Archaeological Perspectives , Edited by Harold D. Juli
The Institute for American Indian Studies: Preserving the Archaeology, History and Culture of Connecticut's First Settlers
by Lucianne Lavin, Director of Research & Collections, Institute for American Indian Studies (http://www.birdstone.org/)
“Formerly known as the American Indian Archaeological Institute, the Institute for American Indian Studies (IAIS) is a small museum and research center nestled in the beautiful Litchfield Hills of Washington, Connecticut. IAIS is dedicated to preserving and promoting an appreciation of the archaeology, history and living traditions of the indigenous peoples of the Americas, especially in New England…
…From its beginnings, the Institute's main objective was archaeological research. During its formative years in the 1970s and 1980s, directors of research manned large field crews to investigate and dig numerous prehistoric sites in the northwestern highlands of Litchfield County. One of its most famous discoveries was the Templeton site in Washington, a 10,190 year-old Paleo-Indian camp excavated by Dr. Roger Moeller-the oldest archaeological site in southern New England. The site's cultural remains lay three to five feet below the surface of a terrace overlooking the Shepaug River. They included rare fluted spear points and other stone tools used to collect and prepare foodstuffs, slice hides for clothing, and process bone, wood, and plant parts for the manufacture of other non-food items such as bone needles and punches, wooden spear shafts and tool handles, and mats for bedding, sitting, and covering shelters.”
In the late 1980s the Institute began to focus on late prehistoric and early historic Native American sites. Hoping to understand more clearly patterns of settlement and land use among the Weantinock and Pootatuck tribes whose homelands once encompassed much of present Litchfield County, Dr. Russell Handsman instituted an extensive survey of the Housatonic River drainage. Dr. Handsman's research indicates that the landscape contains a long and continuous archaeological record of Native American presence in northwestern Connecticut for thousands of years up to and including the historical period. His findings are in direct contrast to some historical sources, which claim that this region of the state was uninhabited prior to European settlement.
Dr. Handsman believes that this disparity arose because inland Native American settlements and land use patterns were so different from those of contemporary Europeans and coastal Native American societies, that colonists misread the landscapes they encountered, believing them to be uninhabited. In northwestern Connecticut they did not find nucleated, year-round villages, enclosed lands, or extensive agricultural fields. Instead, evidence uncovered by the Institute suggests a different kind of pattern. Following a seasonal round of ripening fruits/plants/nuts, anadromous fish runs, and other animal life-cycles (such as seasonal migratory habits of waterfowl, winter yarding habits of deer, etc), northwestern Connecticut Native Americans practiced a settlement system of semi-sedentary base camps, smaller seasonal camps, and even smaller temporary camps that contained all or portions of the group's population at various times of the year, depending on the tasks at hand…”
To this I add a little story of my own.
I know someone whose Indian name is “Iron Otter.” We both have daughters named Kate who are the same age, went to the same schools, from Kindergarden to high school. Ever since he was old enough, Iron Otter would go to a fishing spot that his grandfather knew about, where they’d meet up with other Native People, from all over New England who also knew about it. Iron Otter’s grandfather was Moeller’s informant who first showed him what became known as the Templeton site, that very same fishing site. Driving on the back roads, taking various short cuts, I could drive there in 20 or 30 minutes from my house.
My house was very possibly begun to be built around 1700, the time of the “Land Deed” for this “purchase,” by the Indian Interpreter for the “Plantation” that became the town I now live in. Differing concepts of land ownership in mind, it’s very possible that this “Deed” was more of a treaty that implied not an actual sale but more of an agreement to share the resources of the area peacefully. I once read a New Milford history that described a similar sort of deal happening in that town, a house being at least begun to be built on the opposite side of the river from the Indian wigwams, just as my house was. I think the idea was that the English would wait until the Indians moved on and sort of just take over the land, perhaps making a “Confirmatory Deed” to make it a legal deal, from the English Law perspective (the second “purchase” of the same land here I think occurred about 1710 or so).
New Milford became a city – just as New London, Derby and many, many other cities did, built on the sites of many other former Indian cleared fields and what we call Villages from our Euro-centric point of view.
But where I live stayed rural – no factories, no train spur.
The sunrises everyday over the opposite hillside from my house where a Village stood for many years since at least 1659, illuminating the ancient stone fish weir that gives the area it’s Indian Place Name, by the agricultural fields on the other side of the river from my front door, the last floodplain of a chain of floodplains put into cultivation the first year that a group of English people found already cleared by Native American People, where mile after mile of remnants of stone rows remain that perhaps were used to control intentionally set fires as those people maintained the cultural landscape that those people walked and lived upon for at least the accepted 10,190 years, evolving into a culture that remains little understood today…