Why did the Nipmuck keep returning to the Pine Hawk Site?

Assabet River
The Assabet River would have looked like this for most of the thousands of years of Native American occupation at the Pine Hawk site. Bluffs shouldered a placid river teeming with fish and clams. Saw grass was swathed over the flood plains that filled every spring with the melt of the previous winter. Native Americans pursuing large game found their way to this part of the continent not very long after the glacial ice sheets retreated over 12,000 years ago.

The picture on the right was taking in early spring of 1999 before any serious digging began. To most eyes, this Pine Hawk site looked similar to any forested area in New England. The forest floor was undisturbed and hid well the treasures beneath. However, archaeologists thought it shared many characteristics of Native American sites in our region. The site was a large flat terrace, with a south-facing slope overlooking the Assabet River. This would have been an ideal encampment, with fresh water and excellent fishing nearby. The Assabet provided a convenient trade and transportation link to other sites along the network of rivers in eastern New England.

As indicated by the thousands of artifacts found at the Pine Hawk, Native Americans made tools while camped there. The artifacts found included stone points to make darts of spears, small scrapers to work hides, and tiny flakes of stone left over from making these tools. The method of hunting in the early periods from 7,000-3,000 years ago was to throw a dart with a spear thrower. A spear thrower is a 2-foot notched stick that fits into the end of the dart and propels it forward. Hand-held spears were used for fishing. Bows and arrows did not come into use until about 1,500 years ago.

Stone Knapping

The Pine Hawk artifacts indicate that small groups of people were traveling along the Assabet River camping briefly to hunt, work hides, fish, and make more tools. Many groups stopped over a period of four thousand years from 7,000-3,000 years ago (Archaic periods).

There were fewer after that, and perhaps only a single group using pottery camped 2,000 years ago (Middle Woodland period). That they all stopped in the same place shows that the location was important and it was probably a good fishing and hunting spot. Hickory and hazel nuts in a storage pit indicate that some people were there in the fall.

Knapping refers to the shaping of stone to produce flat-faced stones.