By Edith Tucker
The Berlin Sun
JEFFERSON/RANDOLPH — Those who now hunt large mammals in the fall with guns and modern-day bows and arrows in these two small towns aim to kill deer, moose and bear.
But for some 1,500 years — thousands of years ago — caribou (Rangifer tarandus) were the prime target for the early peoples who hunted with fluted points when they traveled through the valleys and along the riverbanks of these two communities. These Paleoindians chipped stone points to serve as their hunting tools as the glaciers of the last Ice Age melted. These symmetrical points were finished by carefully removing a single long parallel-sided flake or "flute" from one or both sides.
A viewshed analysis of Paleoindian sites — six in Jefferson and one in Randolph — supports the interpretation that Early and Middle Paleoindian inhabitants living 12,900 to 11,600 years ago focused on hunting caribou.
Three Granite Staters recently published their findings in a 10-page report — “Paleoindian Adaptation to the Landscape of Northern New Hampshire” — in “PaleoAmerica: a Journal of Early Human Migration and Dispersal,” sponsored by the Center for the Study of First Americans at Texas A & M University.
State archeologist Dr. Richard “Dick” Boisvert is the lead author of the 10-page research report. He describes the paper as “a summary, in part, of two decades of work in Jefferson and Randolph” that makes the case that these were specialized caribou hunting localities.”
Boisvert collaborated with GIS coordinator Tanya Krajcik, who also is an archeologist at the state Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, and avocational archaeologist Mark Greeley, past president of the N.H. Archeological Society. All three have worked on “digs” in these two Coos towns.
“In northern New Hampshire we have a cluster of Paleoindian sites (Jefferson I to VI) and the multiple-occupation Potter site to the east on the Moose River in Randolph,” they write. “These rivers serve as a corridor (along today’s U.S. Route 2) between the Connecticut and Androscoggin Rivers and have facilitated movement across the American Far Northeast for over 12 millennia.”
The trio say they hope their “essay may serve as a model which can be challenged, tested, supported, modified or rejected by future research.”
They conclude that caribou were the Paleoindians’ prime target because of the way these seven sites were positioned on the landscape and the observed variability in the artifact assemblages excavated at these sites plus some function-specific areas within them. Strategically placed vantage points and concentrated household encampments, along with function-specific workshops, have distinct distributions, they point out.
The authors describe some “intensely used spaces” about 430 to 540 square feet in size, where a wide variety of implements made from diverse rock types can be contrasted with smaller sized sites or site subareas where only a narrow range of tool forms were found.
“This pattern emerges among the sites in Jefferson, where household encampments are flanked by bifacial tool manufacturing areas, fluted projectile point finishing areas, and meat/hide processing areas, and at the Potter site in Randolph, with its multiple activity areas.” (This site) “combines all facets of the caribou hunting requirements in a single, heavily utilized location,” they say.
These are “settlement patterns,” say the authors.
In Jefferson, small low-density sites and certain locations where only point fragments and other stone flakes from tool manufacturing were found “are positioned with strategic views of the Israel River Valley floor,” they note. “They interpret these as hunter’s vantage points designed to have low profiles and to facilitate seeing herds of caribou, which would then be systematically harvested.”
But they point out, “household encampments with attendant special function areas would not necessarily have broad views of the valley, although some do.”
The Potter site in Randolph reflects a very similar pattern, but there the archeologists found no hunter’s lookout. However, its “viewshed is extensive, looking up the Moose River valley and applies to essentially the entire site. The site also occupies one of the few places where there is level land and close access to water. Potter is strategically very well placed to serve as a multipurpose Paleoindian caribou hunting and processing site.”
“Both valleys would have had caribou herds traveling along the valley margins and riversides,” the authors point out. “The size and destinations of the herds are difficult to estimate over the span of the Early and Middle Paleoindian periods.”
The authors point out that in 2002 archeologists Arthur Spiess and Page Newby postulated “extremely large herds moving enormous distances in the earlier centuries with a shift later to possibly smaller aggregations moving in and out of the emergent forests. ... Observers positioned on the hill slopes would have had excellent views, allowing them to signal and direct the drivers and hunters, perhaps pre-positioned closer to the herds and/or kill zone, to systematically harvest the animals. The products of the hunt — pelts, meat, antler, or a combination — would then be taken back to the habitation areas for processing.”
In addition, “the focus on caribou hunting is interpreted as a necessary adaptation to cold stress induced by extreme cold winters” during what scientists now call the Younger Dryas Chronozone, when Early and Middle Paleoindians trekked through this region. This climatic period is marked at either end by abrupt climatic reversals beginning with a sharp cooling and ending with an equally sharp warming.
Climatic conditions in the New England-Maritimes Region reached near glacial temperatures, and environmental zones reflect tundra-like and sub-boreal zones. The authors note that although there are disagreements about how humans would have reacted to the temperature drop, “our interpretation of the data leads us to conclude that regardless whether this climatic shift would have been consciously recognized by Paleoindians at the onset, such a decline would have required adaptations to cold stress.”
Boisvert has spent time in Jefferson over seven summers, starting in the late 1990s, as well as in Shelburne, Berlin, Colebrook and points north.
This summer the 35 volunteers in the field school spent six weeks near the Applebrook B & B on Rte. 115A in Jefferson, with most tenting at rustic Coldbrook Camp in Randolph. Up to the final day nothing much had been found.
“But on the last day an important find was made, in what is a classic scenario in the field,” Boisvert emailed. “In the last pit on the last day we found definitive proof that we have another Paleoindian site. That pit produced twice as much in terms of artifacts than the rest of the site combined and had a diagnostic tool: a spurred end scraper. The crew was excited.”
Jeff Baron of Gilford, an anthropology major at the University of New Hampshire found it.
“The spurred end scraper was quite likely used to scrape the inner side of a hide to make it usable,” Boisvert said. “If the hide is not scraped, then it will rot. Leaving the fur on is optional.”
More details are described in the journal article in which 40 articles are listed as references. Many are academic pieces. An impressive number of Ph.D. dissertations (three), Master’s theses (four), senior theses (five), plus journal articles and book chapters that were co-authored with Boisvert, based on findings at these seven Paleoindian sites plus other Coos locations: Colebrook, Glacial Lake Israel in Jefferson and the Pliny Range.