight edge with a concave base.
Native American Cookware
Prior to ceramic technology, natural materials like soapstone were used for cooking. A fragment of a soapstone bowl was found within the collection of projectile points. Although there is an ancient Native American soapstone quarry in Barkhamsted, CT, we are unsure of where this bowl was produced. In Connecticut, soapstone was a readily available material. It is an ideal vessel at the time because it was heat resistant and waterproof. It could be used to cook over an open flame. Since soapstone is a soft rock, it was easier to carve and shape. However, it was still a very time consuming process.
Soapstone was quickly phased out upon the advent of ceramic technology. A small pottery sherd was also found within the assemblage. The Niantic Tradition pottery existed in the Woodland period around 750 to 400 bc. This style of pottery was prevalent in Connecticut. The pottery sherd is made of clay and may have been fabric stamped by a woven mat. The raw clay was ground into a powder and mixed with water to create the material needed to make the pot. After the stamp is applied to the vessel, the pot is put into the fire to finish it. The pattern is not just for aesthetics. It helped the pot evenly distribute heat while cooking as well as make the vessel slip resistant. The vessels were made by women either locally or they were traded for.
Sometimes you can find the most unexpected discovery in your own backyard or in this case, an attic at a historical home museum. These artifacts have giving us a snapshot into Connecticut's prehistory that goes beyond the written record. We were lucky enough to be able to use updated archaeological methods have helped us determine where exactly these artifacts fit into the history of Connecticut.
About Nadia Dillon: Nadia recently received her second Bachelors degree at Central Connecticut State University in May 2021. She majored in Anthropology and minored in Archaeology. Her area of interest while attending CCSU was Native American prehistory.
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