Sunday, November 04, 2012

Where Rye Hill Was

     I finally stumbled upon an archaeological paper from the town I live in, in an online reproduction of THE SUSQUEHANNA HORIZON AS SEEN FROM THE SUMMIT OF RYE HILL (6LFlOO), WOODBURY CONNECTICUT by DAVID H. THOMPSON (of the) GREATER NEW HAVEN ARCHAEOLOGICAL SOCIETY (1989) from the "TOC's" of the CT Archaeological Society. I found a bunch of downloadable articles from past bulletins that I thought I might read on my tablet if we lost power at Happiness Farm during Hurricane Sandy.
     I found 'em here: http://www.connarchaeology.org/html/tocs.html and the Rye Hill document here: http://www.connarchaeology.org/ASC52.pdf#pagemode=bookmarks&view=fit&page=17

      So of course I start wondering "Where is Rye Hill?"
      And then the author let's me know in the first paragraph:
  "Today, thanks to the rumbling of the bulldozer, it is impossible to see anything from the summit of Rye Hill in the literal sense. This small, glacially deposited hill upon which the site was located has been entirely leveled in the quest for top soil and gravel. Ruth and Edmund Sinnott salvaged what they could in 1965 over several weekends, while the area was being obliterated during the week by the bulldozer. If it were not for their efforts, nothing would be known of the site."

     So it's just another bulldozer story, where money 'talks' - or "quests" after topsoil and gravel - and a thousand year or two year old nonrenewable cultural resource 'walks' off into oblivion.

      So of course I start wondering, "Where, at least, was Rye Hill?"
       And then the author shows me Figure One:

So I find my USGS topological map of the Woodbury quadrangle and look for the old Indian Trail that's now known as main Street as well as CT Rte. 6 (but marked U.S. 6 on the map above), the Pomperaug River and something called South Brook, the one ingredient I'm not familiar with.
(1955 - updated 1984)
      "Hokey Smokes!" I exclaim (in a G-Rated version of the story) when I find the location. I've been by there a million times, parked my car there by the back door of the Natural Food store a few hundred times, and even walked down across the levelled ground to the river, picking up a stone or two along the way, wondering if they just might be perhaps an abrader or nutting stone - just like the ones found in figure 9, on page 36.
(Google Earth 2012 - and I've made the circle too small, I think)
I can take you back to 1934, thanks to the CT State Library, and show you how Rye Hill used to look back then, an actual hill perhaps at one time planted in rye:
The same State Library magic allows me to show you a photo from 1965, bulldozer included:
When I imagine sitting up on top of Rye Hill in the distant past, by a stone lined pit that might be a cremation burial site or an acorn leaching pit - or both, although not at the same time, of course - I think about the Cultural Landscape of a thousand or two or more years ago, and find so does the author of the paper: “The black fine grained soil that formed the fill of the pit also contained many small carbonized (partially burned) nuts. Upon excavation the Sinnotts did not immediately notice them. There was rain during the night, and the next day the nuts were found washed out of the pile of fill from the pit. These did not entirely fill a pint-sized peanut butter jar...the majority of the cotyledons not only belonged to the white oak group, but were from the dwarf Chinquapin Oak Quercus prinoides...Chinquapin Oak is a low wide-spreading shrub which grows in thickets. These spread radiating underground stems which send up new shoots. As do other members of the White Oak group, the abundant acorns mature in the first autumn. It is sometimes called the Scrub Chestnut Oak because the leaves resemble the leaves of the Chestnut. The dwarf Chinquapin Oak has minimum of tannin and a sweet kernel which contributes to its food value. Upon maturation Collins believes that the acorns are quickly consumed by birds, mice, squirrels, and deer. However the low size of the shrub might make collecting the collecting of the nuts easier for hunters and gatherers who would otherwise have to wait for the nuts to fall to the ground from the large species... Some speculative questions ought to be raised concerning the frequency and distribution of this species under aboriginal ecological conditions when the forests were periodically burned either by lighting, or deliberately by the natives in order to reshape and manipulate the ecosystem (Cronon 1983:47- 51)...(t)he burning minimized the understory plants, in order to produce and open park-like forest with widely spaced trees, few shrubs, and much grass and herbage. The larger oaks, particularly the white, since they are more fire resistant than the black oaks according to Collins, would have been an important component of these forests. A thinner forest canopy would have permitted a sunnier, warmer, and dryer forest floor which might have been conducive to the propogation of Chinquapin Oak as it was for a variety of different kinds of berries. The fact that this oak may be propagated by shoots growing up from undergound stems, may have been a significant survival factor when the forest was burned. Consequently Chinquapin Oak may have been more prolific in the past than it is today, and consequently of greater aboriginal economic significance than has previously been recognized…”

Turns out these Scrub Oak Shrublands are “fire dependant,” are found on ridge tops like they say, but also in and around “frost pockets,” ice in glacial Kettle Holes that are all over the place in that part of town, scrubbed more deeply by glacial action than anywhere else in CT except the CT River Valley. Pollen studies show evidence of intentional burning by native Americans, going way back and this pdf tells you a whole bunch about it:
http://www.mass.gov/dfwele/dfw/nhesp/natural_communities/pdf/scrub_oak_shrubland.pdf

And it turns out the word “chaparral” comes from the Spanish "chapa" or scrub oak...



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