Saturday, February 16, 2008

Bill Sandy speaks on recent Wallkill Valley discoveries

Bill Sandy talked extensively, to a standing room only crowd, on the discoveries made in the Wallkill Valley region which runs from Sussex, through Orange and into Ulster Counties. He put recent findings in context with the history of  local archaeological investigations going all the way back to 1801 when  portraitist and polymath Charles Wilson Peale excavated two nearly complete mastodon skeletons. This became known as the First US Scientific Expedition - right here in Orange County!

Early investigators studied large and sturdy artifacts such as the bones of Peistocene megafauna in addition to stone spear and arrow points. With the development of carbon dating in the 1950's organic remains such as charcoal came under scrutiny as a reliable method to date sites, such as Dutchess Quarry Caves, the oldest known site of human activity in the northeast dating back about 12,500 years ago. This chapter investigated the site under the direction of NY State Archeologist Dr. Funk in the 1960s.   In the 1980, Bill invented a flotation device to sort tiny objects and discovered beads made of fossil crinoids at the Historian Minisink site, although he didn't know what they were at the time. These tiny 1650 year old beads, some only 2 mm in diameter, are believed to be the first wampum.  The use of wampum was the glue that held the Iroquois Federation together.   Bill's flotation technique also separated charcoal, seeds, and other bits.  This process allowed the team to gather enough charcoal to carbon date the site to 420 AD. The seeds provided valuable insight into environmental conditions at the that time in addition to medicinal practices of the period.  For example, Bill found a great deal of bayberry seeds which are effective in treating fevers.


Minisink Town Historian Carol Van Buren accepts artifacts from the Historian Site.  The Site was named to honor her role in establishing and supporting the Town’s Cultural Resource Management law (photo by William Sandy). Seal of the Town of Minisink showing the Town’s Native American and Agricultural Heritage.

 The Hansen Rock Shelter 

yielded the most pottery found, so far, at any one location in Orange

 County. Bill Ehlers illustrated some of these artifacts along with a few of the lithic (stone) points and tools recovered there.

 Minisink Museum Curator Larry Hansen (left) and archeologists William Sandy and Eugene Boesch examine artifacts from Hansen Rockshelter (photo by Carol Van Buren). 

Just over the New Jersey border, during a road repair, artifacts were uncovered, which lead to the discovery of the Black Creek site. This important site was nearly lost to development. The Chapter was among the many groups that fought for its preservation. Luckily it was accepted into the Wawayanda State Park and is safe! Indians and archeologists hold a ceremony at the dedication of the Black Creek Site, Vernon, NJ, within Wawayanda State Park.  (photo by Greg Werkheiser). 

Three areas of current concern are the loss of local cemeteries, the lack of cultural resource management laws and the number of contract archeological studies being conducted in the region for which the findings are held in secret by the projects required to do these studies. Bill urged the audience to check out any digs or studies and bring those findings into the public view so that knowledge is not lost.

Below, following his presentation, Bill discusses local findings with members of the audience.

1 comment:

  1. It was a honor to learn more about Bill Sandy and the findings.