Minute Man National Historical Park is perhaps best known for its role in the American Revolution. Visitors to this park are greeted by colonial homes, the capture site of Paul Revere, and the site of the famous “shot heard round the world.” But what about the people who lived in Concord before the arrival of the British settlers?
Pre-contact Minute Man National Historical Park
The pre-contact period in the Northeast is divided into 3 phases – the Paleo, the Archaic, and the Woodland.
The Paleo: 12,000 – 9,000 Before Present (BP)
The Paleo marks the earliest known presence of man in the New World. During this time, people lived in small, nomadic, familial bands. Meat was the main source of nutrition, but nuts, fruits, and vegetables were also consumed. While there is no evidence of a Paleo occupation at Minute Man NHP, there were people in Massachusetts during this time.
The Archaic: 9,000 – 3,000 BP
During the Archaic period, people lived in large bands and small tribes. Settlements were mostly seasonal with semi-permanent settlements developing. The development of the atlatl improved hunting and a variety of stone points were used during this time.
There is evidence of an Archaic occupation at Minute Man NHP. While there is one possible projectile point from the early Archaic and a couple from the middle Archaic, the prehistoric population did not begin to flourish until the late Archaic, c. 6,000-3,000 BP. Since the late Archaic was a period of increased population throughout Massachusetts, this is not surprising.
The Woodland: 3,000-500 BP
The Woodland period marked the invention of pottery and the bow and arrow in New England. Settlements became larger and more permanent and, by the end of the Woodland, cultivated crops became a valued food source. As cultivation and pottery increased, stone technology decreased in importance.
Minute Man NHP has evidence of a Woodland occupation, represented in large part by pottery sherds. The pottery sherds are varied and include plain, smooth, incised, punctated, and cord impressed pottery.
Interpreting pre-contact Minute Man National Historical Park
The majority of the Minute Man NHP pre-contact artifacts were concentrated around the Concord River. There were additional smaller sites near smaller waterways.
The largest site concentrated near the Concord River at Minute Man NHP, known as the North Bridge site, was occupied from the middle archaic through the late woodland period. Projectile points attributed to the various time periods having been recovered from this site. There were also pottery sherds, stone tools, debitage, and fire cracked rock recovered from the site.
The variety of artifacts suggests that this site was occupied for an extended period of time. The fire cracked rock suggests hearths and the stone tools suggest food preparation and woodworking while the debitage suggests that a fair number of stone tools were made right at the site.
There was a second, smaller site on the opposite bank of the river. Because the artifacts from this site are from the same time periods as many of the artifacts from the North Bridge site, it is possible that the smaller site was a special purpose site or occupied for shorter periods of time. It was not uncommon for pre-contact peoples to relocate seasonally/temporarily to the opposite bank of a river.
The concentration of sites around water highlights the importance of natural resources for pre-contact peoples and is a trend that persists throughout history.
Although it is rarely mentioned, Minute Man National Historical Park had a rich history before the Revolutionary War. When visiting national and state parks and house museums, it is important to remember that what is interpreted is only a portion of the story. The history of a site is often far richer. Next time you are visiting a park or museum, ask yourself what else might have happened there. You may be surprised by the answers you uncover.
If you want to learn more about the pre-contact period of Minute Man National Historical Park, be sure to visit the Major John Buttrick House at Minute Man National Historical Park this Saturday, October 8 at 1pm. Staff from Northeast Museum Service Center in collaboration with Minute Man National Historical Park will give a presentation on the prehistory of Minute Man and show examples of pre-contact stone tools and pottery found at the park.
Boudreau, Jeff. A New England Typology of Native American Projectile Points, Handbook Edition. Ashland, MA: Freedom Digital, 2008.
Levine, Mary Ann, Kenneth E. Sassaman, and Michael S. Nassaney (eds.). The Archaeological Northeast. Westport,CT, and London: Bergin & Garvey, 1999.
Towle, Linda A. Quartz Flakes and Turtle BonesL The North Bridge Site at Minute Man National Historical Park. Boston: Eastern Archeological Field Laboratory, North Atlantic Regional Office, National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1984.
Towle, Linda A. and Darce A. MacMahon (eds.). Archeological Collections Management at Minute Man National Historical Park, Massachusetts, Vol. 1-4, ACMP Series No. 4. Boston: Division of Cultural Resources, North Atlantic Regional Office, National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1986.
Whittaker, John C. Flintknapping: Making and Understanding Stone Tools. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1994.