Sam’s Point Preserve encompasses 4600 acres and
contains many rare plant and animal species. Available evidence, however,
indicates that significant cultural resources may also be
present within the Preserve’s bounds. These include Native American
prehistoric archaeological sites—especially rockshelters—as well as structures,
landscape features, and archaeological remains associated with historic
period Euro-American use of the Shawangunks. For the past three years,
I have been working with a colleague from New York City, archaeologist
Arnold Pickman, to determine the nature and extent of such properties. Much
of the information we’ve gathered has found its way into the cultural resources
component of the Draft Sam’s Point Preserve Management Plan, a document
prepared by the Nature Conservancy with the assistance of the Sam’s Point
Preserve Advisory Council. The following two-part article summarizes the
results of our research. In the first section, appearing below, I describe
the state of cultural resources protection in the Shawangunks, focusing
especially upon Sam’s Point Preserve. The emphasis here is on archaeological
sites of the Shawangunks associated with Native American cultures. The second
part of the article, which will appear in Shawangunk Watch later this year,
is again devoted to the cultural resources of Sam’s Point Preserve, focusing
this time upon Euro-American sites and structures.
My approach to these issues has been greatly
influenced by my experiences as a staff archaeologist for a large federal
agency. Because of federal and state historic preservation laws, especially
the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, cultural resources that
may be affected as a result of publicly funded undertakings are protected.
Sites, structures, and landscapes may not be saved from destruction entirely,
but the spirit of the legislation directs the government to consider what
effects their actions might have upon properties that are considered historically
significant. The money to pay for this comes out of the budgets of the various
agencies. The National Park Service, the Environmental Protection Agency,
the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Bureau of Land Management, The U.S.
Fish and Wildlife Service, the Forest Service—all have archaeologists on
their staffs and all fund programs to protect cultural resources under their
control. The same is true for many state agencies as well. After more
than thirty years of government supported cultural resource management
programs, federal and state agencies now routinely pay for such activities
as archaeological surveys or moving historic bridges.
During my eleven years as a federal archaeologist,
I had grown accustomed to situations in which funding and personnel (not
always a lot but usually enough to get the job done) were always available.
Returning to the private sector, and able to spend more time at my home
in Cragsmoor, I discovered that protecting the land from development
is the number one priority in this part of the Shawangunks. Given the
urgency of this objective, causes like preserving cultural resources may
appear a bit quixotic. For those of us who care deeply about the Shawangunks,
the problem becomes how to save the ridge without losing those more subtle
aspects of the landscape and its history that make it so unique. As an
advocate for cultural resources at Sam’s Point Preserve, I have come to
believe that in the absence of an established archaeology program and institutional
support, careful planning early on in the process may be our best hope
for preserving the material remains of our past.
In the Shawangunks, although portions of the ridge are owned
and managed by the State of New York, large expanses of terrain are still
privately owned or else controlled by private institutions whose mandates
do not include the protection of archaeological sites or historic structures.
As stated above, acquisition of land in order to protect it from development
necessarily takes precedence over everything else. Additionally, even when
the desire exists to address cultural resources, there is just not enough
money available to pay for essential services and staff. The exception is
the Mohonk Preserve, where Daniel Smiley’s presence ensured that from the
very beginning cultural and natural resources were equally valued (Paul
Huth 2000: personal communication). Perhaps, in time, this will be true
for the rest of the ridge. Until there is a formal program in place, however,
efforts to identify and protect cultural resources at Sam’s Point Preserve
will have to be done on a volunteer basis. My hope is that we can use the
information that we collect now as a basis for a larger and more systematic
survey sponsored by research grants. In the meantime we have been fortunate
enough to find people willing to donate their time and talents.
Throughout our efforts, the focus has been upon identifying archaeological
sites and structural remains, rather than intact structures. Such resources
tend to be somewhat ephemeral and thus more in need of protection than
larger and more visually impressive properties—such as the Mohonk Mountain
House and grounds—whose architectural and historical merits are readily
apparent and have already been recognized by listing on the State and National
Registers of Historic Places. Besides, at Sam’s Point Preserve, we have
only one intact historically significant structure that still survives—the
gatehouse, dating to the 1850s or earlier. Our other historic above ground
structures, consisting of a series of huckleberry pickers’ shacks, would
be best categorized as “structural remains.”
As for the archaeological sites at Sam’s Point Preserve—we don’t
believe that much digging should occur now. Although testing of some locations
is probably necessary, it would be premature at this point to undertake
intensive excavations. Like environmentalists, archaeologists have a strong
conservation ethic. We understand that when we excavate an archaeological
site, we are also destroying it. Thus the work that Arnold and I have
done is not so much about archaeological excavation as it is about gathering
together existing information regarding this section of the Shawangunks:
studies done by naturalists, historians, and other archaeologists; artifact
collections in the possession of professional and local avocational archaeologists;
historic photographs and documents; and our own observation of cultural
resources that are above ground such as foundations and refuse middens.
We’ve used this information in conjunction with visible features of the
Preserve’s landscape and ecology to make predictions about what may exist
below ground, thus requiring archaeological testing to verify at some
point in the future.
As a preliminary step in this process, we began by acquainting ourselves
with the history and archaeology of the entire ridge, including portions
southwest and northeast of the Preserve. This not only provided us with
a context for understanding the Preserve’s cultural resources, but also
a basis for theorizing what we might expect to find within the Preserve’s
bounds. To this end, Arnold and I visited and conducted documentary research
in a number of repositories including the New York State Archives, the New
York State Library, the cultural resources collection of the New York State
Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, the New York Public
Library, and the Daniel Smiley Research Center. As a result we also learned
about earlier efforts to identify archaeological sites and historic structures
in the Shawangunks.
For the field aspect of our study we inspected the Verkeerderkill
drainage, Indian Rock, the area adjoining the High Point Tower; the escarpments
that extend northwest and northeast from Sam’s Point (including the Sam’s
Point ice caves), Lake Maratanza, and the huckleberry picker campsites
located to the west of Lake Maratanza. More recently—in the company of
non-archaeologists—I have visited other sections of the Preserve and its
environs in order to make field observations and photograph areas of interest.
These include the North Gully, South Gully, Shingle Gully, the Ellenville
Ice Caves, the Witch’s Hole, Napanoch Point, Mud Pond, and the escarpment
located to the east of Mud Pond that extends northeast towards Murray Hill
and Margaret Cliff.
Much of the information presented in the two parts of this article
builds upon the work of others, especially the authors Jack Fagan (1998),
Marc Fried (1981, 1995, 1998), Robert Larsen (with Jack Fagan as illustrator,
1999) and Bradley Snyder (1981). I gained a better understanding of Shawangunk
cultural history from conversations with Paul Huth and Robert Larsen
of the Mohonk Preserve and with Marc Fried, reading pieces by Robert Larsen
and Keith LaBudde published in Shawangunk Watch, and from studying the wonderful
illustrations of Karl Beard and Jack Fagan. Cragsmoor residents
Sally Matz, Maureen Radl, Pete Stanger, Hattie Grifo, and Bob Shulman
also shared their extensive knowledge of the Shawangunks. Bob Anderberg
of the Open Space Institute and Heidi Wagner of the Nature Conservancy provided
access, contacts, maps, ideas—and most importantly—encouragement. Our research
experience was greatly enhanced by access to the extraordinary collection
of books and documents devoted to the history of Shawangunks, assembled
over the last 50 years by my father, the local historian Harold Harris.
As discussed above, the task of compiling and analyzing much of this material
was eased by my collaboration with Arnold Pickman. Throughout this article
you will notice citations to various authors. These are keyed to a bibliography
that appears at the end of the article.
Why Be Concerned with Cultural Resources?
Human beings have inhabited the Shawangunks for the past several
thousand years. The Native American presence here dates to approximately
8200 B.P. (before the present time), and possibly as early as 11,500 B.P
(Eisenberg 1991: 173). Archaeological sites from the prehistoric period
have been found throughout the ridge. In the opening decades of the 20th
century, a survey in the vicinity of Lake Mohonk and Lake Minnewaska resulted
in the discovery of at least 25 archaeological sites. More recent investigations
of two of these sites by a professional archaeologist confirmed their
significance (Eisenberg 1991; Historical Perspectives 1991). Research and
stray finds of artifacts suggest that similar sites exist within the bounds
of Sam’s Point Preserve.
During the early historic period, the terrain now enclosed within
Sam’s Point Preserve was not intensively utilized by Euro-Americans.
In fact, the poorly defined boundary lines and large size of present day
tracts attests to the low value assigned to these rugged and uninhabited
lands until very recently. Only a handful of 18th and 19th -century Euro-Americans
were able to establish livelihoods in the Shawangunks. Foremost among
this group were the huckleberry pickers—a group of men, women, and children—participants
in a locally important fruit gathering industry, who began to seasonally
inhabit the Shawangunk ridge sometime in the middle of the 19th century,
remaining active until the 1960s. Today, the most visible historic period
remains within Sam’s Point Preserve are associated with the huckleberry
pickers. Also surviving, throughout the ridge, and probably within the Preserve—as
evidence of 18th and 19th- century Euro-American use of the ridge’s natural
resources—are material remains associated with farming, hunting, trapping,
quarrying, mining, and various forest-related industries such as shingle
making, charcoal burning, hoop shaving, and bark peeling. A related category
of archaeological and structural remains is associated with early tourism
and includes the ruins of boarding houses and hotels.
To the northeast of Sam’s Point Preserve, where Minnewaska State
Park and Mohonk Preserve have been in existence for many years, efforts
to manage cultural resources have been underway for well over a decade.
In 1991, a cultural resources assessment was completed as part of the Master
Plan for Minnewaska State Park (Historic Perspectives 1991). It is on file
at the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation
(NYSOPRHP). Also on file at NYSOPRHP are listings of the known archaeological
sites in the Shawangunks. Site location information for the Mohonk Preserve
is being incorporated into the GIS database maintained by the Dan Smiley
Research Center—an undertaking that is part of the Center’s initiative to
compile a complete Cultural History Plan for the lands within the Mohonk
Preserve (Paul Huth 2001: personal communication). Also at the Mohonk
Preserve, the Trapps Mountain Hamlet, a community dating to the 19th century,
is listed on the National and State Registers of Historic Places. One of the
structures, the Eli Van Leuven Cabin, is restored. Structural remains and
landscape features have been painstakingly researched and interpreted. Visitors
can view the cabin and the rest of the Hamlet with aid of a self-guided tour
and booklet (Larsen and Fagan 1999), a project funded by the Preserve and
by Furthermore, the publication program of the J.M. Kaplan Foundation. On
lands belonging to the State of New York, archaeological sites and historic
structures are protected under a series of historic preservation laws including
the New York State Historic Preservation Act of 1980 (Chapter 354 of Parks,
Recreation and Historic Preservation Law). Immediately southwest of Sam’s
Point Preserve, much of the community of Cragsmoor has been placed on the
National Register of Historic Places as an historic district.
Such attempts at management are vital because cultural resources,
unlike natural resources, are not renewable. They do not replenish themselves.
Native American archaeological sites are especially fragile. The information
about human history that they contain is represented not only by artifacts
and faunal remains but also by the stratigraphic contexts in which remains
are found. These soil layers may also contain charcoal and fossilized pollen,
critical for the reconstruction of past lifeways and environments. As more
of the ridge is opened to hiking and exploration, these sites and the
information contained within them, become threatened with destruction
by the actions of often well-intentioned persons. Undertakings associated
with the development and maintenance of Sam’s Point Preserve and elsewhere
may damage both buried and aboveground remains. Hikers, hunters, climbers
and cavers may remove artifacts and contribute to soil erosion. Avocational
archaeologists, many of whom are knowledgeable about the materials contained
within sites, do not always follow scientific methods of excavation or share
the results of their investigations with professional archaeologists and
Although we believe that these resources are “out there,” the archaeological
sites and historic structures of Sam’s Point have not yet been systematically
surveyed. There is no map or inventory that tells us where cultural resources
are located, to what time period or category they might be assigned, how
many of each type or category exists, or their physical condition. However,
recognizing the possibility of damage to cultural resources, as well as
their potential significance, the Open Space Institute and the Nature Conservancy
have decided to include a section on cultural resources in the Draft Sam’s
Point Preserve Management Plan. These pages provide a brief overview of
the Preserve’s prehistory and history, preliminary descriptions of cultural
resources, as well as delineations of sensitive areas that may contain
resources that have not yet been identified. Measures for identifying,
evaluating, protecting, interpreting and preserving these resources are
also presented in the plan. The goal of the cultural resources component
of the management plan is to integrate these data and procedures into the
planning process for the Preserve.
By preserving the material remains of the Preserve’s past, we hope
to create opportunities for public education and stewardship. Experience
has shown that knowledge of the past strengthens our attachment to the landscape
and teaches us to respect the resources it contains. Understanding how
past cultures interacted with their environment illustrates the profound
connections that exist between human beings and the natural world.
Prehistoric Native American Resources - Overview
Artifacts recovered from the Shawangunks suggest that the Native American
presence here may date to the time when the first human beings entered
the northeast, approximately 11,500 years ago, an era archaeologists call
the Paleoindian Period. Over the centuries Native Americans ventured into
the Shawangunks for various purposes including: hunting; gathering of various
foodstuffs such as berries, nuts, and perhaps medicinal plants; and possibly
for spiritual purposes. As discussed below, prehistoric travelers would
have followed a number of trails over the ridge as they journeyed between
the Wallkill and Rondout Valleys . The material evidence left behind by
these early visitors consists primarily of stone tools, debitage (loose
chips and flakes which are the by-products of the manufacture and maintenance
of stone tools), fragments of ceramic vessels, and faunal remains (the bones
of animals hunted, butchered, and eaten by Native Americans).
While open-air archaeological sites can certainly be identified,
most archaeological sites within rugged terrain, such as that found in
the Shawangunks, take the form of rockshelters. Rockshelter sites can be
found in several natural environments including rock/ledge overhangs along
the bases of cliffs, within caves, or among rock masses that have become
detached from “parent” cliffs. Such habitation spaces were sought after as
temporary shelter by small mobile bands of prehistoric hunter-gatherers because
they offered safety and protection from the elements. Activities within rockshelters
usually involved “sleeping …, food preparation, cooking, and maintenance
of equipment.” Groups tended to visit rockshelters repeatedly through time,
allowing a significant accumulation of cultural debris (Walthall 1998:225-227).
Not every rock shelter holds archaeological materials, and in many cases
the ground surface has been covered with boulders, making excavation nearly
impossible without the use of mechanical equipment. Rock shelters were also
used by Euro-Americans, including early surveyors, trappers and hunters.
The presence of Native American rockshelter sites in the Shawangunks
was demonstrated early in the 20th century. As part of a larger study
of rockshelter sites in New York and New Jersey, Max Schrabisch surveyed
two sections of the Shawangunks—one section lying to the southwest of Sam’s
Point Preserve and the other lying to the northeast. The southernmost survey
consisted of an 11-mile stretch of ridgeline between Otisville and Tristate.
Here he identified and excavated 10 rockshelters (Schrabisch 1936a: 131).
The second survey was devoted to an approximately 50 square mile tract located
west of Lakes Mohonk and Minnewaska. It resulted in the identification and
excavation of 25 rockshelters and several open-air sites. Because of its
proximity, the latter survey probably provides a more reliable indication
of the distribution and contents of Native American sites within Sam’s
Schrabisch, a German immigrant, was one of the early pioneers of
prehistoric archaeology in the northeastern United States. In the first
two decades of the 20th century Schrabisch conducted archaeological investigations
for the Geological Survey of New Jersey, the American Museum of Natural
History, and the Pennsylvania Historical Commission. His work in the Shawangunks
was at least partially sponsored by the New York State Museum. These excavations
were probably conducted between 1918 and 1919. Correspondence on file
at the New York State Archives indicates that Schrabisch was
residing in the Shawangunk mountain hamlet of St. Josen in 1918 (New York
State Museum 1981). Additionally, collections of artifacts from Schrabisch’s
Shawangunks survey now housed at the State Museum bear the date 1919 (Sullivan
et al. n.d.: 72). By this year, Schrabisch had begun to publish accounts
of his findings in various journals.
As documented in Ed Lenik’s Max Schrabisch: Rock Shelter Archaeologist
(1998), Schrabisch’s career was prolific, although his methods, by today’s
professional standards, cannot be considered very thorough. Schrabisch
investigated countless archaeological sites in our region—not just in the
Shawangunks but also in the Catskills, and along such waterways as the
Rondout, Bashakill, Neversink and Delaware Rivers—establishing for the
first time the existence and research value of the material remains of
local Native American cultures. His articles and manuscripts are still a
valuable guide for archaeologists seeking to understand how prehistoric people
utilized the landscape. Sadly, Schrabisch’s accounts of his excavations contain
few site measurements, not much data on stratigraphy, and little other descriptive
information that would allow present day researchers to further evaluate
Within the northern Shawangunks, the area surveyed by Schrabisch
consisted of the drainages of the Coxing Kill, Peters Kill, Sanders Kill,
and the Stony Kill. He searched for rockshelters and open-air sites along
streambeds and steep ravines, as well as along the ledges and cliff faces
of the bordering ridge tops. In an account of this survey appearing in
an unpublished manuscript, Schrabisch (1936a: 94) reported the following
distribution of rockshelter sites:
“Stony Kill, a site on one of its tributaries; Sanders Kill, a ridge
site west of it; Sanderskill, five sites; Peters Kill one site; Peters
Kill, nine ridge sites east of it; the Clove, two sites; Mohonk Mountain,
In addition to rockshelters, the survey also resulted in the identification
of 9 open-air sites along streambanks, recognizable by the presence of
surface debris. Many of the rockshelters contained evidence of hearths
and yielded considerable quantities of cultural material, including finely
worked stone tools and pottery sherds. Schrabisch (1936a: 125-6) concluded
Lacking sustained institutional support, Schrabisch never returned
to complete his investigations of the Shawangunks. There is no indication
in his subsequent articles or in his unpublished 1936 manuscript that
these sites and their contents were ever carefully analyzed. Schrabisch
did, however, provide a survey map, as well as drawings and narrative descriptions
of each rockshelter. He also attempted to classify sites as to function
based upon the types of artifacts he found—the categories being “chipping
sites, workshops, hunters’ retreats and family abodes” (Schrabisch 1936a:
“It was found that practically every natural
shelter suitable for habitation had anciently been occupied…. The occurrence
of so many rock shelters within a relatively small area hints of the
existence of many additional ones in other parts of these mountains.”
To his credit, Schrabisch struggled endlessly to secure backing
that would enable him to continue his studies. His efforts, though, were
largely unsuccessful. A letter on file at the New York State Archives,
written in 1918 by Alonzo T. Clearwater, a prominent Kingston attorney
and local historian, urges Dr. Clarke of the New York State Museum to find
a position for “Professor” Max Schrabisch. “Unfortunately,” observes Clearwater,
“there is no local interest in these ancient rock shelters, and before
many years have gone by all trace of them will have been obliterated” (Clearwater
1918). The job never materialized, but another letter in the archives suggests
that the State Museum paid Schrabisch $300 to prepare a report describing
his rockshelter surveys in the Shawangunks and the surrounding region (New
York State Museum 1918). Years later, in 1936, Schrabisch was still corresponding
with the State Museum, hoping to raise money by updating his earlier report
to include more recent investigations conducted in Ulster, Rockland, Orange,
Sullivan, and Delaware Counties. In a 1936 letter to the Director of the
State Museum, he states that he financed his excavations out of his own
pocket “thus impoverishing myself for the sake of the cause” (Schrabisch
Schrabisch’s accounts of his work in New Jersey and Pennsylvania
were eventually published as monographs by the sponsoring institutions.
Not published, however, was his study of the archaeology of southeastern
New York that included discussions of the two Shawangunk surveys. Archaeologists
at the New York State Museum decided that the 1936 manuscript was “outdated.”
Schrabisch died in 1949 at the age of 80 in a one-room apartment in Paterson,
New Jersey and was buried in an unmarked grave in a potter’s field (Lenik
1998: 52-53). His collections and field records fared little better. Most
are missing—many of the artifacts having been sold off by the financially
desperate Schrabisch (Lenik 1998: 35-37). Of the twenty-five northern Shawangunk
rockshelters investigated by Schrabisch, artifact collections from only
three—the Clove Lower Shelter, the Clove Upper Shelter, and the Peterskill
Rockshelter—are listed in the State Museum’s inventory (Sullivan et al.
n.d.: 71-72). Some consolation may be drawn, however, from the fact that
Schrabisch (1920: 38) considered the latter rockshelter to be “the most
important” of the Shawangunk sites.
Since Schrabisch’s day, many of the rockshelters identified during
his survey have come under the protection of either Minnewaska State Park
or the Mohonk Preserve. Several of these sites have been revisited and
reevaluated (Paul Huth: 2001, personal communication). Two—now known as
the Mohonk Rockshelter and the Ski Minne Rockshelter—were professionally
excavated. The latter, excavated in the 1980s by the late Leonard Eisenberg
of SUNY-New Paltz, yielded approximately 90 stone tools (Historical Perspectives
1991: 14). Eisenberg also excavated the former, first excavated in
1931 by Daniel Smiley, in the 1980s. Artifacts recovered here totaled 1,024
stone tools, 19,414 pieces of debitage, and 130 potsherds (Eisenberg 1991:
164). This site and its research implications are discussed below in more
detail. For all the accusations of site destruction leveled at Schrabisch
over the years, it is interesting to note that portions of these two sites
remained sufficiently intact to warrant the attention of contemporary archaeologists.
Our research indicates that excavations and finds by avocational
archaeologists represent the only other known sites in the Shawangunks.
Naturalist and historian Marc Fried (1981: 23-25) has published a brief
account of excavations at Indian Cave Rockshelter located in Minnewaska
State Park. The assemblage of artifacts found here are of Euro-American
as well as Native American origin. Together they suggest that human beings
have used this site continuously for several thousand years. Based upon
his readings of 19th-century sources, Fried (1995: 37-39, 2000: personal
communication) has developed a very intriguing theory regarding the Indian
Cave rockshelter—a theory that may help archaeologists locate additional,
as yet undiscovered, formerly occupied rockshelters. Indian Cave Rockshelter,
he suggests, is located near the site of the former “Old Wawarsing Trail,”
a footpath used intensively in the 20th century by huckleberry pickers but
that his research indicates may be much older, having originally connected
historic Euro-American and Native American settlements on either side of
the mountain. Providing access from the Wallkill Valley westwards
across the ridge top to the Rondout Valley, the trail would have crossed
the steep eastward facing escarpment at a break near Indian Cave, passed close
by Lake Awosting, and continued on across the top of the ridge towards Napanoch
Point and the Witch’s Hole area, where it was carried through a notch in
the cliff line known as Jacob’s Ladder, finally terminating just outside
of the Hamlet of Wawarsing. Assuming that travelers followed this route over
the ridge for many centuries, we would expect to find additional rockshelters
or open-air archaeological sites within corridors adjoining it on either
Other known rockshelter sites include the Roosa Gap Rockshelter,
located on the top of the Ridge near Wurtsboro, several miles southwest
of the Preserve, and an unnamed rockshelter located in Cragsmoor, on lands
belonging to the Cragsmoor Association (Stanger 1999: personal communication).
Roosa Gap was excavated by members of the Orange County Chapter of the
New York State Archaeological Association in the late 1960s. It contained
artifacts dating to the Woodland Period (3000 to 400 B.P) and the Archaic
Period (10,000 to 3000 B.P.) (Funk 1989:49-50). At the Cragsmoor rockshelter,
V.P. (Pete) Stanger, an avocational archaeologist, recovered a stone tool
that can be dated to 4000 to 3700 years B.P., during the Late Archaic
Period. Within the Preserve, Native American artifacts have been found at
Indian Rock and along the shores of Lake Maratanza. At the latter location,
Sally Matz, President of the Cragsmoor Historical Society, retrieved an
Orient Fishtail Point that was embedded in the sand. This object was used
as a spear point was most likely produced between 3000 and 3300 years ago.
Its owner was probably a member of a group affiliated with what archaeologists
call the Orient Phase—a transitional period of cultural development linking
the region’s hunting and gathering pre-ceramic Late Archaic Period cultures
to Early Woodland Period cultures. The Woodland cultures are generally characterized
as more sedentary, and horticultural. It was during this period that clay
vessels were first produced. Sites attributed to this culture have been
found along the Atlantic coast in Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Long Island,
and in the Hudson Valley as far north as Catskill (Ritchie 1980: 173).
Several other Shawangunk rockshelters have been excavated and these
collections, including at least one from within Sam’s Point Preserve
and another from the Mohonk Preserve, are in the possession of various
individuals and institutions, including local avocational archaeologists,
the Dan Smiley Research Center and the New York State Museum. We hope
to examine these in the near future.
The Mohonk Rockshelter and the Importance of High Elevation Archaeological
Excavations conducted within the Mohonk Preserve suggest to us the
possibility that less accessible ridge top areas at Sam’s Point Preserve
may contain repositories of archaeological information that cannot be found
in other settings. Although archaeologists have long been aware that areas
like the Shawangunks contain prehistoric sites, it is only recently that
they have recognized the importance of high elevation environments for
understanding the development of prehistoric cultures in the eastern United
States. Excavations in mountainous regions of West Virginia, New Hampshire,
Vermont, and Missouri have led to the identification of sites associated
with cultural traditions for which there has been a general lack of knowledge,
including the Early Archaic (ca. 10,000 – 8000 B.P.) and Middle Archaic
Period (ca. 8000 – 6000 B.P.). These discoveries suggest that the
“apparent hiatus” in human occupation previously posited for this time period
is a consequence not of prehistoric population densities but rather archaeological
survey techniques that favor easily accessible lowland locations. Simply
put, archaeologists have been looking for Archaic Period sites in the places
least likely to contain them. The lowland areas preferred by prehistoric
peoples were located along coastlines and river valleys, many of which have
been inundated or eroded by rising sea levels and are no longer available
for excavation. Additionally, a large percentage of surviving lowland sites
have been destroyed by modern development.
Faulty reconstructions of paleo-environmental contexts have also
contributed to misinterpretations of prehistoric settlement patterns.
In explaining how early human groups adapted to post-glacial ecological
change, archaeologists tended to assume that inland conditions in the
“unfavorable for Indian occupancy
until ca. 6000 B.C.when the coniferous forests had largely been replaced
by deciduous forests with a higher carrying capacity for
game and,consequently, for hunting-gathering populations”
(Funk 1976: 307).
This blanket characterization, however, is questioned by Eisenberg
(1991) who suspects that during this period, high elevation areas such
as the Shawangunk ridge tops were deglaciated earlier than surrounding
lowlands—thus becoming the home of ecosystems that were especially attractive
to human beings. Eisenberg (1991:175) observes that
“[the Shawangunk ridgetops] probably would have
had a rich biota, being one of the first areas open to colonization by
returning vegetation and accompanying fauna.”
In recent years more advanced research technologies have become
available, especially in the field of palynological studies (the analysis
of fossilized pollen), enabling scientists to reconstruct past environments
with a higher degree of accuracy. Such data exists for the Shawangunks
in the form of sediment cores that contain pollen profiles extending back
to 9000 B.P. This information will provide a useful context for
interpreting existing and future archaeological findings.
Regardless of the environmental setting, occupation of the Shawangunks
by a Middle Archaic Period culture has been indicated by Smiley's and
Eisenberg's excavations at the Mohonk Rockshelter, which yielded
seventy-three Neville projectile points (a type which has been dated to
7000–7750 B.P.). This site also contained evidence of occupations dating
to the earlier Paleoindian Period (ca. 11,500–10,000 B.P.) and Early Archaic
Period (ca. 10,000–8000 B.P.).
Since Eisenberg’s excavation of the Mohonk Rockshelter, there has
been no further professionally conducted research of Shawangunk Mountain
prehistoric sites. The evidence for early occupation of the Shawangunks,
however, together with other research conducted in the Hudson River Valley
and the Catskills suggest a number of important research areas that may
now be addressed. For example, recent research results from nearby Hudson
River sites with Middle Archaic Period components—the Dogan Point Site
in Westchester County (Claassen 1995) and the Goldkrest Site near Albany
(Lavin et al. 1993)—have yielded extensive evidence of riverine resource
exploitation. The discovery of these river valley sites, dating to the
same period as the Shawangunk Mountain sites, underscores Eisenberg’s (1991)
observation that early groups had more complex subsistence and settlement
systems, extending over greater distances, than has been previously acknowledged.
Based on the archaeology conducted to date, a picture of post-glacial lifeways
is emerging based upon the seasonal exploitation of "backcountry"
as well as riverine resources (Diamond 1995; Lindner 1998). However, very
little is known about such high elevation environments. Questions about
these cultures and their relationship to the landscape will be answered
only when archaeological and palynological evidence from these sites is
obtained and studied.
As intriguing as the data from Middle Archaic occupations of
Shawangunk rockshelters may be, the presence of Paleoindian and
Early Archaic components is also of great significance. Because of environmental
change and the destruction of many lowland sites due to modern development,
sites dating to these early periods are relatively rare. Thus, sites located
in undeveloped upland contexts, such as Sam’s Point Preserve, are especially
How Do We Protect Native American Archaeological Sites?
Virtually every archaeologist who has studied the Shawangunks, has
concluded that the ridge is highly sensitive for the presence of Native
American archaeological remains (Dunn Geoscience 1991; Eisenberg 1991;
Historic Perspectives 1991; Schrabisch 1919, 1920, 1936a). Present and proposed
land uses on the ridge, however, pose several potential threats to these
remains. These include impacts associated with new construction, road/trail
maintenance, landscaping, fire management, and expanded access into areas
where there were formerly few visitors. The question has now become, how
do we protect cultural resources as the Shawangunks attract greater and
greater numbers of visitors?
As stated above, cultural resources under the control of the State
of New York are regulated by the New York State Historic Preservation Act
of 1980 (Chapter 354 of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation Law).
Thus archaeological sites afforded some degree of protection include those
located within Minnewaska State Park, immediately adjoining Sam’s Point
Preserve, and other lands on the Shawangunk Ridge controlled by the New
York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Sadly, throughout
the state the effectiveness of these laws is severely limited due to personnel
shortages. Administrators at Bear Mountain and Harriman State Parks,
as well as at Minnewaska, report that over the past twenty years many of
their archaeological sites have been disturbed by looters and vandalism,
as well as by unscientific excavation. During a recent tour of Harriman
State Park, archaeologists representing a New York City professional group
were shown several important rockshelter sites where holes dug in the
ground by looters were still visible.
At Sam’s Point Preserve, where the land is privately owned, there
is even less of a mandate to protect archaeological sites. However, under
the provisions of the State Environmental Quality Review Act, an environmental
review that includes the consideration of cultural resources can be triggered
in situations where state permits are required, or in which funds obtained
from the state are used in construction projects. This occurred in 1983
when an archaeological survey of the Sam’s Point area was conducted as
part of the environmental review for the proposed Genro Wind Energy Project
(Dunn Geoscience Corporation 1983). It should be noted, though, that such
reviews often produce less than satisfactory results. In the case of the
Wind Energy Project survey, the archaeologists were allotted only three days
to field test the 2000-acre project area even though the tract had been
previously determined “sensitive in regard to prehistoric remains” (Dunn
Geoscience 1983: 3). Predictably, the 21 shovel tests dug by the crew yielded
no evidence of Native American occupation. The final report concluded that
the time given to the archaeologists to perform the survey was “insufficient”
and recommended “further archaeological investigations should be conducted”
(Dunn Geoscience 1983: 4). Because the wind farm project was never initiated,
the additional investigations did not occur.
Recognizing their responsibilities as stewards of the land, the
Open Space Institute and the Nature Conservancy have incorporated the
protection of cultural resources into Sam’s Point Preserve’s management
plan. The plan outlines measures to be followed so that impacts will be
minimized or avoided. An important first step towards protection is to identify
where such sites might be located so that the Preserve staff and volunteers
can plan accordingly. Unfortunately, as discussed above, the only archaeological
survey that has been ever conducted within Sam’s Point Preserve was too
limited in scope to provide such data. As archaeologists often do when no
excavations have been conducted, we have delineated several locations that
we consider sensitive based upon our observations of the Preserve’s terrain
as well as upon what we know from previous archaeological surveys involving
rockshelter sites. Our sources for developing a preliminary model predicting
the distribution of potential rockshelter sites within Sam’s Point Preserve
include a study of 5 caves and 18 rockshelters located in eastern New York
State and Vermont (Funk 1989), as well as a study of seven rockshelters
in the vicinity of the Ashokan Reservoir (Lindner 1998). Aside from the
most obvious factor—the presence of a prominent rock overhang —several
attributes were found to be reliable indicators of whether or not a rockshelter
contained evidence of human occupation.
Many of the formerly occupied rockshelters analyzed in Funk’s (1989:
87) study were situated close (i.e. less than 600 feet) to streams, springs,
wetlands, or lakes. Those located at a greater distance may have been exploiting
water sources that had become extinct or that were overlooked by the archaeologists.
At Sam’s Point Preserve we are fortunate to have access to a late 19th–century
map (Smiley 1899) that notes spring locations and other landscape features
that may have changed over the years. It allows us to include areas that
we might have otherwise omitted if we didn’t know the local landscape
Another variable to consider is aspect (i.e. north, south, east,
or west) indicating relationship to prevailing winds and the warmth of
the sun. Commonsense suggests that north- and west-facing rockshelters
would be less desirable. Funk (1989: 87) analyzed 39 rockshelters and concluded
that indeed only a small number faced north although “west-facing shelters
were occupied as frequently as east- or south-facing shelters.”
The character of the adjoining terrain is an additional variable
considered by Funk. Again, his analysis confirms commonsense expectations
that certain locations are just “too much trouble” (Funk 1989: 87). Thus
overhangs atop excessively steep slopes or very rough talus slopes can
be ruled out because access was just too difficult. Another, but more elusive
variable, is proximity to known prehistoric travel routes. Thus, as discussed
above, we characterize as sensitive corridors along either side of the
proposed route of “the Old Wawarsing Trail.”
Finally, the internal characteristics of any given rockshelter can
be used to predict whether or not it was used by Native Americans. Funk
(1989: 87) found that almost all of the formerly occupied rockshelters
had dry floors that were level or gently sloping. Because rockshelters were
sought by single hunters as well as large extended families, the occupied
rockshelters studied by Funk (1989: 87) were found to range in size from
approximately 18-square feet to 300-square feet.
During preliminary field investigations of the Preserve, we observed
a series of landscape features that might have been attractive locations
for Native Americans seeking shelter. Among these are several mentioned
in the opening paragraphs of this article including the Verkeerderkill
drainage, Indian Rock, the area adjoining the High Point Tower, the escarpments
that extend northwest and northeast from Sam’s Point (including the Sam’s
Point ice caves), Lake Maratanza, North Gully, South Gully, Shingle Gully,
the Ellenville Ice Caves, and the Witch’s Hole (Louis Ravine). Some of these
areas contain specific rock overhangs with attributes similar to those described
in the two rockshelter studies cited above. These overhangs would thus
be considered highly sensitive. There are doubtless many more in addition
to what we observed in our limited explorations. These deserve further
study. Ultimately we hope to see rockshelters determined moderately to
highly sensitive for Native American archaeological remains mapped, inventoried,
and accorded the same status as the many natural resources now protected
by the Preserve.
To Daniel Smiley, the ridge was a “sky island.” He chose this metaphor
to express the uniqueness as well as the cohesiveness of the ecosystem.
The term also carries with it a suggestion of vulnerability—the sense that
the Shawangunks stand alone, surrounded by an increasingly urbanized landscape
(Burgess 1996: 46-52). Just as the natural resources of Sam’s Point Preserve
are part of this larger entity, so too are the sites and structures described
above part of a singular cultural history that encompasses the entire ridge.
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to the Pleistocene/Holocene Transition. American Antiquity 63(2): 223-238.
Photo at top of page courtesy of Dianne Wiebe.
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photos, visit the Shawangunk Mountain Home Page at http://home.hvc.rr.com/smhp/index.html
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