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16 September 2006
Dig suggests ancient nomads in Connecticut built pit houses

A long-held theory about the migrations of ancient inhabitants of eastern Connecticut (USA) might change in light of an archaeological dig that has unearthed homes built into a hillside. Researchers had long believed that the native people who lived in the region about 9,000 years ago were nomadic hunters who moved frequently and did not create permanent living spaces. But an archaeological dig has uncovered dozens of pit houses, structures built into a hill and supported by timbers.
     Elizabeth Chilton, chairman of the anthropology department at the University of Massachusetts, said the find is prompting archaeologists to dig in places, like hillsides, they once thought pointless. Native Americans who lived in the region about 9,000 years ago did not plant permanent crops, and were believed by anthropologists to be nomadic hunters who moved on to new sites after a few days or a week. "Usually we see (native people) as wandering around the landscape," said Kevin McBride, director of research at the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center. "You don't check hillsides, because who's going to live on a hillside?"
     Archaeologists had few sites in the area that dated back several thousand years, and thought that indicated a sparse population. Now, however, they are reviewing that theory and looking at other sites, such as hillsides, for evidence of who occupied the area, what they ate and how they lived. Evidence found in the dig suggests the occupants used the Great Cedar Swamp's ecosystem to gather roots and tubers for food, lived in the pit houses for months on end.
     Dan Forrest, senior archaeologist at the Public Archaeology Survey Team working at Mashantucket, said there is evidence that the people who lived in the pit houses didn't live there all year, because they left several tools behind in places they could be found upon their return. He said the challenge his team is facing now is determining where they went, how long they stayed in the area and what they did when they went away. "When they move off this site, it suggests they're doing something different altogether, like fishing," Forrest said. He said he is looking for links between people from Mashantucket and settlements found in the north, like Maine. If that link exists, it could show that the Northeast was a more populated and interconnected region than first thought.

Sources: Associated Press, Sunjournal.com (10 September 2006)

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