Native Insight: Digging through a long-awaited book

  • A great view of Pioneer Valley from Mount Sugarloaf in South Deerfield. RECORDER STAFF


Recorder Staff
Monday, February 26, 2018

The white mail truck passed my roadside mailbox Tuesday morning and pulled up my driveway toward the carriage sheds. Awaiting a couple of books and an Orvis package, I got out of my seat and went out to retrieve the delivery. It included a boxed book too large for my mailbox and envelopes.

On my way back through the door and into a living room, the phone rang. The caller-ID read Suzanne Gramly. Oh, good: archaeologist/anthroplogist friend Mike Gramly. I answered the cradled portable phone.

I greeted him with, “Mornin’ Mike, you’ll never guess what you caught me doing. I noticed the mailman pulling up my driveway, went out to pick up whatever package he was delivering and it’s Lars Krutak’s book.”

“Oh good,” he said. “Open it.”

What timing. It was, after all, Gramly who had recommended “Tattoo Traditions of Native North America: Ancient and Contemporary Expressions of Identity,” by Krutak, the respected Washington, D.C., anthropologist who’s studied tattooing worldwide. Gramly said the scholarly 2014 book was a great source to further enhance my understanding of Native American spirituality; that the symbolic images found in rock art and jewelry was often duplicated in tattooing.

“Read the chapter on the Eastern Woodlands first, then read the rest,” advised Gramly, whose site report on the Paleoindian Sugarloaf (or DEDIC) Site along the Deerfield/Whately line below Mount Sugarloaf is available in the recently published “In The Eastern Fluted Point Tradition,” Volume II, edited by Joseph A.M. Gingerich and published by the University of Utah Press. “That 17th-century war club picked up in your area long ago and now housed in a Cooperstown, New York museum is in there.”

He was referring to an Indian war club picked up somewhere in the valley by a Northampton militia man who fought at the May 19, 1676, Falls Fight at Turners Falls. The relic stayed in the Northampton King family for many generations before being loaned in 1971 and never returned to the Museum of the American Indian. It is a rare and valuable example of the taunting, symbolic war clubs often left behind on a battlefield or attack site, pointing toward the indigenous attackers’ homeland. The piece now resides at the Fenimore Art Museum.

But, back to Gramly’s recently published Sugarloaf Site report, it has been a long, tedious and, at times, contentious wait for one Mr. Richard Michael Gramly, who scurried to put together — “The Sugarloaf Site: A Major Fluted Point Paleoindian Encampment” — only to wait four years as it lingered at the printshop. The outspoken Gramly, a well-known, Harvard-trained paleontologist who’s never at a loss for words of praise or criticism, has led two private archaeological excavations at the sandy Deerfield/Whately plain he doesn’t hesitate to call “likely the most important Paleo site in North America.” His first dig there was conducted in 1995. A second followed in 2013. Although he did, on his own dime, promptly publish site reports for both digs, those soon-to-be rare soft cover editions are now out of print. Thus, he was anxious to get his latest summation of both digs “out there” for public consumption. How else to keep the spotlight on a site begging for scientists to pin down important secrets about the peopling of our Connecticut Valley? Problem is that U.S. archaeology has morphed into cultural-resource management aimed at preservation and repatriation, not scientific excavation.

Yes, late UMass archaeological watchdog Dena F. Dincauze must be rolling in her humble grave now that Gramly’s report on her valued Franklin County site, shrouded in secrecy, is out in hardcover for all to read. Accompanying the report are site reports for related Clovis sites not far away. Dincauze went to great lengths to keep the DEDIC site under wraps and out of the public domain. The dean of Pioneer Valley archaeologists in her day, Dincauze was a key source of mine when reporting on the failed Connecticut River Atlantic Salmon Restoration Program. One of her students, Catherine C. Carlson, had written a damaging doctoral dissertation about the history and prehistory of Atlantic salmon in the Northeast, including the Connecticut Valley, concluding that salmon migration here was a short-lived phenomenon related to cooling waters of the Little Ice Age (circa 1300-1850). Reviewing archaeological reports from 75 known prehistoric indigenous fishing sites, Carlson discovered scanty evidence of salmon and concluded that salmon runs had been greatly exaggerated. When folks associated with the Connecticut River restoration project tried to dismiss her findings as sophomoric and invalid, Dincauze was eager to defend her student, and we spoke at length about the issue many times. Thus, I had a strong professional relationship with Dincauze, one that often traipsed into talk about Pocumtucks and other Pioneer Valley Indian tribes and potential village sites.

At the time, during the late 1990s, I was also being fed information about the Sugarloaf or DEDIC Site by Deerfield historian/artist Al Dray, who was unhappy about the mandated institutional silence surrounding the important Paleoindian archaeological site. Anytime I mentioned the site in my column, Dincauze would one way or another contact me and implore that I stop mentioning it. I honored the request but never quite understood why until I met Gramly.

Today, the “Dena F. Dincauze Monument” stands in the form of a long, lonely, 15-foot earthen mound she ordered in place to cover what is known in archaeological parlance as the Ulrich Locus. Under it a UMass archaeological salvage job ordered around the construction of an industrial park found an incredible assemblage of Clovis artifacts since dated to 12,350 years ago. There today on the east end of the sandy “Dincauze Monument” reminding visitors how long the site has lain dormant, stands a soft maple tree towering over the peak of a parallel Fairview Farm tobacco barn framing the site’s southern border.

“One can only imagine what finds are still there to be unearthed,” said Gramly Tuesday, making his way west on the New York State Thruway. “I found an exceedingly rare Clovis bead there on my 1995 dig, and I do strongly believe that there could be artifacts to uncover with carved symbols on the surface. I do wonder if I’ll live long enough to see them discovered.”

It’s a great question, one that constantly vexes Gramly the scholar.

“I knew, respected and even worked for Dena for many years, and the archaeological community hoped she was going to write the book on Connecticut Valley archaeology,” bemoans Gramly. “Then she got comfy in her university job, moved away from science into cultural-resource management, and we’re still waiting for that book, an important book that must be written.”

Whether it’ll ever happen is at this point anyone’s guess.