Archaeologists discover 13,000-year-old arrowhead in Northampton field


For the Gazette

Published: 05-26-2017 3:04 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Archaeologists say an arrowhead found resting in a Northampton field may be among the oldest artifacts ever found in Massachusetts. And the researchers investigating it now have a broader lens through which to examine prehistoric life in the Valley.

“This is just the very beginning of what will probably prove to be a very important archaeological site,” said Richard Gramly, an archaeologist from North Andover who is leading a team of researchers exploring the patch of farmland in the Meadows just outside of downtown.

The research began with the 2015 discovery of what is believed to be a Clovis point arrowhead, which Gramly says could be 12,800 or more years old and worth as much as $15,000. “Clovis” refers to a Native American culture widely known for its stonework.

The arrowhead was discovered by Jason Lovett of Vermont, special educator and amateur archaeologist who found it while using his metal detector in a field owned by Allard’s Farm, according to Bud Driver, a Deerfield historical commissioner who supports educating the public about archaeological treasures.

Lovett said he knew immediately what he’d found. He met Gramly at a meeting for the American Association of Amateur Archaeologists. Gramly reached out to Driver, who coordinated the arrowhead’s return to the farm’s owner, Wayne Goulet, who today allows Gramly and his team — which includes Lovett — to search the fields in pursuit of more artifacts.

While no more arrowheads have been found, the team has discovered items suggesting that native peoples hunted here in prehistoric times, Gramly said.

On their most recent trip, Gramly’s researchers found not only flakes of quartz, a mineral native to this region, but also an abundance of Hudson River Valley flint, the material used to make the Clovis point, said team archaeologist Barbara L. Calogero.

She said the shape of the rocks reveals their historic utility. In the case of the Clovis arrowhead, she said, its edges are fluted — much as a pie crust’s edges are fluted. She said the fluting was made to help the arrowhead pierce through the skin of the animals hunted by native people.

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“The fluting that was found is very diagnostic of folks who were here 12,000 years ago,” Calogero said.

The recent discovery of flakes of flint makes the 2015 arrowhead discovery even more significant, the archaeologists say. Without the flakes, it could be more easily argued that the Clovis point was simply left behind by people traveling through the region, Gramly said.

But because there are so many flint leftovers, they have more evidence that the native people used the Meadows area as a springtime hunting ground. That, the archaeologists say, suggests the riverbanks have been a fertile source of human sustenance not just since the time of Colonial settlers but for thousands of years.

Eric Johnson heads the Archaeological Services office at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. Johnson says the area is one of the most popular dig sites in New England. Artifacts are closer to the surface, because the fields in this area are tilled routinely throughout the year by farmers, making it an ideal spot for seasoned and casual archaeologists alike.

“Protection (of this land) is the number one priority,” Johnson said.

Massachusetts laws say property owners have the ultimate right to artifacts and fossils discovered on their land.

When artifacts come into the custody of government institutions or are otherwise made available for public study, scholars examine the items and assess their historic and geographic context, share papers at conferences and write books about their findings. The information trickles into mainstream discussion of geographic and cultural history through books or news reports.

But mostly this conversation exists within communities of scholars and officials, says Driver, the Deerfield historical commissioner. But that, he says, is not public enough.

Driver helped to coordinate the arrowhead’s return, and to set the stage for Gramly and Calogero’s team to comb Goulet’s field in the Meadows. It is vital, he says, for local citizens to play a role in determining the value and meaning of artifacts and fossils.

“We want public involvement because they’re starving for information,” Driver said.