Digging up the Past
Since May 2000 assistant professor of anthropology Jack Rossen
has been working during the summers at a spot in the Cayuga heartland
area of Union Springs and Aurora, along the eastern shore of Cayuga
Lake. He has been excavating settlements of the Native American
tribe that were destroyed by the Continental Army in 1779. One
goal of the research, which was supported by an IC Summer Research
Grant, is to recapture the grandeur of the landscape at the center
of the Cayuga homeland.
Researchers at work in the
Cayuga long house, now in a backyard
professors Rossen and Olson
Making sure nothing is overlooked
Rossen has help from students every year. This past summer the
volunteers were current students Jennifer Botto '03, Adriana Briseno
'03, and Jeffery Gates '04; recent graduates Steven Moragne '01,
David Strohmeier '02, and Jody Struhz '02; and Wells College senior
Kirsten Strigel. The entire project is being guided by Birdie Hill,
Cayuga Heron clan mother, who counsels the investigators to ensure
that areas important or sacred to her people are not disturbed.
"I hope this work will build bridges, including more friendship
between local nonnative and native people," says Rossen. "Many
local residents have visited the site. They are amazed to learn
that the Cayuga lived, literally, in their backyards."
The excavations have so far revealed a portion
of the midden (refuse debris) of an 18th-century Cayuga long
house behind an Aurora Village
home owned by Wells College. The long house was about 90 feet long
and was oriented precisely east-west. The dwelling may have belonged
to the settlement known to American soldiers as Chonodote or "Peachtown," which
was renowned for its 1,500-tree peach orchard on the unusually
warm Aurora Basin lakeshore. Information gathered at the site,
such as the existence of several fire hearths at different levels,
suggests that the house was in use for a relatively long time,
up to 30 years. The students uncovered some 20,000 artifacts that
illustrate French and British trade relationships with the Cayuga,
including pottery sherds, glass trade beads, brass bells, "tinkling
cones" (small bells from a woman's dress), a leaden "bale seal" from
a bolt of cloth, gun flints, and the base of a brass oil lamp.
These items suggest more friendly times and active trade before
the Revolutionary War.
Two years earlier Rossen excavated a pottery manufacturing area
one mile to the north, also in the Village of Aurora, that appears
to be related to the Peachtown settlement. Only large, thick, poorly
fired sherds from storage vessels were found at that location,
perhaps suggesting that these pots were made hurriedly, just before
or after the destruction of the area, to hide or salvage food.
Excavations of sites in the Finger Lakes area thus can give an
idea of the preparations and reactions of the Cayuga people living
during this turbulent time, because Peachtown was one of the last
of the 43 Native American settlements to be burned in this area
during the Sullivan campaign. In contrast to this site, the Aurora
backyard site excavated last summer contained only smaller, thinner
pottery shards of cups, plates, and bowls, in addition to the variety
of European-American traded goods.
The excavations will continue this summer with
another Ithaca College–Wells College cooperative archaeological
field school. In addition, a new archaeology lab has just opened
on campus, where
artifacts from the excavations are being washed, catalogued, and
analyzed by students.
Rossen's research complements his work with
a local nonprofit organization, SHARE (Strengthening Haudenosaunee
through Education). SHARE operates a 70-acre organic farm in Union
Springs as an educational center and aims "to promote opportunities
for education and mutual respect between the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois)
and American people, communities, and governments." On SHARE's
board of directors are Rossen and his IC colleague Brooke Olson.
Rossen's archaeological work helps provide the historical backdrop
to the educational programs conducted at the SHARE Farm, while
Olson works on native health projects at the farm, including a
medicinal herb garden.
You can read more about the SHARE organization
and its projects at the Share
Top and bottom --
Center -- Ernie Olson