Research offers insights into the deep past

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Imagine a day in thousands of years when a future archaeologist sifted through the ruins of your home. As if by a miracle, your kitchen drawer is still intact and the researcher carefully removes every ancient utensil. What would your spoons and spatulas say about your daily life, your culture and the time you lived in?

In essence, this is what archaeologist Michele Troutman does when examining the stone tools that were made shortly after the end of the last Ice Age. A PhD student in anthropology at Binghamton University, her research focuses on two sites in east New York that date back to the early Archaic period, when cut stone tools first appeared in archaeological sites in the northeast.

Born in rural western Pennsylvania and a first-generation college student, Troutman earned her bachelor’s degree in this field from Indiana University of Pennsylvania in 2013 and her master’s degree from Binghamton in 2016. She took an interest in archeology while in high school, researching careers on a school project. During this time she volunteered to excavate a forge, which aroused her interest in the everyday life of the people of that time.

“Overall, the world is full of different customs, practices and cultures; It’s great to learn about these differences and have a more open perspective compared to the small rural area I come from, ”she said.

From arrowheads to anvils

As the glaciers retreated from what is now New York State, the climate became warmer and drier. Moose and deer roamed the forests and were persecuted by human communities who used them as a source of food.

Members of these communities made tools out of stone, bone, wood, and other natural materials, though much of their toolbox crumbled over time. The stone stayed, revealing subtle information about social connections and life paths in this distant time in human history.

Troutman is interested in learning how stone tools were made and how changes to these tools can reflect cultural innovations. To this end, she compares two collections from the early archaic period in eastern New York State, which have different styles in the projectile tips.

“Similar practices in the making of the tools may indicate shared ideals and connections between these communities, at least when it comes to the making of stone tools,” she said.

New York locations typically fall into the Atlantic Slope Macro Tradition, which extends into the southeastern United States and has recognizable projectile tip styles. Many of the chipped stone tools, such as arrowheads, were made from local materials, although some have connections to more distant sources; For example, stone from Pennsylvania found its way into the upper Susquehanna River Valley in New York, while stones from springs in Ohio were discovered in locations in what is now Ontario.

During this period, ground stone tools were also standardized and probably used for woodworking. As demonstrated by the use of tools, communities relied on hunting, as well as wild plants, seeds, small game, and fishing.

Stone tools are not monolithic; they are sculpted by human hands and heads for a variety of purposes. Stone that can be chipped – typically flint or chert and sometimes quartz – can be shaped into arrowheads and spearheads, as well as scrapers, drills, knives, and engraving or piercing tools. Ground stone tools, on the other hand, include anvils, mortars and pestles, chippers, and net countersinks. Some tools could have multiple functions combined, a bit like a Swiss Army knife, she said.

These tools and their functions can tell us about the realities of ancient life; The presence of net dips, for example, suggests individuals went fishing, Troutman said. A trail of blood can lead to other questions: What animals did they hunt?

Archaeologists are also studying the techniques used to make the tools, a process called flint-knapping: were they sculpted with hard rock or antlers? Was the material heated first?

“There are many modern flint miners and there are a number of archaeologists who are conducting experiments to try to replicate the process of making these tools,” Troutman explained. “Some archaeologists can be fairly detailed enough to explain whether there is a common style of making tools, whether there were ‘specialists’ who made these tools for everyone, or whether a number of people made their own. “

While her current research interests are in New York State, Troutman has gained a broad spectrum of archaeological experience along the East Coast as well as in the United Kingdom and France through her coursework, fieldwork, and cultural resource management jobs.

After completing her doctorate, she would like to continue working in this area, be it with a position in a culture laboratory, a museum or an educational institution. Public science education and outreach are an integral part of anthropology, she thought.

“Through our interactions with the public, we can change the narratives we present about ancient peoples,” she said. “It doesn’t matter what ideas and new insights are presented and taught in a bachelor’s classroom, unless they can be made accessible to a more diverse audience.”


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