Geoarchaeology

Native Americans have lived in New England since the late Quaternary. Pollen and lake-level studies provide key evidence for reconstructing the vegetation and climates in which they lived. Recent studies in southeastern Massachusetts and Providence build on 25 years of effort in which Brown researchers have investigated several sites in southern New England and interpreted the late Quaternary environments near archaeological sites. Current research by Paige Newby has focused on several sites on Cape Cod and in southeastern Massachusetts as well as near Boston. As part of the sub-surface construction of 500 Boylston in the Back Bay, Boston, sediments and pollen data were obtained that enabled the reconstruction of  the vegetation and environments associated with the Boylston Street Fishweir (Newby and Webb, 1994 ). A continuing puzzle is the absence of evidence for wide spread land clearance during the Woodland Period, when native Americans were growing corn and other agricultural crops (Newby, 1997). The Public Archaeology Laboratory and Timelines Research have sponsored these studies and publications that are listed in the Geoarchaeology section on the Publications page.

Boylston Street excavation site on Boston map Photo of Boylston Street Fishweir location in huge hole.

Boylston Street excavation site
The site is the dotted area labeled A and A'.
Click to enlarge. (106 KB )

Boylston Street Fishweir location
Bottom center, archaeologists examine the fishweir.
Click to enlarge. (67 KB)

Paige Newby, who also directs the Pollen Laboratory, is currently conducting two studies. The first involves detailed mapping of pollen data to show the changing climates and landscapes associated with the earliest  human occupations in the Northeast. The first portion of this work was presented in a symposium at the Society for American Archaeology annual meetings in New Orleans in April, 2001.  The symposium was co-organized with Arthur Spiess (Maine Historic Preservation) and James Bradley (Peabody Museum at Andover, Massachusetts).  Originally begun with curation of the exhibit Origins and Ancestors Investigating New England’s Paleo Indians at the Robert S. Peabody Museum of Archaeology in Andover, Massachusetts, Paige maintains interest in PaleoIndian adaptation.   Further information on work and data is available by email.  Paige also published a study in Quarternary Research, which investigates Makepeace Cedar Swamp near Carver, Massachusetts (Newby et al., 2000). In an analysis of sediments and pollen from a transect of cores, Paige and co-workers reconstructed the changes in the region's vegetation and water levels during the past 14,000 years. This study shows the changing environments from Paleo-Indian to modern times.  Continued work on changes in lake-levels provide a means for reconstructing landscape changes, as well as understanding changes in moisture balance.  Between October 14 and 15, 2001, Paige, along with Bryan Shuman, will be presenting at Smith Symposium II in Buffalo, New York on "Late Quarternary vegetation, lake-level, and climate changes in the Northeast".


Coastal Studies     Geoarchaeology     Paleoclimates     Vegetation Dynamics