Archaelogist Duder Speaks About Dracut Excavation

Martin Duder, Principal Archaeologist/Project Manager for John Milner Associates Inc., was the guest speaker at this year’s annual meeting of The Massachusetts Archaeological Society Northeast at the Peabody Museum of Archaeology this past Tuesday night. Mr. Duder has had field experience in Mexico, Honduras, Alaska; overall, he has more than 23 years of professional experience in North American archaeology. Mr. Duder has authored or co-authored more than 45 Cultural Resource Management reports for New England throughout his life. In his lecture on Tuesday night, entitled “Life On A Slope: Archaic Occupation at Whortleberry Hill,” he spoke about his findings from Archaic sites in Dracut, Mass. Archaic archaeology is the study of human life from an early, usually primitive, period through the recovery and examination of uncovered artifacts. A sewage company digging to create space for its pipes accidentally found the sites, located on a south-facing slope and the terrace of a hill. Archaeologist tend to shy away from excavating a slope because of potential obstacles. However, because the site was inhabited during the Early Archaic Period (7000-9000 years ago), they decided to continue with the project. Initial probing at the site on a terrace led to the discovery of some calcite bone with radiocarbon dating back 2900 years. Archaeologists believe that the bones belong to two young deer, which were intentionally cremated and placed on the mountainside. Excavation at the first mountainside site began in December 2001 and was completed in March of the following year. Many specialists from nearby universities, including Harvard and Brown, assisted in the undertaking of the project. Clay, silt, sand, charcoal, hazelnut, and animal bones found at the site were compared to natural soil elsewhere to determine how the environment had changed in the past 10,000 years. “Some of the most important information on this subject came out of this project,” Mr. Martin said in his lecture. For excavation at the second site, the use of a backhoe was essential to expedite the process. “We had to operate in a budget, but we blew our budget,” Martin jokingly said. Similar cores and simple tools were found at both mountainside sites, and through microscopic analysis scientists were able to determine the composition and possible uses of the tools. The tools were made of quartz and granite, and had compositions characteristic of those created 7000 to 9000 years ago. Turtle shells and calcite bone of medium-sized mammals also dated back to this era. Evidence supports that these sites were occupied from summer to winter, but 400 years apart. Both archaic groups used the site in the same way: protection from the elements during the harsh winters and a temporary home. At the end of the project, the sewage company was able to lay its pipes. Though no laws protect the site, Mr. Duder hopes that further work will occur in the future. After the lecture, Mr. Duder held a short question and answer segment. The floor was open to all, and he took questions and comments from the stimulated audience. Mr. Duder’s lecture was both informative and captivating; Society members and friends were more than happy to learn about archaic life.