Archaeologists and Anthropologists Gather for Regional Conferences, Spring 2016

On April 15 the New York Archaeological Council (NYAC) met in Rochester, New York preceding the 100th anniversary meeting of the New York State Archaeological Association.  Workshops responsive to the crisis in archaeological collections curation were held as the NYAC program on Friday afternoon. Later that night NYSAA held its business meeting, while the conference continued through the rest of the weekend, ending with a guided tour of the new Seneca Art and Culture Center at the Ganondagan State Historic Site on Sunday afternoon.  Some of the featured events of the NYSAA conference included the day-long plenary session on Saturday and the keynote presentation by John Hart on Saturday night.  Volunteered papers were presented on Sunday morning.  

On April 22-23, the Northeast Anthropological Association (NEAA) held its annual meeting at Skidmore College.  The NEAA represents the four sub-disciplines of anthropology, and its theme this year was Visualizing Humanity:  Engaging Local, Regional, and Global Perspectives. The keynote speaker was Penn State University researcher and Skidmore alumna Margaret S. Winchester, speaking on anthropology in global health research.  

Some of the highlights of this meeting for archaeologists included John Hart’s paper on social network analysis of Iroquoian sites using ceramic data; Pierre Morenon’s and Dan Russell’s stratigraphic analyses involving charcoal, radiocarbon dating, and flakes; Joe Zarzynski’s presentation re:  the documentary “Iron Sentries:  The Mystery Cannons of Fort William Henry”; Curtiss Hoffman’s presentation analyzing the poorly understood and generally mysterious stone structures of the eastern United States; and two papers on the history of archaeology:  Robert Welsch’s analysis of the role and connections of Ohio Archaeologist William C. Mills, and Franklin Pierce undergrad Brian Kirn’s paper on the career of Warren K. Moorehead.  

In the session I participated in, Franklin Pierce undergrad Kate Pontbriand gave a very informative paper on studying ancient climate change with archaeological faunal data from a stratified coastal site in Maine; and Memorial University of Newfoundland grad student John Andrew Campbell tied together the studies of archaeology and ethnoecology with an example from Nova Scotia featuring Transitional Archaic data (4100-2700 BP).  There were some great posters also, including the important research being conducted on the archaeology of slavery in the Hudson valley by Michael Lucas, Kristin O’Connell, and Susan Winchell-Sweeney, all of the New York State Museum, and Timothy Horsley (Northern Illinois University).  Their remote sensing surveys and focused subsurface testing are taking place in the Towns of Bethlehem and Colonie, Albany County.   Another great poster presentation was “Spatial Mapping and Analysis of the Woodlawn Estates Archaeological Site” by Skidmore undergrad and Spring 2015 Curtin Archaeological intern Andrew Bosworth.  This site is located in Saratoga Springs (in Skidmore’s backyard).

I have missed the previous several NEAA meetings, but I used to attend fairly regularly.  So this was like a home-coming for me, or perhaps a return to a village I departed several years ago.  In the spirit of that thought, I continue the anthropological analogy to note that the age grades of the Northeast anthropology tribe are still functioning well, from talented undergraduates to the esteemed elders, teachers, story-tellers, and information-keepers of the society.  It was good to see old friends and meet new colleagues (and future colleagues).  It was great to hear that attendance was up considerably from last year.  In my observation, the students have always played a significant role in the NEAA. 

It would be great if NYSAA would put out a bigger welcome mat to encourage more student participation, and bolster its age-grade system at the entry level.

Robert E. Funk Memorial Archaeology Foundation, Inc. 

Every year during the Spring NYSAA and NYAC meetings, fellow Funk Foundation Board member Paul Huey and I make reports to these organizations on Funk Foundation business.  I reported to NYAC this spring by email to the president, while Paul made a presentation at the NYSAA Board Meeting (which I also attended).  The Funk Foundation’s current news is that 6 applicants met the April deadline for grant proposals, and these proposals are currently under review.  We have in addition provided some feedback to potential future applicants.  Also, Ammie Mitchell, last year’s Funk Foundation grant recipient, presented a great poster and related slide show on her research involving the temper used in early Native American ceramics in New York State.  Finally, although this wasn’t a Funk Foundation activity per se, in this year’s plenary session I presented a paper on Bob Funk’s career, providing an unusual opportunity for people to learn more about Bob’s accomplishments and the historic and research contexts in which he made them, 1960-2002.

The Archaeological Conservancy in New York State

Now 30 years old, The Archaeological Conservancy is the “only national non-profit organization in the United States” acquiring and permanently protecting significant archaeological sites.  During the NYSAA Plenary Session Archaeological Conservancy Eastern Regional Director Andy Stout summarized the conservancy’s efforts in New York State, which have tripled over the last decade.  Among the sites acquired and protected are the world famous Lamoka Lake site, several Iroquois village sites, and a couple of sites in my neck of the woods:  the Esmond Preserve in the Town of Malta, and the Arrowhead Road Preserve in the City of Saratoga Springs.  News on the acquisition of the Esmond Preserve, the Conservancy’s 19th New York Preserve was published in American Archaeology in the Fall, 2015.  Curtin Archaeological was happy to assist with some information and a photo.  It was great to catch up with Andy and to meet Eastern Regional Field Representative Kelley Berliner.      

Network Analyses Involving Iroquoian Sites

John Hart’s keynote presentation at NYSAA, and his paper in the invited NEAA session “Recent Research in the Archaeology of Native Communities in the Northeast” both considered his ongoing research with colleagues on social network analysis of Iroquoian sites, based on the decoration of ceramic collars and wedges.  John’s publications on these subjects (Hart 2012; Hart and Engelbrecht 2012) are recommended reading.  Very briefly, based upon Bill Engelbrecht’s organization and quantification of data on Iroquois ceramic decoration, the analyses show patterns of social interaction among Iroquoian communities beyond the boundaries of Iroquoian historic tribal territories. Contrary to traditional interpretations, ethnogenetic rather than bifurcating histories are implicated, seemingly consistent with the movement of individuals or population segments (clans, villages) between historically-defined Iroquois tribal territories.  The analyses and the network diagrams in the published articles are fascinating.  The research is continuing.  

The Curation Crisis

The program at the NYAC meeting on Friday April 15 concerned developing standards or guidelines for archaeological collections culling, as well as collecting less in the field due to the perceived curation crisis in archaeology.  The Spring 2016 NYAC newsletter describes the workshops held in Rochester on April 15 (but not in much detail as a report is forthcoming).  More discussion is scheduled for the Fall NYAC meeting.  NYAC members and other interested parties:  remember to check the NYAC website regularly.  This is definitely an issue to pay attention to.  

Viewed in a larger context, the curation crisis has been a topic of discussion at least since the 1980s.  As archaeological data recovery prior to construction is in the public interest, and more broadly, it is the mission of museums to collect, I trust that part of NYAC’s effort involves a plan to support and publicize the need for increased repository space and staff.  

Research on Stone Structures and the Preservation Crisis

There were three presentations at the NEAA and NYSAA meetings that were at least somewhat related to another perceived crisis in the realm of antiquities.  These presentations at NEAA by Curtiss Hoffman (“A Measuring Stick for the Sacred Stone Structures of the Eastern Seaboard”) and Catherine Taylor (“Linguistic Connections between Hassanegk-Horseneck in Algonquian Oral History and Colonial Records”) as well as at NYSAA by David Johnson (“Characteristics of Native American Ceremonial Stone Landscapes within New York State”) address a variety of stone structures such as cairns, U-shaped walls, and other constructed or possibly constructed features that are not property lines or field dividers, but have unknown functions (other than possible functions that these authors and others are deducing from a variety of lines of evidence).  My sense from the these presentations is that serious researchers are carefully considering that some stone structures or whole classes of stone structures were manufactured by American Indians in historic or prehistoric times, and that the potential exists within their research designs to learn more about the origin and nature of these structures.  

The perceived crisis is that many of these structures are being destroyed in development projects.  These structures clearly have serious research potential, as demonstrated by the interests of these authors; they may have cultural value as suggested by the words sacred and ceremonial used by some of the authors, or by connection to traditional property types as Taylor’s linguistic analysis suggests.   The current claim is that these structures increasingly are being destroyed by development projects with little or no documentation, and without due consideration for preservation.  I do not know the extent to which this is true, but it may vary from state to state.  These may well be novel resources in the historic preservation review process, or they may suffer from the lack of well-developed historic contexts.   

This is a bit of an aside, but the Northeastern woods also contain different classes of stone walls used in historic agricultural strategies (and are not the same as the structures discussed by Hoffman, Taylor, and Johnson).  The formal and functional variation of these walls is given a fascinating discussion by Tom Wessels (1997).  Wessels relates the stones in different kinds of walls/fences to their field sources in the context of different historic land uses.

In another aside, archaeologists in the 1970s confronted the claim that certain stone structures in the Northeast had been constructed by ancient visitors from the Old World.  Neudorffer (1980) provides the report of an investigation of the classes of structures in question.         



 Ganondagan State Historic Site is in the Town of Victor just outside of Rochester, New York.  Its new Seneca Art and Culture Center is a real gem among New York’s State Historic Sites.  The NYSAA Saturday plenary session included a presentation by Historic Site Manager G. Peter Jemison (Seneca) on the site and its different meanings and significances.  On Sunday afternoon the NYSAA participants were given a special tour of the new facility, guided by our welcoming and most knowledgeable host, Curator Michael Galban.  

In his plenary session presentation at NYSAA, Peter Jemison made the point that the site’s exhibits and interpretation draw jointly from oral tradition, the documentary record, and archaeology.  You should really visit Ganondagan to see the beautiful way this has come together.

References Cited

Hart, John P.
2012    The Effects of Geographical Distance on Pottery Assemblage Similarities.  Journal of Archaeological Science 39:128-134. 

Hart John P. and William Engelbrecht
2012    Northern Iroquoian Ethnic Evolution:  A Social Network Analysis.  Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 19:322-349.

Neudorfer, Giovanna
1980    Vermont’s Stone Chambers:  Inquiry into Their Past.  Vermont Division for
    Historic Preservation, Agency of Development and Community Affairs, 
State of Vermont, Montpelier.

Wessells, Tom
1997    Reading the Forested Landscape:  A Natural History of New England.  The Countryman Press, Woodstock, Vermont.