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The Concord Museum preserves an exceptional collection of about 30,000 Native American archaeological artifacts, predominantly stone tools, recovered in Concord and surrounding towns. The collection contains artifacts dating from the Paleoindian period (about 12,000 to 10,000 years ago) through the time of Native American farming, several hundred years before the arrival of Concord’s English founders in 1634. Canoe drawing (above) made by George Munyan
Little Turtle, Chabunagungamaug Nipmunk medicine man.
Projectile points, axes, gouges, mortars, pestles, sinkers, plummets, and various other stone tools in the Museum’s collection reveal important information about the Algonkians and earlier people who lived in the Concord area. For the majority of these artifacts the site from which they were recovered is known, making the Concord Museum collection unique in New England. To a considerable degree, all that is known about the Native Americans who lived in the Concord area – their hunting, fishing, farming, wood-working, and migratory practices – is known through the material in this collection.
The Museum’s collection was primarily amassed by Concord residents and amateur archaeologists. Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) was the first known artifact collector in Concord, noting in his journal the various forms of stone tools he found in meadows and along the rivers. Throughout the 19th century, local farmers and residents picked up Native American tools found as they worked or walked the fields. Most collectors meticulously numbered each artifact keeping notebooks with the names of the find sites, an indication of the seriousness with which they took collecting. This thorough documentation makes the artifacts informative to today’s scientists and researchers.
Benjamin Lincoln Smith, an archaeologist and Concord resident, created one of the major collections at the Museum of about 5,000 artifacts collected in the 1930s to 1950s. Smith’s collection includes material from 200 archaeological sites primarily in Concord but also from many nearby towns. Smith, who helped found the Massachusetts Archaeological Society, excavated the Shell Heap site, a 5,000-year-old midden (trash pile) in Concord along the banks of the Sudbury River.
Other major collections in the Concord Museum were made by Adams Tolman and his wife Harriette from 1880-1920 comprising almost 6,000 artifacts, and by Alfred W. Hosmer in the late 19th century with about 2,000 artifacts. Some 3,400 artifacts that came to the Museum at the end of the 19th century from local families comprise the Foss-Barrett-Brown collection.
While artifacts found by past Concord residents tell us of the existence of Native American communities in places now built on, amateur collecting as a hobby today destroys information that archaeologists need to interpret the past. Artifacts are most valuable in the ground where their positions can be plotted and associations noted in controlled excavations, providing the basic data for interpreting past cultures.
After decades of work, Shirley Blancke has now completed a catalog of the 30,000 objects in the Concord Museum archaeological collection. It is a remarkable feature of this extensive collection that better than seventy-five percent of the objects have documented find sites. The entire catalog will soon be available on this website.
Shirley Blancke is Associate Curator of Archaeology and Native American Studies at the Concord Museum, a post she has held since 1985. Shirley has a BA and MA from Cambridge University, and a PhD from Boston University. For a list of Dr. Blancke’s publications, click here.
Please visit the Concord Museum to see archaeological artifacts on view in the Why Concord? permanent exhibition. Questions about the Concord Museum’s archaeology collection may be directed to David Wood at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Click here to view a PDF of the Concord Museum’s publication From Musketaquid to Concord: The Native and European Experience by Shirley Blancke and Barbara Robinson to learn more about the Museum’s exceptional collection.