Friday, June 11, 2010

New Paleoindian site in Keene, NH

It appears that a new Paleoindian site has been uncovered during the construction of a new middle school in Keene, New Hampshire. The report present a good overview in layman's terms of what has been uncovered so far

So far the artifacts have been found in oval clusters. Goodby speculates that these areas were where the people pitched tents or other shelters.

Primarily, the explorers have found a variety of stone tools that would have been used for processing animal hides, such as scraping tools. They've also found tools for making things out of bone and antlers as well as tools for engraving and splitting. But what's even more significant is what the stone tells the archeologists about the people who used them.

"We're learning for one thing that they had connections that extended all over Northern New England," Goodby said. "They were getting their stone from quarries as far away as northern Maine. And from sources in far north New Hampshire." He said there's evidence some of the stone may have come from Berlin and Jefferson.

He said they may have gotten this by following the caribou migratory routes, as that was their main game animal. He also said it may indicate that they were connected to other bands of people at this time so the stone moved from family to family.

Goodby also believes the type of stone they are finding in Keene as compared to the stone found in Swanzey in the 1970s, will ultimately prove the Keene site is even older than the Swanzey site.

Another exciting find was a stone fireplace that still had remnants of burnt fire wood in it. Next to the hearth, the archeologists also discovered what they believe to be burnt caribou bone. Goodby said testing will be done on the bone to determine the animal and the wood to determine what species of trees were in the area when these people lived there.

That's all well and good, and the report provides a nice example of how observation and interpretation can be woven together during archaeological research to develop solid working hypotheses. What struck me most about the report, however, is how the material recovered during excavation will be put to use in the coming years and use the shape part of the school's own curriculum. It appears that the school administrators have very sagely decided to use this material to provide students with an awareness of the deep past.

He said school officials will be building the finds into the curriculum so that students will understand the importance of the history right there in their backyard. He also said replicas of the stone tools will be on permanent display inside the school.

"The curriculum has been a little bit lacking when it comes to the original inhabitants in New England," Gurney said. "Now the students will be able to hold replicas of the actual artifacts in their hands and see exactly what the real tools looked like and touch and hold them…. It's just great."

If you ask me, that's a really fantastic manner of both underscoring the importance of archaeology to a young audience as well as of introducing students to the fundamental principles that allow people to study the human past and, more broadly, an array of 'paleo' disciplines by familiarizing them, for starters, with how dating methods work and the long history of human-environment interactions. Given the recent rise of the worst of obscurantist tendencies in some quarters, this can only be a good thing.

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