Deerfield program showcases archaeological dig at Sugarloaf site which yielded Paleolithic tool and weapon stones

Last modified: Thursday, April 30, 2015
DEERFIELD — It’s not often you get your hands on a mastodon foot.

Along with some ancient local history, Richard Michael Gramly gave people who attended an archaeological event in the Conway Street municipal building Sunday an up-close and hands-on look at the partial remains of the extinct animal.

The mastodon was found in Florida, but the items in the cabinet behind Gramly and at the center of the event were local. Paleolithic tool and weapon stones were found by Gramly and others at a dig in 2013 at the Sugarloaf site between the Deerfield Industrial Park and farm land on the Whately town line.

The sandy soil of the site yielded artifacts including the largest intact fluted-point lance head on record in the Northeast.

Gramly believes six family bands, from 200 to 400 people, camped at the site in the fall to hunt caribou 12,400 years ago.

The camp was a large one, supported by the local geography. The area’s many rivers provided calving grounds for caribou herds, herds that would have gathered in Greenfield and headed south as the season changed in numbers as high as 100,000, Gramly said.

The Sugarloaf site sits at the lip of a ravine that would have channeled the animals, now vanished from Massachusetts, to the waiting hunters.

“We haven’t found the kill site yet, but surely it is there,” Gramly said. The predictable supply of food and the clothing, bedding and tool materials a caribous carcass furnished would have drawn the human population in numbers large enough to make the fall hunt a significant social event as well.

“It doesn’t take much imagination, really, when you begin to dig in the soil to see these things,” Gramly said.

The stone tools the dig found attest to migration — with materials including New Hampshire rhyolite not found locally.

Gramly’s mastodon bones were a bonus, as he happened to have a small suitcase of bones on hand from an earlier talk in Springfield.

Mastodon hunting or scavenging is the focus of his current work in Orange County, N.Y., another way of making a living in prehistory. Caribou hunting was not the only option, Gramly said, but Sugarloaf is a significant example. “In the final analysis, we have one of the finest caribou sites anywhere in North America,” he said.

Outside the municipal building, Neill Bovaird demonstrated how the points were made thousands of years ago, chipping a small slab of obsidian with sharp taps and scrubbing motions with softer rocks and antler. The Wendell resident teaches this and other skills through his outdoor education business, Wolf Tree Programs.

The Deerfield Historical Commission sponsored the event which drew attention to the town’s new archaeological showcase — a custom cabinet donated by Deerfield Academy to house the artifacts dug up by Gramly with the permission of the Deerfield Economic Development and Industrial Corporation and donated to the town by the corporation. Commission president John Nove said he was pleased with attendance, counting 95.

Gramly and others involved in the dig believe transparency is the best defense for archaeological sites. Bud Driver, involved in the dig, took three interested people to see the site. “We’re about accountability and transparency. As long as everybody knows about it, then you don’t have to worry about vandals,” Driver said.

Phil Allard, a Deerfield resident since 1947, said the places Gramly described were familiar from his childhood. “I used to wander that ravine, the pinch point he’s talking about where the caribou were killed,” Allard said. Later, he worked on tobacco farms and listened to the farmers talk about the things they found in the soil, but an angled path Driver pointed out as the original caribou trail was a new view of the area in which he grew up.