Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Jefferson NH Paleoindian Sites

NH Archaeologist Dr. Richard Boisvert
at one Jefferson site

It’s a risk to say they were the first humans in New Hampshire. Better to qualify and say instead something like: “Evidence indicates they were the first.” Because who knows? Some time in the future evidence of an earlier people may be discovered. I’m referring to those people most archaeologists call “Paleoindians.” At least one archaeologist I’ve spoken to, however, prefers the term “Paleoamericans” because that leaves open the possibility that the first humans in New England may not have been Indians, people whom those the rigidly, politically correct would call Native Americans.

There are relatively recent theories afloat that the first Americans may have come from Europe — across the Atlantic on the southern edge of glaciers that covered both the North American and European continents during earth’s most recent glaciation — the Pleistocene Epoch. The period after which those glaciers retreated from what is now Maine and New Hampshire is called the “Holocene.” which began around 12,000 years ago and still extant. Paleoamericans left evidence that they were here immediately following glacial meltdown.

The most interesting of recent Paleoamerican discoveries I know of are in Jefferson, New Hampshire. Those excavations have taken decades but the most recent was during the summer of 2017. All that can be found after twelve millennia are stones, or “lithics” in archaeological parlance, because the organic material has long dissolved. Sources of the stone preferred by those ancient humans for toolmaking are scattered over Maine and New Hampshire but was mostly local for the Jefferson site at least. Availability of that stone may have been one of the reasons Paleoamericans visited.

The various Jefferson sites are close to Mount Jasper, about which I’d previously written here, and the Jefferson stone closely resembles Mount Jasper rhyolite. Excavations conducted at the various Jefferson sites have been under the supervision of Dr. Richard Boisvert, the soon-to-retire New Hampshire state archaeologist I had a chance to interview in June of last year. Boisvert is especially interested in the paleo period and I am too, so I was thrilled when he agreed to meet with me. I’ve read everything I can find on Maine and New Hampshire sites, some of which he authored.

Boisvert believes those early New Hampshire residents made clothing there. “How do you know that?” I asked, given that he has only stones to study. Well, his team found many artifacts called “gravers” which are flakes of “knappable” stone — stone which can be shaped by skilled artisans who strike it with other stones or with pieces of antler to produce a sharp edge for knives, projectile points, scrapers, and “gravers.” Gravers have a sharp point, not unlike a linoleum knife but smaller, and the point can be used to make the eye of a needle. Bone needles have been found at sites not old enough for organic material to have disintegrated.

The various Jefferson sites had at least one thing in common: they overlooked what was probably a game trail along which caribou traveled (and perhaps now-extinct megafauna as well). The proliferation of gravers indicates needle making which, in turn, indicates clothing manufacture. The proliferation of stone scrapers found there would support that hypothesis because they were used to remove residual flesh inside flensed animal hides.

Dating the artifacts is done by consultation with other scientists such as geologists and botanists. Geologists analyze the post-glacial landscape, some of which had been lake bottom. Enormous amounts of water flowed from melting ice still retreating northwestward at the time and dams sometimes formed in valleys creating lakes. Many were temporary when dams failed and water drained through breaches. In some cases, smaller lakes and ponds remain to the present day and botanists analyze pollen samples from lake-bottom sediments. Thus they can determine climate conditions of 12,000 years ago by what kinds of plants produced the pollen.

Notice central groove or "flute"
The Jefferson sites are forested now, but during the paleo period there were no trees and paleo hunters could have seen migrating herds miles away. They fashioned the distinctive, “fluted” spear points characteristic of the paleo period with which to kill them. Boisvert found other small bits of stone called “channel flakes” which are struck from those points to create the central groove or flute created for hafting. Boisvert said his team found 126 such channel flakes indicated extensive spearpoint manufacture.
My wife and I visited Indian sites in the southwest just before I interviewed Boisvert. Artifacts are plainly visible on the surface there because there’s so little vegetation to obscure them. The first paleo artifacts were first discovered in Clovis New Mexico in 1929 and were dated to about the period of the Jefferson, New Hampshire artifacts. Clovis fluted points have since been found all over North America.


Brian said...

I know what the subject of this week's column would be if it were Obama or Hillary that just embarrassed the country with what is already being widely called the most disgraceful behavior a US President has displayed on foil soil. But this is something so treason-like that even most Trump fans can't try and defend him so it is best ignored, right?

CaptDMO said...

Brian, wrong. And not interested in non sequitur "diversions".
It always gnawed at me WHY the Abenaqui "campsite" was so far from the Saco river.
"Overlooking the game trails" which would have been, and are, along the river and it's feeders, would justify that.
I suppose being right next to the river would have diverted the game, and would have been exposed to flooding I suspect was more frequent "over the bank" (Now the scenic vista)when beaver's were abundant.
IMHO, it's ALWAYS about the water. Shelter from the elements...in MY 55+ years, I've noticed a funky weird weather anomaly happens, distinct from points immediately North and South, in between (now) Intervale Crossroad and Hurricane Mountain road.

Brian said...

If a passenger on the Hindenburg mentioned that they smelled smoke, guess that would be a non sequitur "diversion" as well. That may be, but some things are urgent enough to warrant this, and our county getting sold out by a "president" who acts like an enemy nation's little lap dog bitch is much, much more urgent than a falling dirigible.

I bet no one has the cajones to answer the questions posed here:


Brian said...



Reality Check said...

At this point sitting around chit chatting about the remnants of old societies we massacred is as useful as talk of rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. But evil needs distraction to succeed. But sorry, this in-your-face cowardice will not succeed.

CaptDMO said...

I'm fairly sure ONE of the reasons I held more amateur interest in archeology, than say.. paleontology, is archeologists don't have to dig anywhere NEAR as deep a hole.
Oh SURE, like those lazy geologists, paleontologists can just sit around waiting for erosion, and dynamic tectonics to do the job FOR them, but STILL!

viagraasli said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.