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Stony Brook Site

Table of Contents
Introduction
History
Artifacts
Disruption and Vandalism
Location Choice
Age of Site

Introduction

The Stony Brook Site is a prehistoric Indian Village located in the town of Stony Brook, New York, often described as an area on the North Store of “Aunt Amy’s Creek.” Found in 1956 and later excavated by William A. Ritchie in 1959, Ritchie describes the component as “Indians [who] are believed to be of the pre-ceramic archaic group who wandered from one semi-permanent camp to the next from c. 3000 B.C to 1000 B.C.” In 1981, Edward Johannemann, director of the Long Island Archaeological Project at the State University at Stony Brook, described the site as a 3,000 year old weapons factory. 1

The written report of this site describes the contemporary landscape as an “Area possibly destroyed by housing development.”

  1. Tracing L.I. Life 3,000 Years Ago. NY Times Judi Culbertson 1981

History

1600

At the threshold of the historic period, about A. D. 1600 in this area, the locality is believed to have been included at the western limits of the territory of the Setauket tribe or chieftancy of the Montauk Confederacy of Long Island Algonquian Indians.

Unfortunately, nothing is known of the historic or prehistoric archaeology of the Setaukets, so it is impossible to attribute anything at the Stony Brook site to the ancestors of the historic occupants of the district. Moreover, the age of the Orient, or later component at the site, has been radiocarbon dated to a period far too remote to admit, in the current lack of intermediate phases, of a plausible connection with a definite tribal or linguistic group.1

1960

In June of 1960, The Long Island Forum published an article generally describing  Long Island archaeology, briefly mentioning the Stony Brook Site and urging viewers to be conscious of the unfortunate disturbances of many Long Island sites.

By Hilda M. Turner
(Editor’s Note: Mrs. Egbert M. Turner of Lake Ronkonkoma writes a column “Old Long Island” for the Mid-Island News. She first became interested in Long Island lore after reading Paul Bailey’s two-volume history. She became especially interested in the records of primitive man on the Island the following article and those to succeed it are based on the investigations of New York State Archeologist, William A. Ritchie, and the Bulletin “The Stony Brook Site and its Relation to Archaic and Transitional Cultures on Long Island” published by the University of the State of New York.)
To get an idea of how long ago Indians lived here we must again turn to the Archaeologist and are happy to say that recent excavations by the New York State Museum and Science Service concluded by State Archaeologist, William A. Ritchie, at Stony Brook and other eastern locations that we shall review, will, at least give us some very definite answers that have not been available heretofore and we think you will be surprised. According to Dr. Ritchie, Long Island’s archaeological resources are dwindling fast. Many reliable Indian sites have been discovered by people living here, but unfortunately, much of their value for study has been lost because they were not scientifically excavated. Should you uncover anything pertaining to any Indian site may we urge you to immediately report it to the New York State Museum and Science Service in Albany so further investigation can be made.

1981

The NY Times featured an article about an adjacent goods manufacturing site local to the Stony Brook settlement site on September 13, 1981, describing its use and relationship to the village;

Tracing L.I. Life 3,000 Years Ago

What Edward Johannemann, director of the Long Island Archaeological Project at the State University at Stony Brook characterizes as a 3,000 year-old weapons factory is being excavated in the Stony Brook area.

The site, discovered last November during an environmental impact study, appears to have been a chipping station where quartz lance points, scrapers and knives were manufactured. In addition, it may have also contained a men’s house.

“In almost all primitive societies, there is one place for men only to gather,” Mr. Johannemann said. “This has that same air to it. We see very little evidence of the woman here – very little pottery, no evidence of cooking.”

Part of the men’s area may have been a sweathouse, or sauna, that was used ritualistically. Heated rocks were carried into the hut with sticks and cold water was poured on them to create steam. There is a proliferation of fire-cracked rock at the site, but no scorched earth, ashes or other evidence of conventional cooking fires.

“Actually, it was a very unfair society,” Mr. Johannemann said. “The women did all the hard labor and the men did the good things, the hunting and sitting around talking about the great times they’d had.”

The site may have been the work area for a living site a half mile south of it that was discovered by William Ritchie, New York’s state archaeologist, in 1956. That area, from the same historical period, contained a substantial amount of pottery and food refuse – clam shells, small animal bones and dark, greasy soil where organic matter had decayed.

“This time period, about 1000 B.C., is a very important period in Indian technology,” Mr. Johannemann said. “The Indian learned to use clay to make his ceramic pots. Prior to this he used soapstone, which is not found on Long Island and has to be got from the mainland. We don’t see as much evidence of crossing the Sound after this.”

This period, from 1300 to 1000 B.C., is designated as Transitional Archaic. It was followed by the Woodland period, which lasted until the decline of Indian Culture with the coming of white settlers.

Mr. Johannemann estimates that there were 30 Indians in this encampment, of Algonquin stock and designated as Orient people. That name comes from a burial ground found at Orient Point in the 1930’s which contained a distinctive fishtail-type projectile point, also found here.

The Stony Brook site was an ideal spot for an Indian settlement, according to Gaynell Levine, co-author of a series of archaeological studies of the area of which the forth volume, “Language and Lore of the Long Island Indians,” was recently published. The settlement was set into a hill for protection from the wind, and had water nearby that provided shellfish as well as natural refrigeration.

Because the earliest Indian settlement was near water, this area was considered “sensitive,” and the Town of Brookhaven requested an environmental impact study. Such studies, which are done through the New York State Department of Transportation, are an investigation of land use from prehistoric to contemporary times. Particular emphasis is placed on its economic potential in history.

In this instance, test holes were made by Mr. Johannemann and his associate, Laurie Schroeder, also an archaeologist, that revealed an abundance of quartz chips. The owner of the site, who has begun building on it, is credited by the archaeologists with being most cooperative. He originally gave them a year to excavate it. That time has been extended into spring.

“We’ll compile as much information as we can, which will go into libraries,” Mr. Johannemann said. “In this instance, the Three Village Historical Society is sponsoring the project, so they will own all the material we retrieve from it. It will be kept intact in the Three Village area.”

This is one of the better-supported archaeological projects on the Island, according to Mrs. Levine. Its budget of approximately $8,000 to $10,000 will be met by Dorthy Melville and the Historical Society and includes the expense of publication and any carbon-14 dating.

So far not enough material has been found to do carbon dating, however; the age of the artifacts, including one piece o very early pottery and some later ceramics of the Woodlands period, has been verified by comparison with similar carbon-dated artifacts.

Costs have also been kept down by using mostly volunteers to trowel – a method of gently scraping the dirt away – sift, screen and keep careful records of the exact level and location where relics are found. Two groups of teachers participated in the dig as part of an in-service training course offered by the Suffolk County Organization to Promote Education (SCOPE) and, according to Mrs. Levine, who is also coordinator of Long Island studies for SCOPE, another seven-week course will be given beginning on Saturdays in October.

The location of the dig has been kept secret to enable archaeologists to complete their work without interference. Mrs. Levine recalled an excavation a few years ago in which an Indian burial ground was discovered in Strongs Neck.

“That night the archaeologists went home, and in the morning when they came back every skull had been ripped away from the skeletons,” she said. “And this was not done by vandals but by neighborhood people taking them for souvenirs – people who should have known better.”

The secretiveness is not intended to scare off volunteers, either. But because of the time necessary to train volunteers in methods and recordkeeping, only people who will remain committed are sought.

“For every hour spent in the field, there are 10 hours of lab work, mapmaking and other paperwork,” Mr. Johannemann said. “And once people spend a few days at a hot, buggy site, they change their minds about the romance of archaeology.”

1984

The Village Herald newspaper mentions the Stony Brook Site as part of the local historical landmarks.

Across Mt. Gray is Waterview Lane, which near its end, provides us with a good view of West Meadow Creek.
This area was also the location of a recently completed archaeological exploration that was conducted over a two-year period. The area was determined to have been the site of a pre-historic Indian manufacturing camp, where arrows, spears and other implements were made. The material from the dig is currently being cataloged at the University and will be the source for an exhibit by the Three Village Historical Society Later this year.

  1. William A. Ritchie, The Stony Brook Site and It’s Relation to Archaic and Transitional Cultures of Long Island, 1959 pp 14

Artifacts

The artifact yield of the Stony Brook site was low, even by comparison with the average Long Island habitation component. Projectile points numbered 101, comprising 76.5 percent of the total of 131 non-pottery objects. Bone implements, limited to a few simple awls and a probable flaking tool, numbered 8 ( 6.1 percent) . There was but one small shell ornament. Potsherds, as reassembled, comprised some 58 fragments, mostly small.

Nevertheless, it is possible to extract from this meager industrial content certain significant dues to the economic activities of the site’s inhabitants, as well as to their cultural and temporal relationships with other groups on Long Island and elsewhere in the northeastern area. In major part this analysis depends upon specific projectile point typology, for most of the forms here involved possess a high degree of diagnostic value, according to present understanding.1

 

Materials remains found at the Stony Brook Site include crude stone artifacts and utensils of the Orient culture Indians. Among the material are remnants of quartz pebble industry within several shell midden.

The New York State Museum has in their collection charcoal, shells, animal remains, shell fragments, burned stones, and quartz.

  1. William A. Ritchie, The Stony Brook Site and It’s Relation to Archaic and Transitional Cultures of Long Island, 1959 pp 30

Disruption and Vandalism

The written report of this site describes the contemporary landscape as an “Area possibly destroyed by housing development.”

Location Choice

Despite the passage of some three millennia, certain of the natural advantages which we may assume to have been responsible for the Indians’ choice of locality are still evident. Since “no fundamental ecologic difference exists between a human community and any other special type of animal community,” these factors comprise such cardinal considerations as available food resources and protection against climatic rigors. The contents of the extensive shell middens on the site furnish the clue to the first of these requirements, met by direct and easy communicability by water with the still more or less abundant local sources of shellfish, waterfowl and other aquatic animals of the neighboring tidal bays and marshes.

The south-facing site opens to the sun across the marshy expanse of Aunt Amy’s Creek; behind it, to the north, cold winds are blocked by a high ridge rising rather steeply to a maximum elevation of 80 feet above mean sea level. This highland is part of the Harbor Hill Ridge, an icemarginal morainal feature traversing northern long Island from west to east, tentatively referred to the Iowan-Tazewell complex of the Wisconsin glacial period.

Several springs are reported to have formerly existed along the base of this hill near the site.1

  1. William A. Ritchie, The Stony Brook Site and It’s Relation to Archaic and Transitional Cultures of Long Island, 1959 pp 14

Age of Site

While many samples of shells and refuse bones were collected, it was decided to submit for Carbon-14 measurement only the charcoal, since highly unreliable results have been experienced in dating marine shells, due to the fact that these mollusks may have built into their shells not only contemporaneous carbon but also ancient carbon derived from calcareous waters carrying carbon, dissolved from ancient rocks.

The samples were submitted for Carbon-14 measurement to Professor H. R. Crane, director of the University of Michigan Memorial-Phoenix Project Radiocarbon Laboratory, who has reported for M-587 an antiquity of 2,900 + 250 years, for M-588 an age of 2,930 ± 250 years.1

 

  1. William A. Ritchie, The Stony Brook Site and It’s Relation to Archaic and Transitional Cultures of Long Island, 1959 pp 49

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