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The Indians of Manhattan Island
and Vicinity
By Alanson Skinner
American Museum Of Natural History

Editor, Edmund Otis Hovey
New York, Published by the Museum, September, 1909


AS a part of the Hudson-Fulton celebration, a special exhibit representing the Indians of New York has been arranged in the West Hall, on the ground floor of the Museum. The low, or table cases, contain implements of stone, bone, shell and other materials, found on Manhattan Island and in and around Greater New York,- implements once used by the Indians occupying this region. In the upright cases will be found ethnological objects, many of which are still in use among the surviving Iroquois Indians of New York State. This guide, therefore, refers chiefly to the remains of Indians found upon Manhattan Island and adjacent shores, examples of which are shown in the table -cases. The location of the various cases may be seen from the accompanying plan.

In using this guide, the visitor is advised to turn north, as he enters the exhibit and take a general view of the cases in the order designated; then it is suggested that he follow the discussion (pp. 14-36) of the various kinds of specimens found near New York City as he makes a second examination of the exhibits in the table cases.

The Hudson-Fulton exhibition is designed to show the life of the Indians of New York City and vicinity in prehistoric times, when primitive conditions were as yet unchanged by the advent of European settlers. The objects shown have been collected by Museum expeditions sent for the purpose of excavating the ancient village, camp and burial sites of the Indians in several localities within the area indicated, and the exhibits have been prepared from the remains thus secured. The remnants of the tribes that once occupied the primeval forests of Greater New York have so long been scattered and lost that almost nothing can be obtained from them now.

Beginning with the northern half of the exhibit, the visitor will find the first section of the upright case (1) 1 devoted to a few specimens showing some of the more perishable articles formerly in use among the Delaware Mohegan Indians of this immediate vicinity. Most of these have been collected from the scattered remnants of these people, or else were obtained from old families who, since the disappearance of the natives, preserved articles of Indian manufacture in their homes as curiosities. The other portions of this case exhibit the clothing and weapons of the Iroquois.

The first table section (2A) is devoted to an exhibition, as comprehensive as possible, showing the life of the natives in prehistoric times by means of specimens obtained from the ancient village and camp sites. Here may be seen bones of the various animals, fish and shell-fish upon which the Indians depended for subsistence; fragments of nuts, corn, roots and other food products preserved by charring and obtained from ancient fireplaces, and such implements as arrow points of antler and stone, net-sinkers of stone and stone hoes for tilling the fields - all illustrative of primitive methods of hunting and agriculture. Implements exhibited in the same case show the preparation of animal and vegetable food with primitive utensils, while close by are tools used by the Indians in preparing skins. The manufactures of the Indians are illustrated in, the immediately adjacent section (213). A progressive series of implements shows the making of an arrow point from a simple quartz pebble such as might be picked up anywhere on the shore, with the various stages leading to the finished point; the tools employed are also exhibited. Implements of stone for pecking, grooving and polishing; hatchets and axes; pottery, fragments, and household utensils, such as hammers, axes, adzes and gouges, will be found at hand.

In the -other side of this table case (2B) there is an exhibit from Manhattan Island, made up of specimens principally collected by Mr. Alexander C. Chenoweth in the rock-shelters and village sites at Inwood, showing as fully as possible the life of the prehistoric Manhattan Indians. The exhibit illustrating, by means of models, the manufacture of pottery is especially noteworthy. From the appearance of fragments now to be found on the sites of the ancient Indian villages of this vicinity and the methods of modern Indian pottery makers, we may safely conclude that most, if not all, of the earthenware manufactured in this locality was made by the "coil" process, which consisted of the following steps. The Indians first secured clay of a suitable quality, which was mixed with pounded shell or stones to make it tougher and more durable. It was then worked into long rolls, and the Indian, beginning at the bottom, worked the pot up by adding coil after coil, blending or smoothing the coils with a smooth stone until they did not show from either the interior or exterior surface. The potter's wheel was not known to the aborigines in the olden days. When the pot was completed, it was decorated by stamping or incising designs about the exterior of the rim.

In the next table case (3A) are to be seen implements and remains from the shell heaps marking the long-forgotten Indian villages at Shinnecock Hills, Long Island. This exhibit, which is one of the most complete of its kind, gives a rather adequate picture of the ancient life of these people and is especially valuable for the number and variety of primitive manufactures shown. One of the most interesting of the sections demonstrates, by means of a series of specimens, the primitive methods of cutting bone and antler employed by these Indians. Bone was cut by notching or grooving it with a stone knife or flake and then breaking it at the groove. Antler was worked in the same way, but it is very probable that the Indians boiled antler in order to make it more pliable and easily cut.

In the western side of this case (3B) there is a series of specimens collected from an ancient Indian village situated on the site of the Parade Ground at Van Cortlandt Park. In the adjacent section some specimens from Long Island in general are shown.

The upright case (4A) at the end contains an exhibit from the Iroquois Indians of New York State, and the small wall case (6) on the side shows a section of A shell heap with a map showing the location of most of the

Fig. 3. Diagram Of A Typical Shell Deposit

Indian villages. of Greater New York and vicinity, as well as photographs and labels describing the opening and excavation of the sites. Specimens typical of those found in the shell heaps are also exhibited.

Of all the traces left by the aborigines along the New York seacoast, the most abundant and familiar are the shell heaps -- the beds of refuse marking the sites of ancient villages, camps and isolated wigwams. Wherever the fresh water joins the salt and especially where open water for fishing, a creek with its clam beds and a spring for drinking come together in happy combination, there is generally to be found some such evidence of Indian occupation, unless, as is often the case, settlement and improvement have buried deep the shells or carted them away.

The typical "shell heap" is not a heap at all, for leaf mold, the wash from neighboring high ground and often cultivation have made it level with its surroundings (Fig. 3). Very often, unless the land be plowed, no shells whatever show on the surface, and the only way of finding out the conditions of things below the sod is to test with a spade or a crowbar. If shells are present, their crunching soon gives notice of the fact. Sometimes shell heaps have been located by shells thrown from mole and woodchuck bur- rows, or by outcropping in gullies washed by the rain, or banks broken down by the surf. They are generally located near some creek or bay on low but dry ground, preferably with an eastern or southern exposure, and, as before mentioned, not far from drinking water. Some have been found fronting on the open Sound, but such cases are rare. These deposits con- sist of large quantities of decayed oyster, clam and other marine shells mixed with stained earth, with here and there ashes, charcoal and fire- broken stones to mark the spots where ancient camp fires blazed. Among

Fig. 4. Cross Section Of A Shell Pit

the shells are usually scattered antlers of deer, fish bones, bones of animals and birds split for the marrow, quantities of pottery fragments, and broken implements, in short, the imperishable part of the camp refuse left by the Indians. Now and then, perfect implements and ornaments that had been carelessly lost in the rubbish or hidden for safe-keeping are discovered. Little did the Indian think, as he laid away his little hoard, that his handiwork would, never see light again until he and his people had long been gone and forgotten.

Shell heaps vary from a few inches to four feet in depth, and in area from a few square yards to several acres - all depending on the length of time the settlement was occupied and the number of dwellings comprising it. Deep shell heaps are often divided into layers, the lowest of which are, of course, the oldest-. Under and near most of these deposits may- be found scattered "pits" or fire holes, which are bowl-shaped depressions in the ground filled with layers of stained earth, shells and other refuse, with an occasional layer of ashes. Some pits are as large as ten feet wide by six feet deep, but the average is four feet deep by three feet wide. It is supposed that they were used as ovens or steaming holes and afterwards filled up with refuse (Fig. 4). Some. contain human skeletons, which may have been interred in them during the winter sea-son when grave digging was impossible

Fig. 5. Map Giving The Locations Of Shell Deposits
Those marked + have been explored by the Museum.

Pits as a rule, contain * in more of interest than the ordinary shell layer. The closely packed regular masses of shells form a covering which tends to preserve bone implements, charred corn and such perishable articles from decay in a way that the looser shells of the general layers fail to do.

Shell heaps, while abundant along the seacoast, are seldom found inland, except on salt creeks or other streams having access to salt water. They may be seen all along the east shore of the Hudson River at more or less frequent intervals up as far as Peekskill, and on Croton Point and between Nyack and Hook Mountain on the west shore they attain considerable size. There are a few small deposits, however, composed mainly of brook clams (Unio) situated on fresh water lakes, in the interior of Westchester County. There are many shell heaps on State n- Island. Shell heaps occur or did occur on Constable Hook, New Jersey, and at intervals between there and Jersey City along the western shore of New York Bay. The accompanying map (Fig. 5) gives the location of the important known shell deposits of the vicinity of New York City.

Fig. 6. Grave Of Skeletons With Arrow Points

On the Opposite side (4B) of the upright case, the Iroquois exhibition is continued, but the last section is devoted to a small exhibit showing the manufacture of wampum by the Indians of Long Island with prehistoric implements and a number of specimens of wampum belts and strings collected from the Iroquois of New York and Canada.

The wall case (5) at the western end of the room contains a group illustrating the costumes of the Iroquois Indians of a period from about 1790 to the present day.

Beginning on the south side of the aisle, the easternmost upright case (7) is devoted to the False Face Society of the Iroquois, while the table case (SA) immediately following contains objects from Westchester County and Staten Island. In these sections an interesting feature of aboriginal life is shown. Although most of the Indians of the vicinity of Greater New York did not place objects in the graves with their dead, some graves at Burial Ridge, Tottenville, Staten Island, when opened for the Museum in 1895, were found to contain a great many interesting and valuable remains. With the skeleton of a child there was a great deposit of utensils, both finished and unfinished ornaments, such as beads, pendants, and the like,-a stone pipe and a number of other objects, while not far away the skeletons of three Indian warriors were exhumed (Fig. 6), in,and among whose bones there were found, as shown in this section, twenty-three arrow points of stone, antler and bone (Fig. 7).

This is an. excellent exhibit indicating the use of the bow in Indian war- fare. The skeletons lay side by side with the legs flexed as shown in the illustration (Fig. 6). In the first skeleton, it was found that two points of antler and one of bone had pierced the body and lodged near the spinal col- unin. Another point of argillite had been driven between two ribs, forming a notch in each. A bone arrow point had struck the shoulder and was resting against the scapula. Among the bones of the right hand, an arrow point of antler was discovered, and there was a similar one near the left hand. Another antler point was lying in the sand just be ' neath the body and had, no doubt, dropped from it when the flesh wasted away. The most inter- esting wound of all was one where an antler-tipped arrow had ploughed through one side of the body and fully one-third of the point had passed through one of the ribs, making a hole, where it remained, as smoothly as if drilled. The second body was also terribly injured. The left femur showed an elongated puncture near the lower end, probably made by an arrow point. Among the ribs was the tip of an antler point, and a yellow jasper one was among the ribs on the left side of the body. Three other points were among the bones. The third skeleton was likewise an example of old- time bow play. There was an antler point among the ribs on the left side. The end of one of the fibulve was shattered by a stone arrow point, and a second point had lodged between two ribs. Beneath the sternum was a ,flint point, and the right shoulder blade showed a fracture near the end, caused by a blow of some hand implement or an arrow. Near the base of the skull, the end of an antler arrow point was discovered, broken perhaps by its impact with the occiput. Two bone points were near the lower bones of the left leg. A second point was found upon search among the left ribs; under the Vertebrae was the base of another antler point, and two broken points were found beneath the body.

Fig. 7. Bones Punctured By Arrow Points, From Skeletons Found On Staten Island

The position in which several of the points were found certainly speaks well for the great force which propelled them. The long bows of the local Indians must indeed have been formidable weapons. Taking into consideration the number of arrows which must have been imbedded in the bodies of the warriors, it is,perhaps, probable that the majority of the projectiles were driven into the victims at close range after death.

In the wall case (11) south of the exhibit will be found the model of a rock-shelter and typical objects found in such places. These, as the name implies, are protected spots in rocky ledges, where Indians once made more 11, or less permanent places of abode. Many such shelters exist in the vicinity of New York, one or, two having been discovered at Inwood, Manhattan (Fig. 1). The most important rock-shelter so far discovered is the so-called

Fig. 8. Vertical Section Of Refuse In Finch's Rock House, About Midway Of The Cave

Finch House (Fig. 2) reproduced in the model. The original is near Armonk, Westchester County, New York. One point of special interest is- the fact that the Finch shelter contained two layers bearing relics separated by sand as shown in the drawing (Fig. 8). As no pottery was found in the bottom layer, it has been inferred that we have here the remains of two different races of Indians, the older not yet advanced to the pottery-making stage. This conclusion, is, however, far from final, for the whole arrangement may be due to accident.

The table case 8B contains objects selected from the Henry Booth collection illustrating the life of the Indians of the Upper Hudson. They are especially interesting on account of the number of ceremonial "banner stones" found in that region, which are apparently not nearly so abundant anywhere else in this vicinity.

In the next table case the section 9A is devoted to the life history of some of the Iroquois tribes other than the Five Nations of western New York, and the following section (9B) shows, as well as possible, the culture of the Iroquois Indians of central New York and objects used by the Indians of New York State in general manufacture or obtained from the Europeans upon the advent of the settlers. In the upright case (10A) there is presented an exhibition of pottery vessels, all but one of which were found within the limits of Greater New York, and some implements from the Iroquois of the Mohawk Valley, besides material. illustrating the societies of the Iroquois. On the other side, (10B), the entire case is filled with specimens from the Bolton and Calver collection from Manhattan Island, which will be more fully described below.

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