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cover Current Research in New York Archaeology: A.D. 700–1300

edited by Christina B. Rieth and John P. Hart


Chapter 1: Introduction to Current Research in New York Archaeology A.D. 700–1300

Christina B. Rieth and John P. Hart

Abstract. The early Late Prehistoric period (A.D. 7001300) is a time in New York that traditionally has been seen by archaeologists as a period of change, from mobile hunter-gatherers to settled agricultural villagers. This traditional understanding of the past is being replaced by more dynamic understandings based on the applications of new methods, techniques and theories. As such, archaeologists working on this slice of time in New York are in a period of transition. The works presented in this volume reflect that transition. Here we place the volume in the broader context of research on this vital period of inquiry in New York.

Our understanding of the past is dynamic and ever evolving with continual introductions of new theories, methods, and techniques that are applied to the analyses of new and extant collections. Newly identified sites through academic and cultural resource management research help to round out our datasets and provide more evidence with which to build understandings of the past. In the course of continuing research, new paradigms are developed and older ones abandoned.

This describes the current state of early Late Prehistoric (cal. A.D. 700–1300) research in New York. Much has changed over the past decade in our understandings of this slice of time. For much of the state it had been considered traditionally as a time of transition as indigenous, ancestral northern Iroquoian hunter-gatherers adopted agriculture and settled village life or as a time of replacement as Iroquoian agriculturists migrated to the region and replaced and absorbed indigenous hunter-gatherers. We now know that the histories of the various traits used to create these pictures of the past are very different from what was thought on the basis of traditional approaches. Attempting to capture the diversity of human behaviors in the context of northern Iroquoian “origins” is impossible, as is attributing major changes in how people lived on the basis of agricultural crop adoption. As a result, archaeologists working on this span of time in New York find themselves in a period of transition and replacement. The old tried-and-true approaches to the past are being questioned. New approaches are arising with interconnecting, complementary views. These approaches challenge us to create understandings that are much more dynamic, detailed, and, perhaps, reflective of how people lived their lives. The chapters in this volume reflect that state of transition.

Summary of Early Late Prehistoric Research

There are many ways of knowing the past. A number of these stem from archaeology, a discipline that studies the past through the materials people left behind and that preserve under prevailing environmental conditions at any given location. There are no tenets that delineate how archaeologists view the past. Rather, archaeological understandings are dependent on theoretical orientations. Today, there are many generally complementary theoretical orientations. What separates early twenty-first century archaeology from early to mid-twentieth century archaeology, perhaps, is a greater degree of theoretical self-consciousness. Curtin (this volume), for example, draws on resilience theory to build a new understanding of how Native Americans used the upper Hudson River valley during the early Late Prehistoric.

Parker-Ritchie-Funk Taxonomy
As described by Hart (this volume), Arthur C. Parker, William A. Ritchie, and Robert Funk and their various colleagues developed and perpetuated the most influential conceptualization of New York’s past in the twentieth century. This conceptualization consisted of the extensional definition of culture-historic taxa at various levels of inclusion based on artifact traits and inferred subsistence, settlement, and other behavioral traits. Once a site was assigned to a particular taxonomic level within the hierarchy (phase>culture>stage), it fell into an established interpretive pattern for that hierarchy. Assignment within the culture-historic scheme was, perhaps, the most important aspect of analysis for any given site. In synthetic publications, specific sites were used to illustrate the characteristics of particular phases within this hierarchy (e.g., Ritchie 1944, 1969; Ritchie and Funk 1973; Tuck 1971). Higher taxonomic order, regional interpretive narratives were then constructed into broader regional understandings of the past, often framed in the context of trait complexes. Trait-specific analyses were anchored in the taxonomic scheme, with taxa being the units of analysis and interpretation. The narratives themselves became more consciously theoretical beginning in the 1960s, but the overall pattern of site-level descriptions with regional interpretive narratives did not change substantially. There are, of course, many exceptions to this characterization, but the underlying foundation of all approaches until recently was the Parker-Ritchie-Funk culture history, regardless of theoretical orientation.

There have been several critiques and calls for abandonment of all or portions of the Parker-Ritchie-Funk scheme based on trait analyses and new suites of radiocarbon dates (e.g., Gates St Pierre 2001; Hart and Brumbach 2003, 2005; Smith 1997) that pertain to the time of investigation represented by this volume. However, the influence and persistence of the scheme is still reflected by the volume’s chapters. This occurs primarily in the use of time periods derived from the original Parker-Ritchie-Funk stages (e.g., Brumbach, Smith). However, Hart (this volume) repeats his original calls with Brumbach for the abandonment of the scheme. Curtin (this volume) approaches this issue pragmatically by using Parker-Ritchie-Funk taxa when referencing older works, but otherwise avoids them. Rossen (2010), on the other hand, has suggested the exchange of Parker-Ritchie-Funk taxa for more explicitly ethnic terms. This suggests a return to early twentieth-century practice (e.g., Parker 1922) prior to the widespread adoption of the Midwest Taxonomic Method in eastern North America (Ritchie 1936), which purposely eschewed such designations (McKern 1939). Whether the Parker-Ritchie-Funk scheme will be abandoned in favor of research-problem specific taxonomies or continue to be used in whole, part, or revised will be a critical issue for the early Late Prehistoric archaeology in the coming years.

New Methods, Techniques, and Excavations
Our understandings of the past change as new methods and techniques are developed and applied in archaeological analyses. In many cases such work has resulted in interpretations that are dramatically different from those originally proposed, providing more complete understandings of the past. Examples include the analysis of ceramic attributes at several early Late Prehistoric sites in the Finger Lakes Region of New York (e.g., Brumbach this volume; Gates St Pierre 2003; Hart and Brumbach 2009; Schulenberg 2002; Smith 2005, this volume; Wonderly and Sterling 2007:19–26), lithic and faunal remains from the Tufano site (Anderson and Rieth 2004), human and animal remains from the Engelbert site (Beisaw 2007, 2010), social interactions in the St. Lawrence River Valley (Morin 2001:65–100), the chronologies of ceramic types from sites in central New York (e.g., Hart and Brumbach 2003, 2005; Miroff 2009; Schulenberg 2002; Smith, this volume).

Several archaeologists have also undertaken excavations at previously excavated sites to further verify earlier results or generate larger samples for analyses. Included among these are studies of the settlement patterns at the Apalachin Creek site near Owego, Tioga County (Carmody et al. 2007), reanalysis of the lithic artifacts at the White site in Chenango County (Card 2002), reevaluation of the age, function, and distribution of keyhole structures in south-central New York (MacDonald 2008:99–112), excavations at the Levanna site near Ithaca (Rossen 2009), excavations at the multi-component Bay site (Bln 1-3) at Pilot Knob near Lake George (Kingsley et al. 2006:45–62), and excavations at rock shelter sites first identified by Leonard Eisenberg and Max Schrabisch, in the Shawangunk Mountains of eastern Ulster County (Rieth and Johnson, this volume; Santo and Johnson 2011).

Archaeologists have also sought to reevaluate older collections through the examination of new problems or research areas that were not pursued by the original excavator. Often these projects were suggested in the original site report as future research topics (e.g. Funk 1976:70–89, 300–302; Ritchie and Funk 1973). In other instances, the idea to reexamine a particular portion of the collection stems from similar studies being done at other nearby sites or as a result of information that was recovered but not fully analyzed when the site was excavated.

Research that falls into this category includes analysis of phytoliths recovered from encrustations on ceramic vessels in central New York (Hart et al. 2003, 2007; Hart and Matson 2009; Thompson et al. 2004), trace element composition of avocational and older CRM collections near Schoharie (Rieth 2008), lithic materials associated with the Abbott Zone complex in Bronx County (Kaeser 2004:53–60; 2006:63–69; 2008:31–46), spatial modeling of site locations in the Schoharie Valley with geographic information systems (GIS) (Primeau 2007), and soil data with GIS to predict site locations in Columbia and Saratoga counties (Sander‘s 2008:78–82).

Finally, early Late Prehistoric research has been enhanced recently by the study of older collections that had not been previously thoroughly analyzed. Many of these collections originated through avocational digs and non-compliance projects (e.g., Kaeser 2004; Solecki 2006). In many cases, these projects use small collections stored in local historical societies and museums that have rarely appeared in the archaeological literature.

Included among these are comparison of lithic procurement strategies of the Paul J. Higgins site and other local collections at the Trailside Museum (Higgins 2010), analysis of settlement patterns of groups living in the Shawangunk Mountains as represented by materials curated at the Daniel Smiley Research Center at Mohonk Preserve (Santo and Johnson 2011), analysis of Native American burials identified in the 1930s at College Point (Solecki 2006:70–79), and analysis of collections generated largely by James Osterhout for the Iroquois Indian Museum near Cobleskill (Rieth 2009:1–18). These analyses have not only allowed archaeologists to revisit some of New York’s little-known collections but also to reconsideration our understandings of the activities that were occurring during this time.

Recent CRM Contributions to the Study of Early Late Prehistoric Archaeology
Many early Late Prehistoric sites in New York have been identified as a result of cultural resource management investigations. The discovery of these sites has not only resulted in the generation of new collections but also in new information about the temporal occupation of various sites and regions as well as the relationship between artifact classes. Studies of previously underrepresented areas of the state have allowed us to gain a more complete picture of the types and ranges of settings that were occupied by early Late Prehistoric occupants of New York.

CRM investigations have contributed to the study of non-village sites and activities that occur beyond the village boundaries. Studies by Curtin (this volume), Curtin Archaeological Consulting (2006), Diamond (this volume), Dale (2008), Kastl et al. (2010), Rieth (2009), Sopko (2008), Versaggi and Hohman (2008), among others highlight the roll of resource procurement stations, short- and long-term camps, kill sites, horticultural hamlets, and other site types that were often not the subject of earlier excavations. The analysis of small lithic scatters has aided archaeologists in mapping the movement of groups across the landscape and the migration patterns of such groups in search of various resources (e.g., Higgins et al. 2007; Higgins 2010; Sopko 2009).

Following Versaggi and Hohman (2008), the study of non-village sites not only shows the diversity in the range of site types used, but also in many instances, highlights the fact that hunting and gathering continued well into the period in which domesticated plants formed a major component of the prehistoric diet. In addition, the activity areas identified at these sites suggest gender-specific tasks carried out beyond the village (Rieth 2009; Versaggi and Hohman 2008).

CRM investigations increasingly provide information on areas of New York that have not been intensively surveyed or been the focus of extended research projects. Research at the Naima site in the Town of Smithtown, Suffolk County (Mazeau 2010a), the Price Prehistoric site on Staten Island (URS Corporation 2005), the Coram Route 112 site in the Town of Brookhaven, Suffolk County (Merwin 2007:1, 7), and the House Park Watershed (Historical Perspectives 2006), have contributed information about coastal adaptations and use of aquatic and aviary resources in southeastern New York. Excavations at the Herrick Hollow sites in Delaware County (Versaggi and Hohman 2008), the Paul J. Higgins site at Bear Mountain in Westchester County (Higgins 2010), and the Catskill I and II sites near Catskill in Greene County (Rieth 2009), document the importance of upland sites within Native settlement systems and the role such sites played in lithic, floral, and faunal resource procurement. Finally, the identification of sites away from major waterways and in backcountry areas has provided better understandings of the spatial arrangement of early Late Prehistoric settlements systems and the interrelationship of these sites with more distant village sites. These investigations include those by Dale (2008) at the James Holloway and Raymond Dale sites in Schoharie County, Montague et al. (2010) at the Red House Bridge site in Cattaraugus County, Rush et al. (2008:147–149) at Fort Drum near Potsdam, and Curtin’s (this volume) investigations of Concentration 23B.1 in Greene County.

CRM archaeology has also helped to refine our understanding of the spatial and temporal diversity of specific valley corridors. In the Cobleskill Valley of Schoharie County, Rieth (2009:1–19) has examined changes in the settlement patterns of prehistoric groups between cal. A.D. 700 and 1300. Although the region has traditionally been considered to be abandoned during the early Late Prehistoric, the use of multiple scales of analysis (both site and micro-region) allows important variability in local land use patterns to be discerned, which in turn allows archaeologists to reevaluate extant models of settlement in the western Schoharie Valley. Grills et al. (2010) has examined the relationship between small lithic sites and larger settlements contained in the Grasslands Prehistoric Archaeological District (Miroff et al. 2010) surrounding Canadarago Lake in Otsego County. The results of this analysis demonstrate the diverse array of activities that were occurring around the lake and the role that the lake played in providing food and material remains to groups living nearby. In addition, the authors demonstrate how early Late Prehistoric groups occupied many of the same locations as earlier groups, suggesting that the decision to settle in specific locations was not haphazard but may have been focused around specific glacial features (Grills et al. 2010:9).

Finally, accelerator mass spectrometry and radiometric dating have helped to demonstrate discontinuities between absolute dates and previously developed regional typologies (MacNeish 1952; Ritchie 1949, 1971; Ritchie and MacNeish 1949). Quite often this discontinuity results from ceramic types being recovered from hearth and pit features that are supposed to date to different time periods. At the Papscanee Creek 3 site near Rensselaer, Sopko (2009:45–46, 58; see also Mazeau 2010b) convincingly demonstrates incongruity between cord-marked and incised pottery recovered from shallow hearth features and the AMS dates of A.D. 130 to 350. At Site L near the village of Moreau, Saratoga County, Kastl and Miroff (2008) document the recovery of rocker-stamped and incised pottery from features dating to the end of the early Late Prehistoric period. While traditional ceramic typologies suggest these vessels were used at different times, both Sopko (2009) and Kastl and Miroff (2008:17–19) highlight the fact that types do not fit neatly into discrete time periods as proposed by Ritchie and MacNeish (1949) but rather have a longer use life that often cross-cut much of the early Late Prehistoric period (see Hart and Brumbach 2003, 2005; Schulenberg 2002).

Organization of this Volume

This volume is a result of a symposium organized for the annual meeting of the New York State Archaeological Association at Ellenville in April 2010. The symposium complemented an earlier symposium we organized in 2000 as part of the New York Natural History Conference in Albany. The results of that symposium were published in the volume Northeast Subsistence-Settlement Change: A.D. 700–1300 (Hart and Rieth 2002).

The goal of the 2010 symposium was to bring together researchers working on early Late Prehistoric (cal. A.D. 700–1300) settlement and subsistence in New York. In total, nine papers were presented followed by a presentation by Dr. James Bradley who served as the symposium discussant. The papers covered such diverse topics as changes in site location and resource procurement, the role of non-village sites in regional settlement patterns, the analysis of Late Prehistoric ceramics, and the timing of tropical domesticates in New York.

The papers in this volume are organized geographically beginning in the western part of the state working eastward. The chapters by Hart et al., Smith, Rosen, Curtin, Diamond and Stewart, and Rieth and Johnson focus on individual site analyses. The papers by Hart et al. and Smith are re-analyses of sites excavated by William A. Ritchie while the chapters by Curtin, Diamond and Stewart, and Rieth and Johnson focus on more recent excavations completed as a result of academic and cultural resource management projects. The chapters written by Hart and Brumbach are concerned with broader, regional analyses. Brumbach provides an analysis of the evolution of collared vessels drawing on collections from central and eastern New York. Hart discusses his research on the traits used by Ritchie to define the Owasco tradition in New York. In his chapter, he argues that the definitional boundaries proposed by Ritchie for the taxon are no longer valid, and a more useful approach for understanding the past is presented.

Conclusion

This volume reflects the continuing interest in and work on the early Late Prehistoric in New York. The chapters reflect the transitional nature of research on this arbitrary slice of time. Some of the work reflects the continuing interest in traditional areas of research such as pottery and lithics, but with the application of methods, techniques, and insights that provide new understandings of manufacture, function, and style. Other work, such as the direct dating of encrusted, carbonized cooking residues and the analysis of phytolith assemblages recovered from those residues has opened entirely new avenues of research and understandings. The chronologies and cultural sequences that were so important in the development of New York archaeology in the twentieth century are being challenged as a result of new dates on key defining attributes. The adoption of new theoretical structures are providing understandings of the past that challenge traditional ideas about why and how Native people used specific portions of the landscape. As we have reviewed in this introduction the works presented here constitute only a small sample of the extensive work being done on this slice of time. Whether based on the work of university field schools, cultural resource management projects, museum investigations, evidence freshly unearthed, or collections and archives made decades ago, the work being done is dynamic, interesting, and path setting. We look forward to continued developments in theory, method, and techniques and their application in this vital arena of archaeological research.

Acknowledgments

We thank all the participants in the symposium that served as the foundation for this volume. We also thank the peer reviewers of the volume as a whole and of the individual chapters. Not only did these reviewers provide thoughtful comments and suggestions, they did so within the requested amount of time.

 

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Versaggi, N. M., and C. D. Hohman. 2008. Small Lithic Sites: Linking Significance with Context. In Current Approaches to the Analysis and Interpretation of Small Lithic Sites in the Northeast, edited by C. B. Rieth, pp. 175–186. New York State Bulletin Series 508. The University of the State of New York, Albany.

Wonderly, A., and A. E. Sterling. 2007. Middle and Early Late Woodland Pottery from the Sterling Site, Oneida County, New York. The Bulletin and Journal of the New York State Archaeological Association 123:19–26.

 







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