PUBLICATIONS :: NYSM RECORD :: Current Research in New York Archaeology

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

edited by Christina B. Rieth and John P. Hart


This volume is based on a symposium that we organized for the New York State Archaeological Association’s 94th annual meeting in Ellenville, New York, on April 24, 2010. Our intention for the symposium was to highlight the wide range of current archaeological research in New York during the period of time we have referred to as the early Late Prehistoric period (A.D. 700–1300). As anyone following New York archaeology realizes, this is an arbitrary slice of time within the dynamic history of Native Americans in the state, but one that has been quite contentious over the past few decades. This contentiousness has centered on the origins of the ethnic landscape that was recorded by early European missionaries, settlers, and explorers. Was that landscape the result of migrations and displacements, or was it part of a long-evolving, in situ pattern? Can these two alternatives really capture the dynamics of the past, or are they too simplistic in their conceptualizations? There is a wide range of ongoing scholarship on these questions. What we wanted from the symposium and ultimately this volume was to show that while these questions are important, they are far from the only topics of research being addressed by archaeologists working on the early Late Prehistoric period.

The symposium comprised nine papers, the abstracts of which follow this preface. Also included in the symposium was a discussion of the papers by James Bradley. The papers included reports on excavations at specific sites, regional settlement pattern analyses, lithic sourcing, ceramic analysis, and a summary of results from an ongoing research program involving a variety of analyses. The symposium certainly captured a wide range of research that demonstrated the dynamic state of archaeological investigations within New York. The present volume comprises updates of six of those papers, an introduction, and an eighth paper that was not presented in the symposium. As such, the volume provides a strong sense of the state of archaeological research on the early Late Prehistoric period in New York at the beginning of the 2010s.

Thanks are due to those colleagues who participated in the symposium and to those who contributed to this volume. Meeting deadlines is not always an easy proposition, but in all instances the deadlines we established for chapter authors were met, making the production of this volume not only easier, but also very quick. The many peer reviewers for the volume and its individual chapters met our deadlines and in all instances provided well considered comments, suggestions, and criticisms, which resulted in a stronger volume. Thanks are due to Jonathan Lothrop who coordinated the peer review process for the volume and Janice Morrison for copy editing. Thanks also to Maria Sparks for managing the volume’s production.


John P. Hart
Christina B. Rieth
May 2011

Abstracts from April 24, 2010 Symposium

Changing Perceptions of the Levanna Site, Cayuga County, New York (1922–2010)

Jack Rossen (Department of Anthropology, Ithaca College)

This paper discusses how perceptions and interpretations of the Levanna site have changed throughout the history of investigations at the site. The site was recorded in 1923 by Arthur C. Parker and excavated from 1932–1947 and 2007–2009. Analysis of the collections recovered over three recent field seasons is underway. Preliminary statements may be made on interpretive changes of the site, including how it is culturally assigned (Algonkian, Owasco, Cayuga), the type of domestic architecture (small circular versus proto-longhouse), whether the site was palisaded, implications for regional ceramic typologies, and the nature of the famous stone animal effigies.

Social Setting as a Possible Source of Ceramic Vessel Variation in Early Late Woodland New York State
Donald Smith (Panamerican Consultants, Buffalo, New York)

This paper explores the possibility that the social setting(s) in which pre-contact period potters intended their vessels to be used played a role in their decisions concerning the mechanical and decorative attributes of their wares. The paper focuses on the remains from the early Late Woodland Carpenter Brook site in central New York state, excavated by Ritchie in the 1940s. Ritchie argued that the site, which was located in the bank of a stream and comprised a single deposit made up nearly entirely of smashed ceramic vessels and skeletal remains from bears, was the result of ceremonial activities. This paper compares attributes of the Carpenter Brook pots, including their decorative qualities and characteristics related to their durability as cooking vessels, with those from the early Late Woodland Bates, Maxon-Derby, and Sackett village sites, which were likely deposited in more prosaic contexts. The results indicate the Carpenter Brook pots have larger (more visible) and more complex decoration than do vessels from the domestic sites. They also have qualities that would have made them relatively less durable as cooking vessels. These results are consistent with the hypothesis that the social setting(s) in which potters intended (or anticipated) their vessels to be used played roles in the decision-making processes that accompanied the manufacture of the pots.

Late Prehistoric Archaeology at the Iroquoian Southern Door: New York’s Chemung Valley
Laurie E. Miroff and Tim Knapp (Public Archaeology Facility, Binghamton University)

Late Prehistoric research in New York state has often focused on water systems, primarily organized by river valley or lake basins. Basin-focused Late Prehistoric research has overlooked several important Northeastern drainages, including the Chemung. The Chemung Watershed, covering an area of approximately 2600 m2, is an important tributary of the Susquehanna River, including nearly 10 percent of this large drainage system. Geographically, the Chemung River is an important transportation corridor and archaeological evidence suggests that this drainage also forms a cultural bridge between the Finger Lakes Region of New York and the West Branch of the Susquehanna, in central Pennsylvania. In this paper we summarize the Late Prehistoric data currently available for the Chemung Drainage and demonstrate why this overlooked valley should play a role in Late Prehistoric studies.

Watersheds and the Late Prehistoric Upper Delaware Valley: Evidence from the Deposit Airport I Site
Tim Knapp (Public Archaeology Facility, Binghamton University, State University of New York)

Dean Snow in Archaeology of New England argued that Native American territories were often defined by watersheds which served as "geographic containers of prehistoric communities." According to Snow, rugged upland drainage divides served as remote boundaries separating native populations, providing a necessary buffer which ensured survival and helped maintain distinct social identities. Given this, Snow advocated a "riverine model" that treats watersheds as an appropriate unit of spatial analysis. This approach was largely intended to counter what Snow saw as the spatial overextension of culture-historical taxons built on formal analyses which often relied on a single artifact type. In proposing his "riverine model," Snow is careful to stress its status as a model that is unlikely to universally apply. In particular, Snow suggests that historical factors may lead to upstream-downstream distinctions within a given watershed. Using this framework, this paper presents investigations at the Deposit Airport 1, a multi-component late Middle and early Late Woodland site located along the West Branch of the Delaware River in Delaware County, New York. Radiocarbon, ceramic, settlement, and botanical data will be presented. These data will be compared with downstream patterns, as well as to the nearby Upper Susquehanna Valley.

Trace Element Analysis of Lithic Artifacts from the Trapp’s Gap Site
Christina B. Rieth (Research and Collections Division, New York State Museum) and L. Lewis Johnson (Department of Anthropology, Vassar College)

Traditional models of Late Prehistoric (A.D. 700–1400) interaction in the middle Hudson Valley suggest strong ties with contemporaneous groups in southern New England. Recent research, in the form of trace element analysis of lithic artifacts from the Trapps Gap site in Ulster County, New York, question this assumption suggesting a more diverse and complex landscape in which groups interacted. This paper will discuss where the site occupants were getting their lithic material, how such procurement patterns may have changed over time, and what such data might reveal about regional socio-economic behavior.

A Small Backcountry Site in Coxsackie, Circa A.D. 1200
Edward V. Curtin (Curtin Archaeological Consulting Inc.)

The excavation of Concentration 23B.1, a small site in Coxsackie, provides an unusual glimpse at Late Prehistoric, short-term backcountry settlement in the Hudson drainage. Occupying low ground near a small stream within the lake plain, Concentration 23B.1 contained several archaeological features, a varied lithic assemblage indicating different stages of lithic reduction, fragmentary Owasco-like ceramics, and twelfth–thirteenth century A.D. C-14 dates. Settlement pattern implications are explored in terms of the changing use of the local landscape as well as the diversity of late prehistoric settlement systems in the upper Hudson Valley.

A Middle Woodland Pottery Stamp and Associated Middle-Woodland Ceramics from the Indian Hill Site, Wawarsing, N.Y.
Joseph E. Diamond (Department of Anthropology, State University of New York at New Paltz) and Susan Stewart

The site of Indian Hill was excavated by SUNY New Paltz under the direction of Leonard Eisenberg in 1976–1977. Important Late Prehistoric finds include a dentate pottery stamp, associated Middle Woodland pottery, and other Middle Woodland ceramic vessels. The ceramics from this site represent one of the few samples of Middle Woodland ceramics from the upper Rondout drainage.

The History of the Collared Rim
Hetty Jo Brumbach (Department of Anthropology, University at Albany, State University of New York)

An attribute analysis of rim and body sherds from sites in central New York reveals that the "collared" rim form, often considered distinctive of late pre-contact Iroquoian and Algonquian vessels, has a long history in this study area. The collared rim is common in many areas of the
East, but its history is not well documented. Sherds from the Vinette site (dated to ca. 300 B.C.) and Cottage site (A.D. 200) suggest that the form began as a band of decorative elements placed on the rim exterior just below the lip. At a later time, vessels with thickened rim areas
were manufactured, followed by an "appliqué" collar bearing distinctive decorative motifs. Still later, more elaborately modeled collars appear. This paper will illustrate the subtle shifts in manufacturing that resulted in the distinctive collared rim.

The Death of Owasco—Redux.
John P. Hart (Research & Collections Division, New York State Museum, Albany )

In 2003, Hetty Jo Brumbach and I published an article in American Antiquity titled "The Death of Owasco." Based on a formal analysis of the traits used by former State Archaeologist William A. Ritchie, to define the Owasco Tradition, we determined that his definitional boundaries for the taxon are no longer valid. Furthermore, we argued that Owasco and other New York culture-historical taxa, have no useful role to play in our understanding of the past. In this presentation, I review our original analysis and subsequently produced data and suggest more useful approaches to understanding the past.

List of Contributors

Lisa M. Anderson Research and Collections Division, New York State Museum, Albany, New York.

Hetty Jo Brumbach Department of Anthropology. University at Albany, Albany, New York.

Edward V. Curtin Curtin Archaeological Consulting Inc., Ballston Spa, New York.

Joseph E. Diamond Department of Anthropology, SUNY New Paltz, New Paltz, New York.

Robert F. Feranec Research and Collections Division, New York State Museum, Albany, New York.

John P. Hart Research and Collections Division, New York State Museum, Albany, New York.

L. Lewis Johnson Anthropology Department, Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, New York.

Christina B. Rieth Research and Collections Division, New York State Museum, Albany, New York.

Donald A. Smith Panamerican Consultants Inc., Buffalo, New York.

Susan O’Connell Stewart Department of Anthropology, SUNY New Paltz, New Paltz, New York.

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