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One of the early Plymouth Colony towns, Dartmouth was ideally situated for both Native and European colonist settlements

Native Place Names in Dartmouth, MA

Cushena (Acushnet)-At the head of the river

Ponagansett  (Apponagansett)-Place of the oysters

Cookset (Acoaxet)- Place of the small hill

Nutaquanset-Place of the terrible fire

Nastuxet- Place of the small reeds

Paskamansett- Place of the small fort (?) 

Potomska- Round or swollen rock

Spontic- Long point

Nonquid- At his island

Peronopet-Place where the hollow thing (pipe?)is cast down

Copicut- Dense pine woods (swamp?)

Quanap- Long pond

Mishaum- Great point of land

Noquochoke- His small piece of land

Quansett- Place of the long land

Hussunnegk (Horseneck)- cave

      The present town of Dartmouth has a rich and interesting archaeological and historical past.  From the historic and archaeological records it appears that Dartmouth was an important Native community prior to European colonization and it continued to be so afterwards.  Archaeologically the earliest evidence of Native people living in Dartmouth has been recovered on the property of the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth near a kettle hole pond.  Kettle hole ponds were created at the end of the last ice age, approximately 12,000 years ago, as a result of a large chunk of the retreating glacier breaking off and sinking into the ground.  The glacial ice depressed the ground into the "kettle" shape and eventually went deep enough to encounter a spring.  This spring subsequently became the source of the water that now fills the pond.  In our glacier created southeastern New England landscape, ponds created this way are very common sights.  After the retreat of the glaciers the land that was now Dartmouth was a fairly desolate tundra land without the stands of forest we see now.  A kettle hole like this one would have made an ideal camping location for early Natives as it was a source of fresh water and game that would be coming down to it to drink.  At the U Mass site, one projectile point of the bifurcated variety (one having a base split into two lobes) was recovered. This point was made out of felsite or rhyolite indicating either that the material or the point was traded from around Boston where this material can be quarried or that the raw material was found in the rocks that commonly occur in Dartmouth's soils.  Cobbles of quartz, quartzite, felsite/ rhyolite, granite, sandstone, shale, schist and possibly argillite can be found in the soils that were deposited by the glaciers as they melted and retreated north.  These stones were picked up by the glaciers to the north and south of Dartmouth and subsequently deposited here far from their outcrops.

            A total of 18 archaeological sites on are file with the Massachusetts State Archaeologist in Boston.  Half of these sites  contained materials that were either unidentifiable as to how old they were, chiefly small pieces of stone that were the result of making stone tools, or there was no information listed as to what was recovered.

Dartmouth Archaeological Sites

Unknown                                  9

Paleo-                                      0                12000-9000 years ago

Early Archaic-                          1                  9000-8000 years ago

Middle Archaic                         2                 8000-6000 years ago

Late Archaic                             6                 6000-3000 years ago

Early Woodland                        2                 3000-2000 years ago

Middle Woodland                     2                 2000-1000 years ago

Late Woodland                         3                 1000-500 years ago

      The majority of the remaining sites are datable to the Late Archaic period, a time of possible population expansion and resource and habitat diversification. At this time there appear to have been many people living in the area.  Their population numbers would have been far below that of the population of Dartmouth today but it was greater than it had been in the past.  These people appear to have expanded the locations where they lived as well.  In the past most sites were located at very prime locations, places where anyone could see that there was readily available food and water.  In the Late Archaic people spread out more and began occupying places that were farther away from the prime spots.  This may have been the result of the larger population that pushed some groups into more marginal lands. Alternately it may have been the result of people beginning to exploit a wider variety of locations for a more diversified raw material base.  Perhaps they traveled to the swamps to collect certain plants or animals that only occur there or maybe they went to the tops of hills more often to collect certain rocks commonly found there.  Whatever the reason, sites from this period are common in Dartmouth and most of southeastern Massachusetts more often than those from any other period.  Another thing that happened during this period is the increased utilization of local stones for tools. This is especially evident with the increase in the use of quartz, a rock that is found everywhere in southeastern Massachusetts. This is evident in the artifacts recovered from one Dartmouth site that covered about 2 acres:

Felsites (a volcanic rock occurring especially just north and south of Boston) 645 artifacts

2 felsite Jacks Reef

1 felsite drill tip

1 felsite point

 641 brown/ gray felsite chipping debris fragments

 Quartz 1748 artifacts

1 quartz Levanna

5 quartz bifaces

1 quartz scraper

1 quartz triangular point

1740 quartz cd

Other 38 artifacts

1 granite chopper/ axe

1 granite hammerstone

36 argillite chipping debris (a slatey stone found in Barrington, RI and possibly in the rocks in Dartmouth's soils)

Quartz accounted for approximately 71% of the 2431 artifacts recovered with the felsites making up 26.4% and other materials (granite and argillite) making up only 1.6% of the total artifact count.  Numerous features have also been uncovered in Dartmouth both during the course of archaeological testing and as a result of erosion.  Features are non-portable soil stains found at sites.  They include burials, fire pits, storage pits and postholes to name a few.  In Dartmouth, roasting pits, storage pits, hearths, burials and middens have been encountered.  These features are important because they can tell us much about the people who created them due to the fact that they usually contain charcoal that can be scientifically dated and often have the remains of plants and animals that people used.

            The next period that is well represented in Dartmouth is the Late Woodland.  This period is the time just before the arrival of the Europeans in New England.  This is marked by Verrazanno's voyage here in 1524. Late Woodland Natives in Dartmouth lived in much the same way as the Natives elsewhere in southeastern Massachusetts with a mixed economy of horticulture (corns, beans, squash, sunflowers, watermelon) and hunting, fishing and gathering.  Dartmouth is a perfect location for such an economy, having soils in some locations well suited for farming and being very close to major rivers such as the Paskamansett and Apponagansett and being right on the ocean.  It is known that Native settlements were located at what is now Russell's Mills and on the north bank of the Paskamansett River. Late woodland to Contact Period trails were located along Hixville and Chase Roads, this being the main north to south trail with the main east west trail passing through Smith Mills and connecting with the north to south trial. Secondary trails were located off of Hixville and Chase Roads following Reed Road and the southern part of Fisher Road.  A Native ford was located at Reed Road and Noquoche Lake with other probable fjords being located at the junctions of Apponagansett River, Paskemanset River and Destruction Brook.  Other trails may have been located at Hathaway Street, which later probably became part of Old Rhode Island Way, portion of Chase Road, Lucy Little and Westport Roads, branches off of the Russells Mill/ Slades Corner Trail paralleling Slocums Road along Horseneck, Barney's Joy, Gaffney and Potiomska Roads and access to Smith Neck on a trail paralleling Smith Neck and Mishaum point roads.

            Native settlement in Dartmouth may have been affected by the 1616-1619 pandemic that swept through eastern Massachusetts and Maine but it appears that by the time of Plymouth Colony's initial interests in the settlement of Dartmouth, there still was a viable Native population here. This Native prescience is visible in the town by the relatively large number of Native cemeteries and burials that have been disturbed over the years here. These burials may have been part of the Christian Indian community of Nukkehkammes located south of Russels Mills Village.  In 1698, 20 Native families totaling approximately 120 people were reported to live here.  Their meetinghouse stood on the east side of road. One other indication of Native presence is indicated by a stone pestle in a wooden handle in the collection of the Old Dartmouth Historical Society. It is an example of a broken pestle inserted into the end of an oak handle and bound with an bone piece.  It is believed to have belonged to "Old Pashie and Indian of King Philips tribe" who was allowed to remain on Smiths Neck after 1676 (Willoughby Antiquities of the New England Indians 145, 148)

            A number of 17th to 19th century European sites are also recorded for Dartmouth.  These include the Russell Garrison, several cemeteries, the grounding site of the HMS Nimrod, one cellar hole from a former house, one icehouse and one historic house yard.