Unburied Treasure: Schoharie Crossing plans presentation about artifacts

FORT HUNTER – The Schoharie Crossing State Historic Site is the only place where all three stages of the 19th-century Erie Canal is presented, but the site recently added an 18th-century dimension to its collection.

The flooding from Tropical Storm Irene unearthed limestone foundations of an 18th-century blockhouse on the grounds of the site. Among the stones and rubble, and in adjacent fields, state archaeologists have uncovered numerous artifacts of Native American and European origins.

Among the artifacts are beads, pendants, gun flints, tools from stone called chert flake, musket balls, coins, creamware and porcelain.

The artifacts eventually will be displayed permanently at the historic site. Later this month, a Native American expert will give a presentation about the artifacts.

“Once we got over the hump of what the storm did to people and property, it had the effect of opening a lot of doors for us,” site education coordinator Tricia Shaw said.

Shaw said the remains of the blockhouse – or small fort – will not be reconstructed, but will have interpretive signs installed with paving stones placed along its path.

“Due to the unearthed findings, we will be interpreting life here in the 18th century as well as the canal,” Shaw said.

The visitor center will have glass cases showing the native and European artifacts.

The blockhouse was a frontier trading fort built in 1712, Shaw said.

“We know more about the history of 18th-century colonial life from the finding at Schoharie Crossing,” Shaw said. “For example, a bear tooth was uncovered which showed that the natives were still eating game animals rather than assimilating to European food.”

Other uncovered artifacts point to evidence local Mohawks were trading with tribes from as far as the Chesapeake Bay, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Shaw said evidence shows the natives were assimilating in other ways such as drinking tea.

According to Native Educator David Cornelius, the Native Americans were trading furs and hides for European goods that were “cheaper, easier and better,” such as copper pots, textiles and beads.

“There has always been an Indian presence here. There were Indian villages up and down the river,” Cornelius said. “The canal is johnny-come-lately.”

He said the settlement at Schoharie Crossing has been an important place because settlers were traveling to the conjunction of waters – the Mohawk river and the Schoharie Creek.

The artifacts have been taken to Peebles Island Research Center, where they are being cleaned by state archaeologists before being handed back to Schoharie Crossing State Historic Site as a permanent exhibit. The items are expected to be returned to Schoharie Crossing sometime this year.

In the meantime, the visitor center’s parking lot is being rebuilt. Shaw said state archaeologists will monitor the reconstruction.

In February 2010, the Schoharie Crossing was on Gov. David Paterson’s list of historic sites to be closed to save the state money.

“The recent discovery breathed new life into the site,” Shaw said.

She said she is hopeful about the future of the historic site. She said people have been driving by asking about the artifacts. She said visitation was up last year.

“There are 300 years worth of stuff buried here,” she said. “I think it’s great. I love history and hold Mohawk Indians near and dear.

“It’s very important for humans to know their history. I like to think we are more civilized and we must not make the same mistakes twice. We cannot move forward until we have examined the past,” Shaw said.

The Friends of Schoharie Crossing will sponsor a talk titled “Native American Artifacts at Schoharie Crossing” on April 23 at 6:30 p.m. at the Enders House, adjacent to the site’s visitor center at 129 Schoharie St.

Cornelius, who will be the presenter, will talk about the artifacts.