Ned Heite 11 Apr 1999 --

"Here is the text of the paper Charles Clark and Diane Halsall delivered at the Middle Atlantic Archaeological Conference this weekend. Diane spoke first.




Sophistication of Archaeological Interpretation;
the Critical Role of the Public  



Charlie C. Clark IV
Nanticoke Indian Association
RR 4 Box 264C
Millsboro, DE 19966
Diane Halsall
Parsons Engineering Science, Inc.
10521 Rosehaven Street
Fairfax, VA 22030
Fax: 703-591-1305


Presented at the Middle Atlantic Archaeological Conference April 9-11, 1999 Harrisburg, PAThe current trend in archaeology is to incorporate the public, particularly as it pertains to the Section 106 process. As part of an extensive public outreach campaign at the recent excavations at Hickory Bluff, in Dover, Delaware, some unanticipated benefits were revealed. These intriguing events have transformed the way Delaware does archaeology, adding a new dimension to the science. Public out reach has not only made for good press, it has sophisticated out methods of archaeological interpretation. Recent excavations in Delaware have expanded on the involvement of Native Americans in archaeology. From an archaeological standpoint, that sector of the public had not been targeted. Now the Native American role in site interpretation is pivotal to proper understanding and evaluation of site function, and DelDOT will be leading Mid-Atlantic agencies into the next millennia by recognizing the importance of including it in popular reports. The types and chronology of public outreach events and undertakings surrounding the Hickory Bluff project will be discussed in an introductory fashion, followed by an enlightening discussion of the intrinsic value of Native American participation at archaeological sites.

Diane Halsall's Opening Remarks

The campaign of public outreach at Hickory Bluff began at the gentle urgings of our client at Delaware Department of Transportation, who had been operating a subtle public outreach program for approximately 20 years at DelDOT. As consultants, our main role in project performance is straightforward, to identify the needs of the client, and develop and implement an appropriate plan of action to adequately address treatment of cultural resources. Most times, this plan of action surrounds the typical modes of cultural resource management, including archival research, and the physical performance of appropriate phases of archaeology or architectural history. In the case of this project, the client identified needs not typically requested by an agency. We were thus tasked with not only performing archaeology, but performing it in an "open to the public" fashion.

This paper does not intend to provide a thorough or tantalizing description of the Hickory Bluff site, however, it will be described in general for contextual purposes. The Hickory Bluff site is located on the eastern bank of the St. Jones River in Dover, Delaware. The site was first identified in 1994, during archaeological survey, as part of planning efforts associated with a large road construction project. The entire site is estimated to be over 5 acres in size, and appears to have been occupied mainly during the Woodland period (3,000 BC - AD 1,000), however, evidence for occupation prior to, and subsequent to, this period exists. Artifacts recovered from the site include spear points and arrowheads, as well as other chipped stone tools, and sherds of pottery. Most of the raw materials used to make the stone tools recovered at the site include locally available stone, such as jasper, quartz, and quartzite, as well as tools from stones not endemic to the immediate area, such as cuesta quartzite (from northern Delaware), Flint Ridge Chert (from Ohio), argillite (from northeastern Pennsylvania and northern New Jersey),and rhyolite (from northern Maryland). The pottery sherds have been identified as steatite-tempered Marcey Creek Plain Ware, as well as later Woodland I clay-tempered sherds associated with the Delmarva Adena Complex. Additionally, a large number of pit features were identified, origins of which are subject to much debate.

After the archaeology got under way, we embarked on the public outreach component of the project, entering into what would be a dynamic and fascinating spring and summer of public interaction at the site. In general, we approached the public involvement segment of the project in a multi-pronged fashion, harnessing media sources to help get the word out to the public that they could come visit and even participate at the site. We also visited schools, community events, and other venues, to spread the word about archaeology, and promote visitation. We installed signage along the roadside, inviting passersby to the site, and directing them to the parking area.

As opposed to taking you all through a blow by blow chronology of the public outreach campaign and each and every activity associated with it, I invite you all into my magic time ship, and ask you to transport yourselves through a summer of approximately 2,000 site visitors comprising both scheduled group tours as well as casual drop-ins; over 20 visits to schools and other venues; and over one dozen interviews with radio, television, newspaper and magazine outfits. Without having the benefit of a previously "formalized" approach to conducting a large public outreach campaign, we took an approach that could probably be categorized to the rapid fire of a machine gun - no specific target, but hopes of catching lots of "prey" in a heavy shower of bullets. Now, as we all are familiar with the outcome of such an approach, we hit some targets, and we missed some. In fact, some of the most obvious targets, those which were located right in front of our faces, we downright overlooked, until it was almost too late.

The successes of our efforts were to a certain degree predictable, however, there were many unforeseen benefits that were revealed. As we embarked on our efforts to bring the public to the site, and provide them with an enjoyable experience, we did not initially anticipate the tremendous benefits that the public would provide to us. Our primary concerns revolved around sharing information with the public, providing them access to archaeology, and making sure they left with smiles on their faces. Archaeological sites are not traditionally "open to the public," thus archaeology is performed in a veritable vacuum, with standard execution of standard methodologies and procedures developed by and for archaeologists. What has been missing is the introduction of the public, who often have valuable information to contribute, particularly from the perspective of being able to provide information on the historical and cultural occupation of the sites we study.

While we were successful in covering a generic cross-section of the public at large, we did not specifically target one segment of the population, ironically, the segment that could help us elucidate more information from the artifacts and features we study than we ever imagined possible. A segment of the population that has the ability to open doors in the minds of archaeologists and anthropologists, and help them view dimensions of archaeological sites previously unseen, or simply subject to ignorance. This segment of the population is Native Americans. In many states, particularly in the western portions of the country, cultural resource professionals have long since figured this out. Yet in many mid-Atlantic states, we have lagged behind.

Delaware is in the unique position of having a substantial Native American population, comprising approximately 1,000 Nanticoke people. The history of the Nanticoke people reveals that they were part of the Algonquian Migration. The Nanticoke remained with the large migratory group before splitting off in the vicinity of the Ohio Valley, where the Nanticoke went south, with the Shawnee, toward warmer lands. Their travels took them through what is now known as Kentucky, Tennessee, and eventually into Virginia. The Nanticoke parted company with the Shawnee in the area of present day Virginia and moved eastward, eventually settling in to the Delmarva Peninsula region east of the Chesapeake Bay.

Once there the tribe established its own unique lifestyle based upon its adaptation to the local environment. The Nanticoke, whose name translates to mean "People of the Tidal waters," or "They Who Ply the Tidewater Trade," were noted seafarers, often referred to by neighboring tribes as "The People Across the Water." They lived off the bounty of the Atlantic Ocean, the Chesapeake Bay, and the numerous rivers and inland bays which shape the Delmarva Peninsula. Due to their strong maritime nature, the Nanticoke were prolific producers of wampum shell beads made from the shellfish they readily depended upon for their diet, which was supplemented by hunting, gathering and eventually farming.

Among the traits which characterized the Nanticoke among other regional tribes was a reputation for their practice of sorcery and their adroit usage of poisons, utilized in warfare and in the procurement of fin fish and game. The tribe was among the few native groups that defleshed the remains of their dead after a period of interment - both above and below the ground - in the preparation of bundle burials, which were commonly transported by the tribe during times of relocation to either be housed in a small temple or reinterred in an ossuary in their new home. The elaborate 12-day funeral ceremony initially held for their deceased was part of an even larger ceremony that could stretch well over 12 years. A crucial part of the ceremony was the Nanticoke Skeleton Dance, also referred to as their Ghost Dance, during which the bones of the deceased would be shaken and rattled until sunrise on the 13th day as the dancers chanted, "You said before you died 'I will come when you call me.' Now here I am, calling you."

The Nanticoke were also noted as having considerably darker skin complexions than did other Algonquian people, an observation made by early explorers, 18th century writers, and neighboring tribes such as the Iroquois, and of having "hair as coarse as a horse's tail." The established Nanticoke contact period begins in 1608 when Capt. John Smith first encounters the tribe on the eastern side of the Chesapeake Bay at the river village site of Kuskarawaok, roughly translated to mean "Place of Making White Beads, near present-day Seaford, Delaware. Smith applied the name Kuskarawaok to both the river and the tribal people living there, a term that stuck until both were later renamed Nanticoke by the early Maryland authorities. The tribe's autonomy came to an end near the mid-17th century after European domination dispossessed them of their lands, corralled them on three reservations, and made their native lifeways obsolete and unattainable.

While neither oral tradition, archaeology, history, nor anthropology can solidly purport that the ancestors of any "one" tribe were the original occupants of any geographic area thousands of years ago, they can make suppositions about the lives of the ancestors of Native Americans, the prehistoric inhabitants of the archaeological sites we study. By sheer virtue of the complicated and arduous history of Native American tribal removal and relocation, it is not often possible, in a purely scientific fashion, to develop a definitive correlation between the very distant cultural past, and the present. However, as many Native American people will tell you, there are distinct universal cultural expressions shared amongst Native peoples. These cultural expressions revolve in a centrifugal fashion around elements of the natural world. These natural elements, and their accompanying cultural expressions, make it entirely possible for Native cultures and tribes to interweave the past and the present. Thus, where it often elicits scientific suspicion when a member of a Native American tribe says that a certain Pre-Contact site was definitely home to their ancestors, we must remember that this correlation is being drawn not by and amongst "tribal" affiliations, it is being conveyed from a Native American perspective, where yes, the ancestors responsible for the material culture remains were ancestors of Native American peoples who eventually evolved into "tribes." As we use this term, "tribe," it bears mention that the Europeans desire to categorize and compartmentalize Native Americans led to the arbitrary assignment of tribal names and affiliations, thus adding an element of confusion to understanding Native American history.

It is critical for us now to understand this "ancient" way of looking at Native American life, because innumerable cultural expressions have remained endemic to Native Americans for thousands of years. Celestial and seasonal changes and patterns are cyclical in nature, and have effected the earth and natural resources in many of the same ways for many years. The presence of these natural occurrences has been accompanied by spiritual and ceremonial activities throughout Native American History, which includes the time that archaeologists call Prehistory. Therefore, by incorporating a Native American component of interpretation at archaeological sites, we can more fully understand the things that we have become so good at documenting. Where we have excelled at documentation, and the imposition of indoctrinated archaeological theory at explaining the evidence of past life that we observe and analyze as our careers, we have fallen far short of the potential for maximizing our understanding of this data.

It is often deemed impossible to introduce cultural philosophy, in the format of Native American lifeways, into the science of archaeology. Charlie and I assert that the opposite is true. It is highly possible to introduce the spiritual and ceremonial elements of past Native lives and cultures into the arena of "scientific archaeology," or as we have heard it termed "real archaeology." Yes, this is a tremendous shift in the way things have been done for years, and generations, however, in order to maximize the information potential of the resource, it must be indoctrinated into "traditional scientific archaeology" regardless of those old school practitioners who will require dragging into this way of doing things. There are subtle elements and patterning of features at archaeological sites that are repeatedly unintentionally overlooked, they simply go unseen by oblivious archaeologists. Many of these subtleties are recognizable only by a trained eye, and with the patience, understanding, and cooperation between archaeologists and Native Americans, a new sophistication of "scientific archaeology" is well underway.

At the Hickory Bluff site, the Native American component was introduced quite by coincidence, as opposed to design. Taking the above-mentioned random fire approach simply did not hit this target in the early stages of the project. Delaware is a relatively small place, and news travels quickly. When word of the Hickory Bluff excavations reached the Nanticoke, interests were piqued, and concerns were expressed. Due to the extensive nature of the public involvement campaign, multiple newspaper articles had been published that detailed what the archaeologists were finding at the Hickory Bluff site. Coupled with tribal knowledge and history, members of the Nanticoke tribe became particularly concerned that Hickory Bluff was a place perhaps far more significant and important than anyone had realized.

The imperative nature of public involvement in the early stages of the planning process cannot be overemphasized. Had the Native American component of the population been more extensively involved during the initial planning stages for road placement, they may have been able to assist both in site prediction and preliminary interpretation based on geographic location and orientation.

Charles Clark's remarks:

Early on during my period of naiveté about archaeology and its implications, I believed that as an arm of the sciences open-mindedness would be paramount in such endeavors. But in just a short time I quickly realized what everyone else already knew: upsetting the apple-cart or status quo is largely frowned upon. There is, however, no possible way to say what needs to be said here without this happening. Please bear in mind that what is being suggested is in addition to - not in place of - the established and accepted procedures already entrenched in archaeology, with the ultimate goal being a greater elucidation of what is uncovered through archaeological endeavors at Native American sites.

My revelation about the profession struck me when the prospect of including native involvement in Delaware's archaeology was first suggested. I never would have envisioned the ripples that were made when word of what was occurring here got out. And no matter how much I thought about the ramifications that all of the parties involved may face, I kept coming back to one simple question: "Well, why not?"

Why shouldn't a relationship exist today between indigenous tribal representatives and the archaeologists studying their past? An important consideration in any field of study is its relevancy to the world and the impact it has upon it. The work conducted by archaeologists on native "prehistoric sites" is profoundly more relevant to us than to any other population. Its impact upon us can never be relegated to just an academic or scholarly level; for us, it will always be personal. Simply put, your "prehistoric sites" reflect our history; no one else could possibly care more about them than us.

With that in mind, doesn't it make sense to make reasonable attempts to include tribal representatives in archaeology's scope in an effort to build a constituency among others who share your interests? Wouldn't your profession be greatly enhanced if Native Americans supported, instead of criticized, your work on sites linked to them? Just imagine the effects that could be felt, from financial and political support to the dissemination of facts, if native people were among your strongest endorsers.

And with regards to us, please consider just how fair - or unfair - it is to exclude us from having an active role in the uncovering of our past. The strings to our past that you are trying to reconnect were not cut or willingly abandoned by us or our ancestors. European domination and the oppression of Native Americans is what made everything you now search for "lost," to us as well as to yourselves. Nothing was gained when Cortez and his priests destroyed ancient Mayan texts that were older than the pyramids that they built. Intimate knowledge about Eastern Woodlands culture, Plains culture, Pueblo life, etc., was lost to the world wholly because of racial and cultural oppression. How much, then, is there to be gained by continuing down this same road as we enter the next millennium? At the most basic of levels, the practice of keeping Native Americans away from their own past is one of the worst vestiges of racial oppression still plaguing the indigenous people of this nation.

Any difficulties that archaeologists may face in drawing a direct line between a prehistoric site" and a given well-established, contemporary tribe should not be used as a convenient device to justify nullifying tribal involvement. We should not be burdened with such academic concerns or have to jump through someone else's hoops in order to get to where we naturally belong. Our voices are the only native voices to be heard in such situations. At the very least, contemporary Native Americans should be considered as a possible source of information by archaeologists trying to delve into our past, especially in areas of research which depart from the usual utilitarian/economic studies, such as ceremonialism, ritualistic behavior, etc. As with everything else at your disposal - literary resources, research tools, theories, procedures, or techniques - if we prove to be a valid and useful resource, then why not avail yourselves to us? You never know what you're going to find once you begin digging units in a site; the same is doubtlessly true when it comes to digging around in us.

Some will say that oral traditions and tribal lore have no place in archaeology and should be relegated to a lower status than sources preserved in the written word. I would caution against anyone vaulting the written word to a higher status than it deserves or deeming it to be sacrosanct. As long as it is people who are doing the writing, the written word will remain imperfect, being unable to rise above the level of its creator. When you consider the degree of degradation which the truth has suffered throughout the history of the written word, this venue of preservation is something less than pristine. From Euro-centrism, racial and cultural biases, and sheer ignorance tainting observations to misinformation, disinformation, and political forces bearing down upon it, the written word has rarely emerged unscathed, especially in regards to Native Americans. The written word has been used as a power chip against us since the early days of Manifest Destiny. Our oral traditions and tribal lore should not be summarily discounted.

There is more to be gained in the future if we build bridges between ourselves instead of walls. The depths of Native American wellsprings of knowledge have never been fully plumbed. Do not make the mistake of thinking that everything we know has already been documented and preserved in books or in ethnohistoric literature. The degree of sharing that occurs between people is directly correlated to the degree of trust that exists between them. Our story can never be completely told until we have a role in its relation and a better relationship is established between us. The possible inclusion of a native perspective on native or "prehistoric sites" should not be viewed as a pending threat to anyone's vested interests. You guys won, remember? That means we, the indigenous people, will only get as much from any given situation as you are willing to let us have. We're not saying that we want everything, but right now we're getting nothing. All we're really asking for is just a little something. Besides, whose past is being dug up, anyway?






"The History and Genealogy of the Mixed-blood
Native American Communities of
and Nearby Areas on the Delmarva Peninsula
and Southern New Jersey"


Copyright 1997-
All rights reserved.
Not to be used for commercial purposes.