Experts find evidence of ancient Long Island village in Middle Island

Sandra Peddie
Newsday, December, 1985

Archeologists digging in Middle Island have uncovered what they believe are the remains of a prehistoric Native American village - the first remains of an entire village ever discovered on Long Island.

Although they caution that more excavation and laboratory analysis must be done before they make conclusive statements, the archeologists say that the 15,000 to 17,000 artifacts found at the Middle Island site indicate that an Indian village existed there 400 to 1,000 years ago.

"There's lot more out there than we ever suspected", said Kent Lightfoot, an assistant professor of anthropology at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.

Lightfoot is one of three archeologists overseeing the project, which is sponsored by Stony Brook, Suffolk Community College, Queens College of the city University of New York and the Town of Brookhaven. In a dig conducted over the past two summers, they found artifacts ranging from arrow tips to clay containers, as well as evidence of house structures- all indications of a prehistoric village. Artifacts that predate the year 1600, when written records on Long Island begin, are considered prehistoric.

Gretchen Gwynne, a Stony Brook archeologist not connected to the project, said the site would be important for regional archeology if its age is confirmed

In the past, archeologistshave concentrated their studies along the coasts of Long Island. They have found remains of individual house structures, but never an entire village. That was puzzling, Lightfoot said, because remains of Native American have been found in New Jersey and Connecticut. If Indians were fishing on the coasts in the summer, archeologists wondered, where did they go in the winter?

The site covers four acres in a sheltered hollow near a freshwater pond, a good location for a winter village. Lightfoot asked that the location not be revealed, to prevent "pothunters" from removing artifacts for their own collections.

The site also may provide evidence that the prehistoric population was much larger than previously believed, said James Moore, an associate professor of anthropology at Queens College who is working on the project.

The archeologists began studying the four-acre site two summers ago after the Brookhaven environmental Protection Department alerted them to the area, which is owned by the town, after finding pieces of artifacts there. Using archeology students in a summer field camp, they did an intensive dig last summer. In addition to arrow tips and clay containers, they found pieces of knives, hide scrapers, pestles and ceramics.

Perhaps more important, they found what is called a "post mold pattern" of three house structures. Because wood decays quickly in Long Island's acidic soil, archeologists look for stains left be the pointed tips of saplings thrust into the ground as the foundation of the house. They found three circular patterns 10 to 15 inches below the ground surface, with shards of cookware inside them, at the site, Lightfoot said.

The archeologists are now cleaning the remains, cataloging them and plotting the area where they were found on a computerized grid. So far, they have plotted concentrations of arrow tips in the northwest and southeast corners of the site, hide-scrapers in the center and ceramic chips in the south- central portion of the site.

"There's a lot of interesting stuff that can be done, but it's got to be done fairly soon because of the development that's going on", Lightfoot said. In 10 years, he said, the rapid- pace of development in Brookhaven may put an end to archeological study in the area. 

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