Back-Yard Archæology

DURING the past fifty years citizens and institutions of New England and New York have contributed large sums for archæological expeditions in remote sections of the New and Old Worlds. I suppose it is not inaccurate to state that certain individuals of New England were pioneers in financing Mexican, Central American, and South American expeditions for the Peabody Museum. Dr. Winslow’s labors aroused much interest in the study of early European and Egyptian cultures, and other researches which were begun by the English, French, or Italians. Today, the explorer seeking funds for a survey of ruins in Yucatan finds ready response to his appeal for contributions. In short, our American public — particularly here, east of the Hudson — is more or less educated in archæological matters. The subject has become of popular interest. We read with avidity articles in the National Geographical Magazine concerning peoples of remote corners of the globe — although these same descriptions, printed thirty years ago, would have bored us. Everybody knows about the cave-man, and what he did;our Sunday newspapers regularly announce the discovery of another ‘ new buried city.’ Even the movies portray expeditions of all kinds, some slightly ‘scientific,’ and others made in the foothills out from Los Angeles, or in the mountains and woods a mile from the business section of Saranac Lake.

Last, but not least, Mr. Wells has delved — or his assistants have — into archæologic lore, and we find the whole ‘beginnings of the human race’ condensed into a few pages, in order that the tired business man, or weary professional person, or the general public, may absorb the leading facts of pre-history, as well as history itself, quickly and conveniently.

People not only buy, but they actually read, books treating in more entertaining fashion of archæological discoveries and primitive peoples. I recall that, thirty years ago, a scientist immediately lost caste, did he write for the public. Following the prevalent custom of that time, his works were dull and pedantic. Few persons outside the cult to which he belonged knew him or his books; for it was considered bad form for him to do that which would interest mankind at large. To-day, most of us believe that our work is a part of the generally accepted educational system; that it should be presented in an attractive form, in order that it may reach the largest number of readers. While much nonsense has undoubtedly been published in the press and magazines, and a great deal of sensational and unscientific information disseminated by the movies, yet, on the whole, people are better informed to-day concerning the early history of our race, and of primitive man in general, than they were two decades ago.

Permit me to hasten, at this juncture, to assure the anxious scholar that I do not claim there are more masters of archæology to-day than formerly; what I wish to convey is the impression that our public has a more intelligent interest in the subject. This is indicated in the correspondence files of the average archæologist. Let him compare letters of 1890 with those of to-day, and he will observe that the correspondent to-day, when addressing the museum curator or a field-man, is somewhat familiar with the subject. We have fewer ‘crank ’ communications. It has been three years since one of these came to our Department; yet in one month during 1895 I received two letters from persons who wished to know my ‘formulæ’ for making ‘mineral rods, by means of which buried treasures are found.’

Formerly, most persons supposed that a museum was a place where ‘relics’ were bought and then exhibited to gaping and curiosity-seeking visitors. This changed attitude toward the museum may be traced to our museum propaganda; to the work of the Association of Museums, to the spread and influence of children’s museums, — popular among their elders, as well, — and to the many illustrated talks on natural history and related topics.

New England’s part in lifting archæological research (and museum study) out of the narrow rut of the specialist and placing it upon the hill, that its light might not be hidden, but, on the contrary, be seen of men, is considerable. Indeed, New England occupies a place of distinction as the patron of archæology and research. Was it not at Salem, away back in 1803, that the tradingand whaling-vessel masters brought their ‘curios’ and ship-models home and exhibited them? Most fitting is it that the museum there, after a century of honorable existence, should display these priceless objects of the long ago. Here, Professor Morse, and at Cambridge, Professor Putnam, began their work in the early eighteen-sixties. Morse’s popular lectures, sparkling with humor, filled with worth-while information, stimulated interest and had a far-reaching result. Putnam preached thorough science in exploration, and gathered about him many young students. These men are to-day heads of, or occupy positions of standing in, a dozen of the larger museums in this and other countries.

Yet all the interest on the part of the young scientists who went forth, and of the men who gave funds, and of the public, seemed to centre in places away from and not in New England. With a few exceptions — notably Mr. C. C. Willoughby’s explorations in Maine — no one thought that there was and is such a thing as the archæology of New England. Obviously, the reason they all neglected the home territory is not far afield. We have no mounds, no cliff-dwellings or ruined cities. We even lack caverns and caveman! Thus we possess nothing calculated to appeal to the imagination. Wealthy people would give money for investigations of visible monuments. They had seen pictures of remains in the West, the South, and Asia. Putnam could secure little money for work hereabouts. He was told that there was neither romance nor charm in New England exploration. As a natural sequence, archæologists, with one accord, went West, South, or abroad, with the result that, until systematic explorations were undertaken in 1912, we knew less about our own land (archæologically) than we did about regions five thousand miles away.

In 1909 I visited my friend Director Willoughby of the Peabody Museum, and consulted with him concerning work in our home field. It had been neglected; yet here we might find the beginnings of Algonquin culture, Eskimo influence, tribes of pre-Pilgrim days, and so forth. There were farreaching possibilities. Our trustees kindly voted the necessary funds, and I applied methods used in Ohio, Arizona, and New Mexico to the State of Maine. In short, we ran a Western survey in the East.

For nine years we have worked hard, carrying large crews to the most distant points in Maine and elsewhere; it is now time to render the public an account of our stewardship. During this period we have traveled over 5000 miles in our large, twenty-foot canoes. We have found seventeen Indian cemeteries of the prehistoric period, and taken out the contents of 440 graves. Our men mapped over 200 village, camp, or shell-heap sites in Maine alone. The grand total of artifacts in stone, bone, shell, and clay is rising 17,000; and all this in one state of New England where there were supposed to be few ‘Indian remains.’ We found one shell-heap (in the Bar Harbor region, near Lemoine) over 700 feet long and five feet deep, in places, and averaging over two feet of débris. From this heap the men took 5000 articles of prehistoric manufacture, and two years later reëxplored for another museum, and secured 2500 more. So far as I am aware, the total of 7500 stone, clay, bone, and shell objects (all human handiwork) from one site is exceeded by only five other sites in the whole United States, and these are in the thickly settled mound-builder and cliff-pueblo regions of the West.

Our stone-gouges from Maine graves evince a skill in stone-working, grinding, and polishing not excelled elsewhere in the world. That is, the Maine gouges are easily the highest Stone-Age art in gouge manufacture; I am not speaking of axes or hatchets, but of the long polished gouges.

We find slender spears 14 to 22 inches in length, beautifully wrought and scarcely thicker than a lead pencil. The famous prehistoric Japanese spears are much shorter and of less fine workmanship. One polished dagger of slate, with a wide blade and handle carefully worked out, is the equal of any similar specimen I have observed from Europe or Asia.

These graves are of such antiquity that no bones remain therein. There are eight distinct types of tools found, — all stone, — and great quantities of powdered red hematite occur in each grave, seldom less than one or two quarts, and frequently half a bushel. No large deposit of soft hematite occurs in Maine, save at Katahdin Iron Works; and analysis indicates that the Indians brought it from that source, probably in canoes, possibly overland, to their villages farther south. None of the ochre masses has been found in shellheaps along the coast, or in caches, or at their village sites. We therefore conclude that it was used in mortuary ceremonies.

These types of stone artifacts persistently occur in the ‘Red Paint People’s’ graves, but in more recent Algonquin burials they are totally absent. We have proved the existence of a very ancient culture, different from any other in this country.

My purpose in mentioning these discoveries at some length is merely to call attention to the interesting and unknown field that we have at hand. It is now proposed to spend the next eight years in intensive exploration of ancient Indian places in Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts, with the coöperation of local historical and scientific societies and certain individuals. We shall attempt — at least, in some small measure — to reconstruct the life of our aborigines in pre-Colonial times; and at best our task is beset with difficulties. There are no prominent monuments indicating where we shall excavate. Our results are obtained through persistent testing of one region after another, for the surface indications are meagre. Land has been cultivated hereabouts for the past two and a half centuries, and most of the village-site indications forever destroyed. We look for flint, chert, or quartz chips, burned stone, and discolored soil. Then we sink holes in search of ash-pits and pottery, which are signs of a large or permanent Indian town. Upon a knoll, or the slope of a hill, near-by, should be the cemetery, and we set the men at work searching for that. It has been carefully estimated that in one hundred farms or estates examined, we find one site. Thus, the percentage is ninetynine to one against us — not a very attractive proposition if measured by commercial standards.

Dr. Thomas Wilson, for many years Curator of Anthropology in the Smithsonian, was wont to utter a sentiment somewhat as follows: ‘Evidences of prehistoric occupation of a given area are found, not in proportion as they exist, but rather as men search.’ This is especially true of New England. Because of the scarcity of remains and the long labor necessary to discover sites, zest and charm are added to our explorations. The element of chance is not so much a factor as the element of discovery of new types. Common broken bones from the shell-heaps, if occurring in lower layers, when studied by Dr. Allen, proved to be those of the extinct mink, prehistoric dog, and extinct seal. Our ‘Red Paint People’ culture may be the beginnings of Eskimo culture — certainly, it is unlike anything else on our continent.

Descending the St. John River, in extreme northern Maine, a region of unbroken forests, with no sign of human habitation save the occasional abandoned logging-camp, we discover pottery at a point farther north in Maine than it has been previously reported. We land at the mouth of Big Black River, near the Quebec line, and find a spruce forest growing over ancient ashpits, and that here man tarried some time and manufactured stone knives and weapons.

We voyaged down the Penobscot and stopped at Mattawamkeag. Here once stood a village of large extent, inhabited at different times; for we discovered one type of implement on the west bank and other and different forms on the east bank. Upon the high hill to the north were buried the later Abenaki of the Jesuit mission; we found some of their simple graves, but ceased excavating, as it has not been our custom to excavate in cemeteries where Indians were buried with church rites. Tradition has it that one of the priests was mortally wounded when the mission was destroyed by Massachusetts troops; and on the retreat of the English, the Indians searched the ruins, found the chapel-bell, and buried it alongside the good Father in a simple grave on that hill.

Many interesting things are to be observed in New England archæology. Pipes were not so common as in the West or South, and the pottery is far inferior to that of the Iroquois and southern Algonquins. Thus, smoking was not in general use and the ceramic art was undeveloped. The stone axe probably came in from the West, and does not appear to be native to the region.

Our greatest Indian population lay along the coast, the lower Connecticut Valley, Martha’s Vineyard, and Rhode Island. It is here that the larger villages of Pequots, Narragansetts, Podunks, and others were located. On the large town-sites and in the cemeteries one should be able to discover articles indicating tribal commerce with bands living in New York or New Jersey, and also to obtain specimens of aboriginal art, since the more skilled workmen would naturally locate in the populous communities. Hence, when the survey inspects the site of King Philip’s town, the Pequots’ fort, and similar spots, it is hoped that lower layers of the ashpits will prove rich in evidence. There must have been Indian towns in New England long before the Smith, Cabot, and other visitations. Whence these people came, and their relationship to Long Island and New Jersey Algonquins — all these and similar questions may not be solved, but we shall certainly obtain more reliable data upon their migrations or origins.

New England is thickly settled, and most Indian sites are to-day occupied by towns. Where once were wigwams, lawns stretch down to the sea. One would suppose that we might encounter opposition in securing permission to excavate, yet the contrary is true. In twelve years of expeditions, we have requested hundreds of owners to allow us to excavate, and have been refused but ten times. This is a remarkable record. One lady at Bar Harbor stated that I could open trenches, provided no dirt was left on her lawn. We brought our tent-flies into service, used a sodcutter, rolled the turf and stacked it on one tent, the earth on another. We dug large pits, filled them carefully, replaced the sod, and wet it down. My men, proud of a good job, have always, with one accord, agreed that she paid them their greatest compliment. We worked three hours; she, meanwhile, played auction bridge with her friends in the cottage. When we had finished, she came out, looked over the lawn, and asked me when we were to begin digging!

At Orland, Maine, a cemetery extended under a large barn, filled with new hay. The owner consented to explorations, provided his hay was not left out over-night. We secured extra labor, moved the stock, vehicles, and hay outside, took up the floor, and found seventeen graves. These were opened and photographed. Then the floor was relaid, the stock led back, hay put in the mow, and work finished before dark. We have taken up trees and flower-beds, moved pens and sheds, worked under a saw-mill, and even dug in railroad yards. One wealthy lady would not permit us to complete an important cemetery because the pineneedles covering the sand might be disturbed. These had fallen from ‘runt’ pines out on an ocean-swept point, and were of no size. I offered to send the men with a team into a heavy pine growth a mile distant and bring her a wagon load of larger needles; but in vain. Nature had deposited those pine ‘spills,’ and they must remain. Hence, we were compelled to desist; but local people dug there Sundays, undermined her precious trees, and they all fell! Therefore, she lost both trees and needles, and the cemetery was lost to science.

There is a charm in New England archæological research. Most explorers prefer difficult tasks, and finding evidences of our prehistoric American predecessors in this region is not easy. It is pleasant, this voyaging along in the canoe, carrying a crew of State o’ Maine men, who have accompanied us on many a trip — the Susquehanna, Texas deserts, Connecticut, Lake Champlain, New Brunswick, and all the Maine rivers. We land at a convenient spot, and set up camp in thirtytwo minutes. All hands help the cook, and we get four tents erected and baggage stored within that time. Then we scatter and look for surface signs. The farmers or villagers come to camp, and our mission is explained. They are very accommodating and kind — only the foreigners living in the lower Connecticut have caused us trouble.

One might suggest that explorers in distant lands face dangers, and that our work, contrasted with theirs, is both simple and easy. I have worked in the Southwest in early days, before the automobile, and personally know one’s sufferings in sand-storms, how one feels when without water in the desert. I have had trouble with horse-thieves, been in quicksand, and experienced kindred discomforts. Yet, in July or August in the North Woods, the ‘five standard flies’ have made life miserable for the survey, and have caused more real inconvenience than we ever experienced on that famous Far Western Painted Desert. The running of our canoes, one at a time, safely through the worst part of the fifteen-mile falls on the Connecticut, by Ralph Dorr, was a performance unsurpassed by anything ever witnessed by us on the Western surveys. Navigating three long open canoes in a heavy sea-fog, from Bangor to Castine in one day, constituted a record of which the crew may justly be proud.

So, if one should suppose that there are no ‘adventures’ possible in line of duty (for we never take unnecessary risks) in New England explorations, that person should, if possible, join us on our last trip to Maine to be made this summer, when we hope to examine the upper Aroostook and head of the East Branch, and from thence travel across northern Maine to the upper St. John waters, turn southeast, and work down to the Rangeleys.

There are not many indications of ancient Indian occupation in that region, for natives could exist with less hardships nearer the coast. As the colonists spread inland, there was an Indian migration northward; but there is no evidence of long-continued residence north of the central portion of the state. Indeed, I am of the opinion that the Indian occupation of much of Maine and Canada is comparatively recent.

Quite likely the next few years of exploration along the lower Connecticut River, and the coast from New Haven to Providence (including a strip some twenty miles back from salt water), will prove that we had a considerable Indian population prior to the Smith and Cabot voyages. The relationship of these tribes to other Algonquins is to be carefully studied, through a comparison of artifacts. Archæology alone must furnish the evidence, since languages and folk-lore of native Americans living prior to 1600 are unknown.

A few years hence, the pages of New England Indian history previous to European contact will have been written. We shall then realize that our aborigines played no unimportant part in the life of the American red race.