LACONIA — When it wraps up Thursday, an archaeological dig in The Weirs will have answered several questions about human activity there after the last Ice Age, but also created new ones, like how did a 7,000-year old projectile point end up in the same soil level as a 19th century iron nail?
Led by Nathaniel Kitchel, a post-doctoral fellow at Dartmouth College, the all-volunteer dig at Endicott Rock Park on Lake Winnipesaukee began May 18 and follows in the footsteps of a 1976 dig there by researchers from the University of New Hampshire.
The Weirs was chosen, explained Kitchel, 40, of Danville, Vermont, because it is “one the few places in New Hampshire that dates as far back as 10,000 years ago.” Artifacts found during the UNH dig established that fact, Kitchel said Wednesday, while a ground-penetrating radar survey of the area last December identified specific sites for excavation.
The point of the digging is to better understand how Native Americans in New Hampshire transitioned from hunting caribou in and around Jefferson in Coos County during the Ice Age, and how, when the Ice Age ended about 11,700 years ago, those peoples over the next two millennia came to fish on lakes like Winnipesaukee.
The “why” of why there would be human activity in The Weirs, Kitchel said, is that when there were no dams on the Merrimack River, fish including shad, alewife, eels and Atlantic salmon would migrate from saltwater to freshwater to spawn.
At a natural choke point like the Weirs Channel, which drains from Lake Winnipesaukee into Paugus Bay, Native Americans would set stakes in the lake bed through which basketry netting would be laced to snare the fish.
Because of the high acidity of New Hampshire soils, the stakes, as well as human and fish bones would have dissolved long ago, leaving only stone tools for archaeologists to find.
And Kitchel and his fellow diggers, nearly all of whom got into archaeology personally and/or professionally thanks to New Hampshire’s State Conservation and Rescue Archaeology Program, found those stone tools, including both a Stark and Neville projectile point, which date back 7,000 years.
But the problem with the Stark point, which is named after John Stark and, like the Neville point was first discovered in Manchester, is that the Stark point was found next to nails from circa 1850, said Kitchel.
He said that means the dig area is “disturbed.”
Kitchel and his fellow diggers hypothesize that the disturbance, and black layer of soil in which it occurred, is rich organic material that was dredged up from the bed of Lake Winnipesaukee during a widening of the Weirs Channel.
“The artifacts are not in their original places,” he said, “and we are trying to understand that and where the dark soil came from.”
Despite the dig not yielding 10,000-year-old artifacts, like the UNH dig did 47 years ago, “I am very pleased with what we found, even if we didn’t find exactly what we were looking for,” said Kitchel, which was proof of human occupation in The Weirs extending to the start of the Holocene period, after the Ice Age ended.
George Leduc of Loudon, who along with Gail Golec of Walpole was among several diggers at The Weirs site, said New Hampshire has a rich and lengthy archaeological history, noting there are several sites that are 12,000 years old.
In The Weirs, “when the fish were running, this seems like it was a great place,” to be, said Leduc.