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16 July 2006
Sharpened quartz may be 5,000 years old

Chris Fountain had long suspected that, thousands of years ago, native Americans hunted and camped along the same eastern Greenwich (Conncticut, USA) shoreline where he grew up. Recently he unearthed the kind of artifact he had always longed for. "It was right here, by the tomato plant," Fountain recalled, kneeling beside the garden, set back from the creek. "I was pleased at first, but not astonished. Then my archaeologist friend said it could be thousands of years old. That got me."
     Archaeologists say Fountain discovered a 3.5-inch-long spear point or knife blade, approximately 3,800 to 5,000 years old. The quartz point was formed during the Late Archaic Period's so-called 'Sylvan Lake Culture,' archaeologists say, when tribal bands of three or four hunting-and-gathering families followed the seasons for sustenance.
     "The tool he found belongs to what is known as the `narrow point tradition,'" said Ernie Wiegand, professor of archaeology at Norwalk Community College. "It may have been the tip of a hunting weapon, at the age of which I estimate it to be, because the bow and arrow had yet to be developed. It may have been affixed to the end of a javelin or lance - I suspect, because of its larger size, to a hand-held spear." The point likely was forged by striking a piece of quartz with another stone, Wiegand said, to hunt white tail deer - the native people's primary game.
     The Sylvan Lake Culture, named for a lake in Dutchess County, N.Y., that has yielded significant archaeological finds, encompasses southeastern New York and western Connecticut. Its people didn't farm - they preceded horticulture by about 3,000 years, Wiegand said - though they're noted for making more effective use of game animals. "The people tended not to stay put in one spot year-round, but moved around different environments to where plants and animals were more easily obtained," he said.
     Fountain's point is in unusually good condition, Wiegand said. "We find tools of the period quite frequently. There seems to be a bit of a population increase at that time in history," he said. "But in terms of finding an artifact of that size in perfect condition, that's not all that common."
     State Archaeologist Nicholas Bellantoni said the location of Fountain's point likely means that natives had made the area their seasonal home. "These people exploited a wide range of natural resources and you see a real range of diversity in that exploitation. They were fine-tuned to the environment. This was probably before the time of clay ceramics, really a technology of bone, stone and wood."

Source: Hartford Courant (15 July 2006)

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