108 Bray Farm Road N.
Yarmouth Port, MA

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Taylor-Bray Farm Archaeology Project - October 2013

2013 Dig

In October 2013 a site examination survey designed to better understand Native American presence at the Farm was conducted. The survey was done to specifically determine the site's age and purpose. The challenge was set: Could we find artifacts and features in the soil that would give an indication of what types of activities were taking place here and when? The answer is yes, we could, and yes, we did!

Atlantic SpearpointThe artifacts, those whose physical attributes give an indication of age, recovered during this year's dig were consistently from the same time period, about 4,100 to 3,600 years before present (BP). There were multiple examples of Atlantic projectile points (right), which are essentially broad spears that would have been used as an actual spearhead or employed as a knife. Most of these points were made of rhyolite, a volcanic rock with the correct fracture properties to be chipped into a stone tool. A small number were made of quartzite, a metamorphosed sandstone. Both stone types can be found in on eroding hillsides or along the beaches of Cape Cod.

The other main type of projectile point recovered was of the Wading River type, part of the Sall Stemmed Tradition. This was a technological manifestation that lasted for a much longer duration than Atlantic points. They were used as far as 6,000 years possibly up until 1,000 years ago. These points were consistently made of quartz, a silicate that can also be found on the beach or picked from areas of exposed glacial till.

One example of what is called a Cape Stemmed point and two that were possibly of the Stark type point were the only projectile points that did not fit into these categories. Cape Stemmed points are a tradition that is confined to southeastern Massachusetts (south of the Boston Basin, the Cape and Islands, and west to Narragansett Bay)and date to between 2,500 and 1,500 years ago. They were used as a knife or a graver, an engraving tool often used on wood or bone. The two possible Stark points could push dating human occupation in this area back some 6,000-7,000 years. The condition of the points made it difficult to determine their diagnostic type in the field; hopefully further laboratory analysis will be conclusive.

At several locations across the site, both Atlantic and Wading River point types were found in association with clusters of fire-cracked rock, remnants of Native American cooking activities. The rocks may be cracked from once lining a hearth or cooking fire, or from a cooking process known as stone-boiling in which stones are heated and dropped into water and the heat transfer brings the water to boil. The rapid heating and cooling of the stones causes them to break in a manner easily recognizable to archaeologists.

In one instance, a string of units encompassing two square meters contained both Atlantic and Wading River points and a fire-cracked rock feature. This association places both point types in contemporaneous use at this site, and constricts the possible time of settlement to between 3,600 and 4,100 years ago. Small amounts of charcoal collected from some of the fire-cracked rock features are being sent out for radiocarbon dating, which may give a more precise date. The radiocarbon dates may also help to determine whether the features represent one large occupation or multiple smaller ones.

Hundreds of pieces of chipping debris, or "debitage," by-products of stone tool production and maintenance, such as re-sharpening edges or flaking new tips or bases onto broken points, were found. At Taylor Bray Farm, the debitage was comprised of various types of rhyolite, quartz, and quartzite; the same lithic materials as the projectile points. The only exceptions were two flakes of exotic materials, one of translucent tan chalcedony from an unknown location and one of grey chert which was likely derived from upstate New York. These exotic materials may indicate that people were either moving great distances across the landscape or were engaged in trade with peoples from other regions.

Excerpted from Dan Zoto's article in the January/February Tidings,
the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History newsletter.

Read Dan Zoto's full essay (.pdf).