13 July 2006
Dig by students reveals site may date back 10,000 years
The remains of at least one longhouse have been unearthed at a Schoharie Valley excavation site (New York state, USA) that professional archaeologists have called one of the most important in the state. Located on a terrace overlooking the Schoharie Creek, the excavation - named the Pethick Site - has so far uncovered more than 80,000 artifacts. The site even drew dozens of amateur archaeologists and curious townspeople midway through the eight-week dig as word spread of the chance to experience firsthand a professional archaeological excavation.
The site - in its third year of excavation - is run as a field school through cooperative effort by the University at Albany department of anthropology and the Division of Research and Collections at the New York State Museum. "This is probably the most significant excavation I've ever been a part of," said Sean Rafferty, site co-director and assistant professor. Rafferty directed a previous excavation about a half-mile away from the current site and has participated in other digs throughout his career. "It still amazes me that we found one of the most prolific sites in the state completely by chance."
In 2004, the field school was denied access to a site, called Smith-Holloway, a stone's throw away from Pethick. But, after that denial, a local archaeology enthusiast, Carleton Smith of Central Bridge, led the team to an open field where he had uncovered numerous artifacts.
Shovel test pits were dug, yielding rich archaeological deposits. And the Pethick site was born.
The field school program trains undergraduate and postgraduate students in the techniques of professional archaeology. For eight weeks, students learn the basics of archaeological field work, laboratory processing and artifact analysis. Those who complete the work are then able to seek jobs at private or public contract archaeology firms throughout the country.
"We discovered a pitted stone, scraper, projectile point and part of a drill so far today," said UAlbany senior Joshua Porter of Latham. "We've been slowly excavating a fire pit on top of a storage pit, which is a pretty impressive find." Newly discovered artifacts and their carbon dating indicate that people have inhabited the site since the Early Archaic Period, dating to as early as 8,000 BCE Mounting evidence indicates it has been continuously occupied since at least 3,000 BCE.
The occupants of the Schoharie Valley at that time are generally believed to be the ancestors of modern Iroquois cultures, including the Mohawk.
Numerous artifacts from that period have been recovered, including countless chipped stone waste flakes called chert, a byproduct of stone tool manufacture; projectile points, including Brewerton side-notched, Meadowood and Levanna; animal bone; seeds; and pottery chards. Many hearths, fire-cracked rock deposits, storage pits and pieces of pottery patterns have also been documented. Preliminary analysis suggests the presence of numerous house outlines and at least one longhouse.
The daylong event was planned and executed by UAlbany graduate students Steve Moragne and Jamie Moore to generate public interest in archaeology. They were surprised by the number of people who attended and their interest in the history of the Schoharie Valley.
"Local people often have a better idea of site locations and what types of material can be found. Our current excavation is a perfect example of the public and archaeologists working together, which I hope will continue in the future," Rafferty said.
For more information on the site in the Schoharie Valley and future excavations, call the UAlbany anthropology department, 442-4700, or the New York State Museum Cultural Education Center, 474-5976, or go to http://www.albany.edu or http://www.oce.nysed.gov.
Source: Times Union (10 July 2006)