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Archaeology of the Medlyn Site at
Stony Creek, Branford, Connecticut
by Gordon Brainerd (Fox Running, Onondaga Iroquois)
I discovered the Medlyn Site in the early 1990s, while walking the farm fields of my friend James Medlyn. We found several triangular projectile points on the surface at the edge of the field. Trained in my cultural traditions and a hands-on student of formal digs with professionals, I passed on this data and the points to the Tantaquidgeon Museum in Uncasville, Connecticut. I received permission from Mr. Medlyn to dig and began work in October 2001.
The excavated area measures 5’ by 15’ on an east-facing slope adjacent to a cultivated field. The site is about 100 meters off Leetes Island Road and about 70 meters north of the New Haven Railroad tracks in the village of Stony Creek in Branford. The site is about 50 meters north of a natural spring, now excavated to form a pond.
Forest cover on the small hillside consists of maple, oak and hickory trees. There are extensive salt marshes in the immediate area. The coastline of Long Island Sound is about 300-500 meters south of the site. Several Rock Shelters and large glacial erratics (boulders) exist in the forested area around the nearby coast. Most of these Rock Shelters have significant shell middens associated with them and all have unfortunately been “pot-hunted.” The landscape within the coastal forest nearby is remarkably intact with native species such as oak, hickory, basswood, gray birch, wild cherry, viburnums, blueberry, huckleberry, ferns, mosses, and native wild flowers. This is remarkable considering that most coastal archaeological sites and forests have been lost to development.
The excavation method included careful trowel work and screening of soil removed with a 1/8” screen. The site was dug down to a depth of about 15 cm. The number of artifacts recovered may indicate that this site was a tool-making area and possibly associated with a larger settlement site in the immediate area.
Two kinds of diagnostic artifacts recovered date this site from the time period of the Late Archaic (4,000-2,000 B.C., for several Wading River projectile points), and from the Late Woodland period (1,000-1500 A.D., for several Jacks Reef and Madison points: all of these Northeastern types). Fairfield University assisted in this dig’s documentation. Local archaeological references describe small projectile points found closer to the coastline in this area, while larger points have been recovered further inland. (See Lawrence and Rowe, Archaeological Society of Connecticut Bulletin #27).
As you see, the points are mostly white quartz, some of them smoky-quartz and with colored veining. Several may also be small scraping-knives once hafted on a wood handle. As with most Native New England artifacts the stones seem chosen for beauty as well as utility.
The most unusual find so far was the copper heart. I found it in the upper third of the soil: it may date to Late Woodland days. Further analysis might tell us its age, whether it is a European-colonial trade item or one of native copper. The site itself represents a place familiar to generations of Native visitors, where they felt comfortable returning to camp in season, and they had a certain place in that camp for working on these objects. How did the copper heart come to lie with the rest? How might you explain it? What uses and/or meanings did it have for its owner(s), and how would those be different for a Native American or colonist? Can you find comparable examples from each culture? Could it signify something between individuals?
During the Archaic period a mixed coastal climax-forest provided many things. It consisted of deciduous trees and conifers such as eastern white pine, hemlock oaks, maple, hickory, chestnut, beech and several other varieties. Under-story trees ranged from red cedar, hophornbeam and birch of several kinds to ironwood, dogwood and basswood, and Native people had specialized use for each. Plants of the forest floor included mosses and ferns, plus wildflowers and herbs such as lady-slipper, wild geraniums, trilliums, wild leeks, wild ginger, may apple and bloodroot.
Except for elk then roaming post-glacial lands, most animals of that time were also known in the later Woodland period: deer, bear, moose, raccoons, beavers, muskrats, skunks, pine martins, fishers, red and gray squirrels, chipmunks and various mice and voles. Hunting-birds and songbirds too filled the woods and open country: eagles, hawks, crows, ravens, grouse, turkeys and sea birds such as gulls, geese, ducks and wading shorebirds. The coastal waters teemed with many large and small species of fish and marine mammals. Also there was a plentiful feast of shellfish. With their own population in balance to all the rest, these Native Americans must have lived well.
In the later Woodland period, Native people took up semi-annual burns of forest undergrowth: this favored plants that attracted more game animals, and made it easier to hunt them in a country that, with time, became more open and (to the colonists) like a park. Some species---elk, moose, pine martins and fishers---grew more scarce due to either over-hunting or climate-change, and soon were known as creatures chiefly of northern New England.
Another reason for these burns was agriculture. People of the area began to cultivate beans, squash, and pumpkins. Corn did not arrive until the middle of the Late Woodland period, but people always gathered wild nuts and berries, and dried meat and fish for winter supply. All these things they cooked and stored in bowls and pots of local clays and soapstone.
Colleagues and I hope to dig more in this area and learn about the ages between the Archaic and Woodland periods. The Northeast is filled with sites like this near you.
With that, we sincerely ask you not to disturb anything without trained help and shared work of documentation(s). Human burials should not be disturbed at all.
Gordon Brainerd/Fox Running is an accomplished public historian, speaker and Native cultural consultant with decades of service to many educational institutions. Contact him at Doubloon Apiaries, 144 Chestnut Street, Branford CT 06405, USA; or at 203-481-6533.
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