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Archaeological Dig Uncovers Mohican Floors, Suggesting Permanent Berkshire Homesites

The Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohicans wrapped up their second archeological dig in the Berkshires this summer with a discovery that could shift thinking about the tribe's history in the region.

On a recent morning, archaeologist Ann Morton stood inside a pit, about hip high, within sight of the Housatonic River in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. She pointed to the walls with her trowel.

“This red and black streak through here indicates a hearth. The black is charcoal and the red is burnt earth. So, there was a fire here,” said Morton. “I can see little flecks of it in the walls around the corner. But that's probably where the hearth was, right there in the wall.”

Morton's team found evidence of two floors. One is about four inches thick, suggesting the Mohicans lived here for a while.

“That means that they weren't here for a day or a week. They were here for months at a time, maybe repeatedly,” she said.

Rick Wilcox, a Mohican historian and retired Stockbridge police chief, said if that’s true, it’s significant.

“Historians have said in the past that they felt that the Berkshires was more of a hunting grounds and it was more seasonal. But all of this evidence suggests that there were a lot of permanent residents and over a longer period of time,” he said.

Wilcox cautioned that the findings still need to be interpreted and analyzed.

The date of the site isn't known yet. Morton said tribal members could have lived here just before 1737. That's when the Mohicans formed a Christian community with English settlers, in what was known as Indiantown, and later Stockbridge. She said the site could also be much older, going back five thousand years.

The archeological team collected charcoal samples, which will be used for radiocarbon dating, to try to determine the age of the site.

Charcoal collected at a Mohican archeological site in Stockbridge, Massachusetts will be radiocarbon dating to determine the age of the site.
Credit Nancy Eve Cohen / NEPM
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Charcoal collected at a Mohican archeological site in Stockbridge, Massachusetts will be radiocarbon dating to determine the age of the site.
Volunteers at a Mohican archaeological site bury one of the pits after the dig wraps up in Stockbridge, Massachusetts
Credit Nancy Eve Cohen / NEPM
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Volunteers at a Mohican archaeological site bury one of the pits after the dig wraps up in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.

Nathan Allison, the tribal historic preservation officer, pointed out a palm sized stone, a “fire-cracked rock,” found in a second pit.

“You see the red color to it here. That’s indicative of burning,” Allison said.

He said the fact that it had been in a fire suggests human interaction. The dig also found several stone flakes, that would have been shaved off of other rocks, being shaped into tools with “a projectile point, like a spear head or an arrowhead."

Bonney Hartley, the Stockbridge-Mohican tribal preservation manager at an archeological site next to the Housatonic River.
Credit Nancy Eve Cohen / NEPM
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Bonney Hartley, the Stockbridge-Mohican tribal preservation manager at an archeological site next to the Housatonic River.

Bonney Hartley, the tribe’s historic preservation manager, said because both archaeological digs this summer discovered floors, this isn't random but rather a pattern indicating a long history in the Housatonic River valley.

“We've done two digs now and we're two for two,” Hartley said. "We've uncovered -- actually, I should rather say, our ancestors have shown us what they wanted us to find, which were these early homesites to show our deep history here.”

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