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Native American Artifacts Arrive in Tarrytown

The NYC DEP delivered four boxes of Native American tool pieces dating back 1,000s of years to their new home at the Historical Society Serving Sleepy Hollow and Tarrytown.

Our Historical Society celebrated something of an early Christmas this week when a special delivery arrived.

Hundreds of Native American artifacts, some dating back 5,000 years, arrived by the boxful – four boxes to be exact containing about 400 pieces of “stone shatter” and other items believed to be used as tools by Native American tribes in upstate New York.

Historical Society Executive Director Sara Mascia with President Richard Rose were there to accept the offerings from Adam Bosch of the Department of Environmental Protection with Historical Perspectives archeological investigator Cece Saunders, whose team excavated, cleaned and carbon-dated the stones from a state construction site in Eastview, NY. Around a festive crimson-clothed table they were surrounded by several huge media cameras as they revealed just a few of the hundreds of rock bits.

Artifacts include approximately 391 pieces of stone shatter and flakes from stone tool production, 12 projectile points, five bi-faces, two scrapers, two knives. The abundance of tool parts seems to point to the fact that the area, next to the fresh water supply of Mine Brook and on well-drained soil, was visited regularly by hunting groups. 

“Location, location, location,” said Saunders of what must have been an attractive refueling spot for these Native Americans over 1000s of years from the late Archaic Era to the early Woodland Period. "It's rare to have so many clustered together, so we know they were coming there for a long time."

Saunders said the Native Americans would use these tools to hunt creatures as large as deer, and they were of course good recyclers. The investigators see evidence of the tribes tweeking and reappropriating broken pieces for different uses.

The artifact discovery came during standard preconstruction studies done on the site where the Catskill/Delaware UV Facility would be built. The water treatment plant has been under construction for the last six years and will be treating water from the Catskill and Delaware watersheds as of this month.

According to the DEP, it will be the largest such plant in the world, boasting a daily capacity to treat over two billion gallons of water.

The DEP manages our complicated and far-reaching water supply network, providing more than one billion gallons of water each day to more than nine million residents (eight million in New York City alone, and another million in Ulster, Orange, Putnam and Westchester counties). This water comes from the Catskill, Delaware, and Croton watersheds, extending more than 125 miles from the city in a system of 19 reservoirs, several controlled lakes, and many tunnels and aqueducts.

Early on in the earliest survey of the land in 2004, Saunders’ team found specimens they knew were special, and from there they searched up to three feet deep (the soil here doesn’t go much deeper) and found a rare abundance of artifacts.

Saunders has been doing just this sort of work for many years, but still her pleasure over this discovery was palpable. “Even after 30 years, you can get excited.”

DEP folks and their archeological consultants gave a presentation on these artifacts at the Warner Library in October. The relics will live on permanent loan at the Historical Society, a place chosen for their dedication to research and public education. The Historical Society itself is something of an artifact in its own right – dating back to 1889.

Mascia said the rocks would live with other Native American items in their collection in a special case they would soon purchase for the first floor. Their existing collection was recovered mostly from the site where the Kraft Foods complex is now. This new exhibit will be special, Mascia said, because it’s as much about the Native Americans as it is about our drinking water and our agehold connection to it.

But when the general public will be able to view these items, she did not yet know.

First comes the massive organizational project of getting all of these bagged and labeled items into their database – a task the Society's part-time volunteers would be tasked to do. The DEP in turn will be creating a website to inform people about this collection. A plague would also be erected at the Eastview site to tell contemporary visitors about its former visitors.

“I am grateful to the Historical Society…for partnering with us to showcase these important artifacts and fossils to help foster a better understanding of the Native Americans from this area as well as the ancient history of the watershed itself,” DEP Commissioner Carter Strickland said in October.

“The NYC DEP collection of artifacts recovered from the Eastview UV site will enhance research opportunities, and will contribute to our compilation of artifacts related to the heritage of the Tarrytown, Sleepy Hollow and the nearby region,” Mascia said. “We thank the NYC DEP for working with us to preserve the history and character of our surrounding community.”

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