While working to dig out space for a new traffic roundabout, construction workers in the small Massachusetts town of Northampton made a surprising discovery.
Instead of dirt and rocks they found spearheads and stone tools dating as far back as 8,000 to 10,000 years, a period of North American history about which relatively little is known.
After discovering the artifacts, the city hired an excavation firm, Archaeological and Historical Services, Inc. to do a thorough dig at the site.
Construction workers working on a traffic roundabout in Northampton, Massachusetts discovered artifacts that suggest the remains of an 8,000 year old village
Over the course of the two-year dig, the archaeologists made a number of promising discoveries. In addition to the stone tools and spearheads, they found knives, fire pits, and raspberry and acorn seeds, which had been preserved by charring.
Researchers believe the findings point to a temporary village site that could have been used for at least two seasons.
AHS’s David Leslie described artifacts from that time period as ‘incredible rare.’
‘This is a site of regional importance to understand that time period,’ he told The Daily Hampshire Gazette.
The findings could give hints of how North America was made more habitable after the end of the last ice age, when the region was covered with thick boreal forests that bordered the massive ice sheets covering Canada and parts of, what is today, the northern United States.
WHEN DID HUMANS ARRIVE IN NORTH AMERICA?
It is widely accepted that the earliest settlers crossed from what is now Russia into Alaska via an ancient land bridge spanning the Bering Strait which was submerged at the end of the last Ice Age.
Issues such as whether there was one founding group or several, when they arrived, and what happened next have been the subject of extensive debate.
The earliest evidence of human settlers on the continent dates to around 14,000 years ago, with the remains of an ancient village found ‘older than Egyptian pyramids’ found in April 2017.
A recent study using ancient DNA (six) suggests humans arrived to North America 25,000 years ago (two) before splitting into three Native American groups (three and four). The DNA came from a girl who belonged to a group called the ‘Ancient Beringians’
Artefacts uncovered at the settlement, found on Triquet Island 310 miles (500km) northwest of Victoria, Canada, include tools for creating fires and fishing hooks and spears dating from the Ice Age.
Other research has suggested that humans reached North America between 24,000 and 40,000 years ago.
A 24,000-year-old horse jaw bone found in January 2017 in a cave in Alaska had the marks of stone tools, suggesting it was hunted by humans.
A representative from the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head, one of two federally recognized indigenous groups from Massachusetts, oversaw AHS’s work on the excavation.
The Wampanoag historically resided closer to the coast and Cape Cod, while other groups, namely the Pocomtuc and Nonotuc, lived in and around what is now Northampton.
Since neither is a federally recognized tribe, the Wampanoag will consult with the city on their behalf.
Mark Andrews, the Wampanoag observer for the project, said the ever expanding suburbs made it harder to find such sites to learn about and preserve the region’s history.
‘There’s less of this stuff to be found because places have been taken and impacted,’ Andrews said.
‘The cultural resources are disappearing rapidly due to land development and land use.’
‘The cultural resources are disappearing rapidly due to land development and land use,’ says Mark Andrews, a Wampanoag observer who advised archaeologists on the Northampton excavation
After the completion of the dig, the city still has plans to pave the site over and use it as a roundabout, but some local residents are pushing for the site to be preserved.
‘It is hard to imagine such early life was possible here, yet was here, apparently sustainable, during those primitive days,’ Northampton resident John Skibiski wrote in a letter to the Gazette.
‘This rare site could be easily saved and preserved by retaining the present roadway, but adding a sophisticated monitored traffic signal, which also offers a substantial cost savings.’
However, Leslie says that since the site had now been fully excavated, there is nothing to preserve.