We’ve all heard of Woodstock at one time or another—that famous (or infamous) concert held in August 1969. It was scheduled at different venues, but the final location was actually in Bethel, New York, about 60 miles from Woodstock. For many who lived through three major homeland assassinations, the Vietnam War, and the racial riots of the turbulent 1960s, Woodstock was an event representing peace, love, and freedom. It’s considered a defining moment of that generation, and a great memory for those who attended (estimated at 400,000). » Continue Reading.
In 1960, New York State was home to 88,000 active farms; today that number has decreased to roughly 36,000 farms – a decline of nearly 60% in 40 years. In response, The Farmers’ Museum in historic Cooperstown, NY is assembling an exciting collection of original photography to chronicle and preserve the changes in agricultural practice, rural life, and farming families of New York State from the 19th century through the present. » Continue Reading.
Bob Sullivan, of the Schenectady Digital History Archive, has announced that the first two (historical) volumes of Nelson Greene’s four-volume history of Fulton, Herkimer, Montgomery, Oneida, Schenectady and Schoharie Counties, History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925 is now online.
Included are more than 300 photos and maps, and a biographical section – more than 2000 pages so far. Greene’s History joins the Hudson-Mohawk Genealogical and Family Memoirs, a four-volume set with more than 1300 family entries from Albany, Columbia, Fulton, Greene, Montgomery, Rensselaer, Saratoga, Schenectady, Schoharie, Warren and Washington Counties.
During “Slavery in New York? Slavery Today?”, a two-day Convention being held Friday, December 3rd and Saturday, December 4th, experts on contemporary slavery and human trafficking will be joined by scholars, historians, victims advocates, lawyers, investigative reporters, musicians, and the general public to examine slavery and trafficking in New York State and ways to end it. Events will take place around the Lake Placid area.
New Yorkers have long regarded slavery as a southern institution. However, the 1991 discovery of the African Burial Ground in Lower Manhattan offered irrefutable evidence that New York was a veritable slave society for hundreds of years. Recent research and fresh scholarship have begun to mine a long-buried history. As New Yorkers begin to remember and commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, examining the State’s dual legacy of slavery and freedom will shed new light on the complex narrative of our past.
Although largely erased from official history and collective memory, New York “promoted, prolonged and profited from” slavery from the 1620s through the 1850s. Slave labor was here at the start of New Netherland and it continued throughout the British colonial period with such intensity that at times during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, New York City had a larger slave population than any other city in North America.
Around the world today, slavery is still alive and well, generating billions of dollars along the supply chain of labor and products that make much of our daily lives possible. Though a crime in nearly every country, roughly 27 million people are enslaved worldwide today, including nearly 55,000 people in the United States. In the State Department’s 2010 report on human trafficking across the globe, the U.S. was identified as a “source, transit and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to trafficking in persons, specifically forced labor, debt bondage, and forced prostitution.”
According to the Washington, D.C.-based Free the Slaves, slaves are found in nearly all 50 states, from farm fields and orchards to hotels, restaurants, private homes, factories, sweatshops, brothels, and construction sites. Immigrant populations, both documented and undocumented, are especially vulnerable, but native-born Americans are not immune to being enslaved and trafficked. New York, along with California, Florida and Texas, ranks among the states with the greatest incidence of documented slavery in the country.
* Chandra Bhatnagar, ACLU Human Rights Project Staff Attorney and counsel for 500 Indian men trafficked into the U.S. as “guestworkers”;
* John Bowe, award-winning investigative journalist and author of Nobodies: Modern American Slavery and the New Global Economy;
* Florrie Burke, Co-Chair of Freedom Network (USA), expert on the treatment of trafficking victims and one of the first social services respondents to Deaf Mexicans forced to sell trinkets on the New York City subway in the mid-1990s;
* Mia Nagawiecki and Betsy Gibbons, New York Historical Society;
* Renan Salgado, Farmworker Legal Services of New York;
* Ron Soodalter, author of Hanging Captain Gordon: The Life and Trial of an American Slave Trader and co-author with Kevin Bales of The Slave Next Door;
* Tina M. Stanford, Executive Director, New York State Office of Victims Services;
* Dr. Margaret Washington, Professor of History at Cornell University and Sojourner Truth biographer;
* Dr. Sherrill Wilson, urban anthropologist at forefront of effort to research, interpret and protect the African Burial Ground discovered in Lower Manhattan;
* Duane Vaughn, Executive Director of Wait House, an emergency shelter in Glens Falls for youth ages 16-21; and
* Dr. J.W. Wiley, Director of the Center for Diversity, Pluralism & Inclusion, SUNY Plattsburgh.
8 am-3 pm Educators Workshop at Heaven Hill Farm
7 pm-9 pm Slavery, Film & the Shaping of an American Conscience at Lake Placid Center for the Arts
8 am-5 pm Anti-Slavery Convention at High Peaks Resort
5 pm-6 pm Wreath-laying Ceremony at John Brown Farm State Historic Site
9 pm-? Closing Reception at Northwoods Inn
“Slavery in New York? Slavery Today?” is co-sponsored by the freedom education project John Brown Lives!, John Brown Coming Home, the New York State Archives Partnership Trust, the National Abolition Hall of Fame, and the Center for Diversity, Pluralism & Inclusion at SUNY Plattsburgh. Participants include:
In most jobs where dynamite was used (mining, farming, lumbering), it was kept frozen until needed, since freezing was said to render it inert. Thawing the explosives was extremely dangerous—accidents during the process were frequent, and often deadly. A “safest” method was prescribed by engineers (slow warming in a container that was placed in water), but many users had their own ideas on how it should be done.
In November 1901, Bill Casey of Elizabethtown was thawing dynamite to use for blasting boulders and stumps while building logging roads on Hurricane Mountain. Fire was his tool of choice for thawing, and the results were disastrous. From the ensuing explosion, Casey’s hat was blown into a tree; his clothes were shredded; his legs were lacerated; his face was burned and bruised; and he was temporarily blinded by the flash and deafened by the blast.
Then came the hard part. He was alone, and nearly a mile from the logging camp, so Casey started walking. When he encountered other men, they built a litter and began carrying him from the woods. The discomfort for both Casey and his rescuers must have been extreme. There were eighteen inches of snow in the woods, and when he couldn’t be carried, they had no choice but to drag him along on the litter.
When they finally reached the highway, they were still five miles from the village. A doctor tended to his wounds, and Casey was brought to his home in Elizabethtown where his wife and five children helped nurse him back to health.
Kudos also to Chasm Falls lumberman Wesley Wallace, who, in winter 1920, suffered a terrible accident while chopping wood. He started the day with ten toes, but finished with only six. Somehow, he survived extreme blood loss and found the strength to endure two days traveling by sleigh to the hospital in Malone, only to have the surgeons there amputate his mangled foot.
Whitehall’s John Whalen found reason to attempt suicide in 1920, and the aftermath was nothing short of remarkable. Three times he shot himself, including once in the head. Whalen then “calmly walked into the YMCA, told of what he had done, and asked to wash the blood from his face. He was absolutely cool about it as be announced that the ‘lump over his eye’ was the bullet that he had fired through the roof of his mouth.” He was taken to the hospital in Ticonderoga where it was reported he was expected to recover.
Indian Lake’s Frank Talbot was on a crew constructing a logging camp on West Canada Creek in June 1922, when a log rolled on top of him, causing a compound fracture of his right leg. Bad enough, sure, but the rescue was the kicker. According to the newspaper report, “His companions carried him on a stretcher 31 miles to Indian Lake, and from there he was taken to the Moses-Ludington hospital, arriving at four o’clock Sunday morning [the accident happened on Saturday morning]. The fracture was reduced and he is getting along nicely.”
Toughness wasn’t the sole purview of men. In December 1925, two women, one with a ten-month-old baby and the other with a nine-year-old son, left Santa Clara by car with the intent of reaching Lake Placid. They departed shortly before 9:00 pm, but on the lonely Santa Clara Road, the car malfunctioned. Since the odometer showed they had traveled about five miles, they began walking in the direction of Hogle’s Fox Farm, which they knew to be some distance ahead.
It was snowing heavily, and the trip turned into a major ordeal. They finally reached the farm, but there was no room for them, so they kept walking another quarter mile, where a Mrs. Selkirk took them in.
It was later determined that the car had broken down just two miles outside of Santa Clara. The assumption was that the tires spinning constantly in the wet snow (remember, this was 1925) had caused the odometer to rack up five miles of travel. This fooled the women into thinking they were much farther from the village, and thus going in the right direction.
From where the car was recovered, it was calculated that the women (and the nine-year-old boy) had walked on a wilderness road “eleven miles in snow nearly knee-deep, under a moon whose rays were obscured by falling snow, and carrying a ten-months old baby.”
Eleven miles in the snow wouldn’t be attempted today without the proper gear from head to toe, plus water and snacks. By that measure, their impromptu hike was pretty impressive. And they made it back to Lake Placid in time to spend Christmas Eve with family.
Photo Top: Headline from 1922.
Photo Bottom: Headline from 1926.
Lawrence Gooley has authored eight books and many articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. He took over in 2010 and began expanding the company’s publishing services. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.
Meeting Russell Bellico, as I did briefly several years ago, you’d think you were in the presence of an old sea captain spending his retirement in the softer wind and spray of Lake George. You’d be surprised to know that he spent 35 years in the economics department at Westfield State College in Massachusetts.
You’d be glad to hear that Bellico spent his time away from Westfield at Lake George, where as a summer resident he invested himself in local history. He has spent over three decades photographing shipwrecks and historic sites on Lake George and Lake Champlain. He has served as a consultant on the National Park Service’s Champlain Valley Heritage Corridor, a trustee of the Lake George Battlefield Park Alliance, and a board member of Bateaux Below, the organization founded by the archaeological team (which included Bellico) that documented the 1758 radeau Land Tortoise which lies underwater at the southern end of Lake George.
Bellico is the author of a score or more articles and five books on the maritime and military history of Lake George and Lake Champlain. His first two projects were Chronicles of Lake George (1995) and Chronicles of Lake Champlain (1999). Both were aptly subtitled Journeys in War and Peace, as they were mostly drawn from primary sources by diaries, journals, and other early first hand accounts. His interest in boots on the ground history has no doubt contributed to some of Bellico’s most unique contributions to the region’s history – his careful looks at what remains. For example, Bellico weaves together histories of not just the events (through archaeology, primary sources, and first hand accounts) but of what remains of those events on the landscape. His third major effort, Sails and Steam in the Mountains: A Maritime and Military History of Lake George and Lake Champlain, earned a place as the go-to resource on the region’s maritime history.
Bellico’s latest effort, Empires in the Mountains: French and Indian War Campaigns and Forts in the Lake Champlain, Lake George, and Hudson River Corridor, is the fruit of three decades of the author’s work to understand the military and maritime importance of the region. His first volume to focus entirely on the campaigns and forts of the Great Warpath during the French & Indian War (1754-1763), Empires in the Mountains covers the epic battles of the war in the lake valleys, as well as the building of the fortresses and battleships in Northern New York’s wilderness.
And true to his authoritative and thorough style, Bellico explores this history with one eye toward what happened after those great events of 350 years ago. Bellico reviews the history of the abandonment, the excavations, and the exploitation of French and Indian War sites from Bloody Pond (which Bellico seems to suggest may in fact be correctly marked on Route 9 south of Lake George) and Fort Gage (bulldozed by a local developer avoiding APA oversight) to the more popular spots like Fort Ticonderoga, Fort Edward, Fort William Henry, and Fort George.
It’s that concluding epilogue, “Forts Revisited” that is perhaps the most valuable chapter of the book for local historians, and those interested in how we remember, and exploit, local history. For that chapter alone, this book belongs on the shelf of those interested in local history, regardless of your particular interest in the French and Indian War.
Note: Books noticed on this site have been provided by the publishers. Purchases made through this Amazon link help support this site.
Historic Saranac Lake will hold its Annual Meeting on November 9 at 7:00 PM, in the John Black Room of the Saranac Laboratory Museum. The meeting marks the organization’s 30th year, and will feature a talk by Caperton Tissot on her new book, Adirondack Ice: a Cultural and Natural History.
Ice has determined the course of Adirondack history in many surprising ways. This book traces the evolution of that influence, touching on everything from ice industries and transportation to recreation and accidents. In 360 pages of personal stories, observations and over 200 historic and contemporary photos, the author pays tribute to a fast disappearing era.
Ms. Tissot will be available to sign books afterward, and will donate a portion of the profits sold at the meeting to Historic Saranac Lake.
Historic Saranac Lake is a not-for-profit architectural preservation organization that captures and presents local history from its center at the Saranac Laboratory Museum.
The meeting is open to all members of Historic Saranac Lake and the public at large. Light refreshments will be served.
It is fitting that the Lake George Land Conservancy has created a John Apperson Society of friends and donors. Through his work for a wilder Lake George and Forest Preserve throughout the Adirondacks in the first half of the 1900s, Apperson, the General Electric engineer, gave heart, body and soul to healing what he considered the ills of industrialized, over-engineered society – to the extent that Apperson acknowledged that Lake George was his wife, and the Lake’s islands were his children. » Continue Reading.
Last week’s subject, iron miner George Davies (1892–1983) of Standish and Lyon Mountain, was a kindly gentleman with a powerful work ethic and a can-do, pioneer spirit. Interviews with him in 1981 were key to my second book, Lyon Mountain: The Tragedy of a Mining Town (a convenient plug for the 4th printing, which will be available from Bloated Toe Publishing and The North Country Store in mid-November). Humble and matter of fact, he shared recollections from nearly 80 years earlier.
At one time, Lyon Mountain had a large Swedish population [there is still a section of town referred to as Sweden]. George recalled the great strength and toughness of one of their number who worked at the Standish furnace. “It’s quite a job carrying that pig iron, you know. It [the molten iron] ran down like water, and they had to let it cool, and then throw sand on it. They’d walk on there with wooden shoes with big thick soles and break the iron up with a bar. It’s a pretty hard job, I’ll tell you.
“They had a big Swede come here. He weighed about 225 or 230 when he came here. He used to break the iron. They’d go down to the trestle, and throw them over the trestle. They had a V-block down below, and when it hit that, it would break it right in two. They used to wear a hand leather so that the iron wouldn’t cut their hands up.
“That big Swede, he had what they call a ‘double pig.’ It was two of them together [130 pounds], and when he went to throw it, it caught in his hand leather and it pulled him right over. He struck headfirst into the pile of iron that was sticking up. Well, I came along there and I picked him out of the iron. ‘Aw,’ he said, ‘I guess I’m not hurt much,’ and he was rubbing his head.
“He just had a suit of overalls on and a shirt, and the blood was running out of his pants leg. I said ‘You’re hurt all right,’ and he rubbed the back of his head some more and said ‘I’m not hurt much.’ Well, I took him over to the office and they took him to Plattsburgh, and found out that his skull was fractured [a story I later verified in newspaper accounts].
“That fellow drank a couple of quarts of liquor a day, and you’d never have known he was drinking. He was about six feet six inches tall. He didn’t die from that accident. He was so strong. They used to load the iron by hand at what they called the wharf. It was piled up like cordwood, you know. He carried 106 tons of iron in one day, and he got six cents a ton for carrying it.
“His first name was Nels [Nelson Holt]. He only weighed about one hundred pounds when he died, and he was still carrying iron just before he died. He used to work in the cast house, and I’d see him go down to break a cast of maybe thirty or forty tons, red hot with sand on it.
“I’d see him take a half-pint of liquor and drink it right down. He’d go ahead and break the cast, and you’d never know he’d had a drink. He died because his liver went all to pieces from the liquor. He was a powerful man, but the liquor got the best of him.”
Sudden violence struck the mines almost on a daily basis. More than 160 miners died in mining accidents, but hundreds more suffered terrible, often crippling, injuries. Much of it was connected to workers’ ignorance of the dangers at hand. George: “There were several boarders in town. One time there were three Polish fellows boarding at one place, and they all got killed at the same time. [They died in 1930 in a massive dynamite explosion, one of the few accidents that was never solved.]
“Well, you know, those Polish people came here, and they didn’t know what the mines were in the first place. I remember one time, they used to put the powder [dynamite] together with the caps up on top and then send it down. They weren’t supposed to do it, but they did it anyhow. One fellow saw the stick of dynamite there. He held the stick in his hand and lit the fuse. Well, he didn’t have to let go of it, because when it went off, his hand went with it. It blew half of his hip off at the same time, just because he didn’t know any better.”
George described another accident that is still recalled by some in the village. “One fellow used to be a foreman, and he used to repair the train cars. One end of a car was all bent, and he wanted to straighten it up, so he said to a worker ‘Get a block, hold it against that spot, and I’ll bump it with the electric motor.’ The guy wouldn’t do it, so he went and got the block, and he got somebody to hold it. He was going to give it a hard bump with the motor.
“When he bumped it, the block came right inside the cab where he was working and took his leg right off. He did survive, and he got some money out of it, but he also got a wooden leg out of it. Cliff Cayea was the guy’s name. He’s lucky that he wasn’t killed. [Remarkably, Cayea was 62 years old when the accident occurred in late September 1966, less than a year before the mines closed for good.]
George and many others like him offered hours of candid recollections about life in the mines and in Lyon Mountain village, all of it important to regional history. Besides the books (including Out of the Darkness: In Memory of Lyon Mountain’s Iron Men) on the town’s amazing story, more can be learned by visiting the Lyon Mountain Mining & Railroad Museum. Housed in the former railroad depot building, it is operated by volunteers from June to early October. Look for it again in 2011. It’s well worth the trip.
Photo Top: The furnace at Standish (1930s).
Photo Middle: Rows of pig iron similar to those at Standish (Canadian archives photo taken at Midland, Ontario, 1900).
Photo Bottom: Lyon Mountain village in the 1940s, with company row-houses, main operations, and mountains of ore tailings.
Lawrence Gooley has authored eight books and several articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. He took over in 2010 and began expanding the company’s publishing services. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.
“The John Apperson Society recognizes Apperson’s significant contributions to the preservation of Lake George and honors those who have followed in his footsteps,” said Nancy Williams, the Conservancy’s executive director. » Continue Reading.
The Adirondack Museum Library has been selected as the recipient of the “2010 Annual Archives Award for Program Excellence in a Historical Records Repository,” by the New York State Archives and the Archives Partnership Trust. The award was presented to Director Caroline M. Welsh and Librarian Jerry Pepper at a luncheon ceremony at the Cultural Education Center in Albany on October 12, 2010.
The award commends the library for an outstanding archival program that contributes significantly to the understanding of Adirondack history. The award further recognizes the facility for well-organized and managed archives and for efforts to provide access to documentary heritage through extensive collections and excellent education programs for teachers and school children.
The Adirondack Museum Library is the largest and most comprehensive repository of books, periodicals, manuscripts, maps, and government documents related to the Adirondack region.
Supported by private funds, the library is administered by the museum and fulfills an independent mission as a library of record for the Adirondack Park.
George was a good man. The stories he told me seemed far-fetched at first, but follow-up research in microfilm archives left me amazed at his accuracy recounting events of the early 1900s. His truthfulness was confirmed in articles on items like strikes, riots, injuries, and deaths.
When I last interviewed George in 1981 (he was 88), he proudly showed me a photograph of himself as Machine Shop Supervisor in the iron mines, accepting a prestigious award for safety. I laughed so hard I almost cried as he described the scene. George, you see, had to hold the award just so, hiding the fact that he had far fewer than his originally allotted ten fingers. He figured it wouldn’t look right to reveal his stubs cradling a safety plaque.
In matter-of-fact fashion, he proceeded to tell me what happened. Taken from the book, here are snippets from our conversation as tape recorded in 1981: “I lost one full finger and half of another in a machine, but I still took my early March trapping run to the Springs. I had a camp six miles up the Owl’s Head Road. While I was out there, I slipped in the water and nearly froze the hand. I had to remove the bandages to thaw out my hand, and I was all alone, of course. It was just something I had to do to survive.
“When I lost the end of my second finger in an accident at work, I was back on the job in forty-five minutes. Another time I was hit on the head by a lever on a crane. It knocked me senseless for ten minutes. When I woke up, I went back to work within a few minutes. [George also pointed out that, in those days, there was no sick time, no vacation time, and no holidays. The union was still three decades away, and the furnace’s schedule ran around the clock.]
“When I started working down here, the work day was twelve hours per day, seven days a week, and the pay was $1.80 per day for twelve hours [fifteen cents per hour] around the year 1910. That was poor money back then. When they gave you a raise, it was only one or two cents an hour, and they didn’t give them very often.
“In one month of January I had thirty-nine of the twelve-hour shifts. You had to work thirty-six hours to put an extra shift in, and you still got the fourteen or fifteen cents per hour. It was pretty rough going, but everybody lived through it. Some people did all right back then. Of course, it wasn’t a dollar and a half for cigarettes back then [remember, this was recorded in 1981].
“Two fellows took sick at the same time, two engineers that ran the switches. They sent me out to work, and I worked sixty hours without coming home. Then the boss came out to run it and I went and slept for twelve hours. Then I returned for a thirty-six hour shift. No overtime pay, just the rate of twenty-five cents per hour.” Now THAT’s Lyon Mountain toughness.
The tough man had also been a tough kid. “When I was thirteen years old, I worked cleaning bricks from the kilns at one dollar for one thousand. On July 3rd, 1907, when I was fifteen, I accidentally shot myself in the leg. I stayed in Standish that night, and on the next day I walked to Lyon Mountain, about three miles of rough walking.”
His father was in charge of repairing the trains, and young George climbed aboard as often as he could. “I was running those engines when I was sixteen years old, all alone, and I didn’t even have a fireman. I always wanted to be on the railroad, but I had the pleasure of losing an eye when I was nine years old. I was chopping wood and a stick flew up and hit me in the eye.
“I pulled it out, and I could see all right for a while. Not long after, I lost sight in it. The stick had cut the eyeball and the pupil, and a cataract or something ruined my eye. The doctor wanted to take the eye out, but I’ve still got it. And that’s what kept me off of the railroad. That was seventy-nine years ago, in 1901.”
Next week: A few of George Davies’ remarkable acquaintances.
Photo Top: George Davies.
Photo Middle: A Main Drift in the Lyon Mountain iron mines, 1933.
Photo Bottom: Aerial view of Lyon Mountain’s iron mining operations, with several piles of ore tailings.
Lawrence Gooley has authored eight books and several articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. He took over in 2010 and began expanding the company’s publishing services. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.
But however much is intact, even more is missing; destroyed by fire, the wrecking ball and changes in public taste and the economy.
From the 1920s through the 1940s, though, Huletts Landing “was one of the largest, most successful resorts on Lake George,” says Wyatt Firth. » Continue Reading.
Jean Mason, of Ryerson University and a native of Saranac Lake, will introduce Mulhern and her book in the John Black Room of Historic Saranac Lake’s headquarters, the former Trudeau tuberculosis lab at 89 Church Street. Mason is a scholar of tuberculosis narratives and health communication.
Mulhern, who lives in Annapolis, MD, will talk about her book and about her experience as one of the last tuberculosis patients in Saranac Lake in the late 1940s and early 1950s. She will also read an excerpt. The program is free and open to the public. Any books sold will benefit Historic Saranac Lake.
SUNY Potsdam senior archaeological studies major and Rochester native Jonathan Reeves is spending his fall weekends digging burial pits with stone tools like those used by Neanderthals in the College’s Lehman Park.
Reeves, who is also a member of the SUNY Potsdam men’s soccer team, hopes to demonstrate evidence of ritual in Neanderthal burials by trying to dig graves in the same method and style himself on campus.
Neanderthals are extinct members of the Homo genus classified either as a separate species or as a subspecies of humans, Homo sapiens. By finding out more about the effort and thought put into the method used to dispose of the dead, Reeves hopes to find out more about the mindset of Neanderthals.
“I wanted to look at how long it would actually take to bury one of these individuals. Is it that exhaustive? Can it be done by one person, or do you need multiple people? I wanted to put a number behind this effort,” he said. “The second thing I wanted to do was see how that number fit in with the rest of the stuff that we know about the Neanderthal lifestyle.”
Reeves ordered special flint tools made just like those used during the Neanderthal period. Called scrapers, the rock implements had a variety of simple uses-one of which was freeing soil while digging a grave. The student uses several sizes of scrapers to dig, and then uses his hands to remove the dirt from his hole.
He has dug two burial pits so far, based on the dimensions of sites where Neanderthal remains have been found in the past. One was a smaller rounded grave like one that archaeologists found the remains of a Neanderthal child in. That burial pit took Reeves three hours to dig. He solicited the help of three other students to dig a large deep rectangular pit like one that a Neanderthal adult was found in as well.
Reeves records his heart rate throughout the digging, and that of his volunteers, so he can mark how much time and effort it took.
“My arm gets really tired, and I get a bruise on my hand from holding the scraper. The first time, I got a half an hour in and realized I’d barely gotten anywhere,” Reeves said. “My thought is that for the Neanderthals, they’d really have to want to do this, even if they really just wanted to bury the body to cover it up and keep predators away. It takes a huge part out of the day for a hunter-gatherer, and there would be easier ways to dispose of a body.”
Since Neanderthals had a semi-nomadic lifestyle, leaving their various campsites to hunt during the day and returning only to sleep and eat, Reeves found it interesting that they would choose to bury a body in that location. He also wonders, since other Neanderthal bodies have been found that were not buried, if there was a symbolic choice involved for those that were.
“I can’t say that they believed in an afterlife, but it seems there definitely was a social component, that the group members felt that this was an important loss. The burials say something about the connection that individual had to the group,” Reeves said.
Reeves is an anthropology major and is earning his minor in geology. He hopes to attend graduate school to further his studies in archaeology.
SUNY Potsdam has been training students in archaeology for more than 40 years. The College’s interdisciplinary program includes coursework in archaeological methods, history, art and geology.
For more information about SUNY Potsdam’s Department of Anthropology, visit www.potsdam.edu/academics/AAS/Anthro/index.cfm.
Photo: Jonathan Reeves poses with his Neanderthal-style Stone Age flint tools near one of the covered-over burial pits he recently dug in SUNY Potsdam’s Lehman Park. Courtesy SUNY Potsdam.
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