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The present day town of Dighton appears to have had a fairly extensive Native population before the Contact Period. This was likely due to the presence of the Taunton, Segragansett and Three Mile or Nistoquahannock rivers and the Muddy Cove Brook.
Following the earliest occupation of New England during the Paleo period after 10,000 years ago, the extinction of the megafauna and the changing climate led to a revamping of the Paleo-Native way of life. This marks the beginning of the Early Archaic period 10,000-8,000 years ago. The environment in the Early Archaic had warmed slightly and as a result, trees such as oaks, pitch pines, beeches and hazel began to flourish. It was during this time that the major rivers that are around today began to form as well and into these rivers, anadramous fish species like salmon and herring began to run. This would have provided another food source for the inhabitants of New England. As New England began to become more forested, new mammalian species also would have moved into the area. These species would have included black bear, deer and moose.
The Early Archaic is one of the little understood and most elusive periods of New England prehistory. Early Archaic sites tend to occur on a wide range of settings including hills sides with slopes over 15 degrees and hilltops. Some sites are situated on the same locations as Paleo sites while others appear alone in the landscape. Homes at this time have been theorized as being either of a longhouse shaped, as have been identified in Taunton, Massachusetts at the Titicut site, or as small pits dug into the sides of hills as have been identified in Connecticut and northern Massachusetts. It is unknown if the two forms of houses occurred simultaneously, were seasonally determined or represent different building traditions by different populations.
Evidence of the Early Archaic peoples process of settling in is evidenced in their use of local volcanic materials such as rhyolite and felsite for tools and projectile points and their possible use of quartz for quick, expendable tools. Hunting during this period may have taken the for of spear throwing with the use of the atlatl, a weighted stick that was held in the hand onto which a long spears was placed and launched from. The atlatl was basically an extension of the thrower's arm and it effectively increased the distance, force and accuracy of the throw.
Evidence for the Early Archaic has been recovered from Marshfield, Taunton and Carver, Massachusetts with an especially large concentration of sites in Taunton on the Taunton River. The earliest evidence of occupation was found at the Boats Site that is located adjacent to the Taunton River. Here, one bifurcate Base projectile point stylistically datable to approximately 8000-9000 years ago.
While the Early Archaic was a time of transition from the Paleoindian nomadic way of life to a more sedentary and permanent situation, the next period, the Middle Archaic 8000-6000 years ago, can be seen as a time of more normality and permanence. It still was a time of many changes though. Oceans remained approximately 29 feet lower than they are today but the rate of rise had slowed enough for estuaries to begin forming which led to the establishment and proliferation of shellfish beds. Shellfish first settled in the warmer southern waters and eventually moved northward as the sea level rise slowed and waters warmed.
By 7000 years ago, forests with the same basic composition as today began to be established (Dincauze 1976:119). The use of heavy stone woodworking tools such as axes, adzes and gouges increased during this period, possibly indicating the construction of log canoes or at least an increase in woodworking. Evidence for hunting using atlatls first appears at this time as well. In fact, the oldest burial in New England, 7500 years ago, was located in Carver, Massachusetts and contained two atlatl weights of the whale-tail variety.
Sites from this period are fairly common in many towns, but somewhat elusive in Dighton. Still this indicates that people had begun to spread out over larger areas than during the Early Archaic. They have been found on the margins of bogs, swamps, rivers, lakes and ponds and on the present day coats, with sites of differing sizes possibly based on site function reflecting seasonal rounds or scheduled subsistence activities, as was the case at the time of European contact (Dincauze and Mulholland 1977). Substantial base camps along rivers, streams or wetlands, smaller special-purpose camps in uplands or near wetlands, and rock shelters, stone quarries, and workshop areas have been identified in southeastern Massachusetts (Bussey et al. 1992). The wide variety of sites and the common occurrence of projectile points from this period probably indicate that there were more people living in Massachusetts than before. Artifacts recovered from sites of this period include stemmed projectile points of the Neville, Neville-like and Stark varieties, atlatl (spear-thrower) weights, pecked, ground and polished woodworking tools such as axes, adzes and celts, and plant processing tools such as mortars, pestles, grinding stones and nutting stones.
In Dighton evidence for the Middle Archaic has been recovered from the Back Porch and Boats sites. At both of these sites only a one or two projectile points and one atlatl weight were recovered.
The Late Archaic period, 6,000-3000 years ago, represents the period with the most identified and recorded archaeological sites in Massachusetts. This has been interpreted by many as indicating a very large number of people living in our area during this period, although archaeologists are not sure why this happened. The case may also be made that this proliferation of stone tools and sites may be more related to a wider variety of stone tools being manufactures for specific purposes and a wide variety of habitats being exploited as opposed to a population boom. The Late Archaic is also a time of greater diversification and specialization than was evident in the earlier periods. The tool kits of the people living on the south coast and its coastal forests differed from that of the people in Maine and further north. This in turn was similar but distinct from the inhabitants of the strictly boreal forests such as those in New York and inland Massachusetts.
Along coastal Massachusetts, the combination of stabilizing sea levels and estuary formation led to significant runs of anadramous fish by the Late Archaic. As a way of taking maximum advantage of these fish runs, Native people began using weirs in the rivers, streams and bays. In fact, one of the largest weirs found anywhere in the world was encountered in what was once Boston harbor. The Boylston Street fish weir was encountered when the foundation for an office building in Boston. It is believed that the weir was constructed approximately 5000 years ago and covered several acres. Weirs of a smaller scale were undoubtedly employed in most of the bays, rivers and larger streams in southeastern Massachusetts (Johnson et al. 1942, Johnson 1949). Late Archaic populations appear to have settled into narrow foraging territories defined by drainages, and highly specialized to the habitats within these drainages where activities focused around the seasonal cycle. Sites are found in the same locations as those of the Middle Archaic with some greater focus on inland/ upland locales. The variety of site sizes suggests use of a radiating, seasonally dynamic settlement pattern (Dincauze 1974, 1975, 1980; Thorbahn and Cox 1983).
Another significant development in the Late Archaic was the use of bowls carved out of soapstone (steatite). The actual carving of the bowls was probably not a significant development in itself, but what these bowls represented is. The raw material for the bowls, soapstone, is found only in certain deposits Rhode Island and Massachusetts. As a result, the recovery of soapstone fragments on the east coast indicates either that these items were being traded for, of that people were traveling fairly significant distances to quarry this stone. From the east coast, the quarries could have been reached in approximately 2-3 days. The stone would then have to be quarried, worked into shape and carried back to the homesites. These bowls are not small affairs by any means; some weigh up to 60 pounds. It is believed that the effort expended to acquire these bowls as well as their weightiness must mean that they were fairly important to the people. Before these bowls were used, food was probably either roasted or boiled in skin lined pits in the ground through the used of hot stones. The soapstone bowls allowed for cooking directly on the fire, a change in cooking technology that eventually led to the use of pottery in southern New England. These appear to have been used only in the Late Archaic and do not appear in more recent periods. These bowls were also special enough to have often been buried with people after being ceremonially killed with a hole in the base.
The Late Archaic period is well represented in Dighton, just as it is in most other towns. The greatest difference in the Late Archaic in Dighton appears to be the increased importance placed on the river and its resources. The most intensely collected and tested archaeological sites in Dighton all contain extensive Late Archaic assemblages ranging from several projectile points to an entire cremation cemetery. The intensive focus on the river is exemplified by the numerous fishing net sinkers recovered and the whale/ porpoise or fish effigy recovered from the Boats Site and possibly the birdstone from the Sweet's Knoll Site. It is also evident in the placement of the cremation cemetery directly on the river and the presence of another cremation burial on Grassy Island across the river.
Limited evidence of the Early Woodland period, 3000-2000 years ago, has been recovered from Dighton. This is not particularly surprising though since this is a very amorphously defined period. Evidence for this period is often intermingled with the Late Archaic as some projectile point styles, especially the Small Stemmed, occur in both periods.
The main distinction between the Archaic and Woodland Periods is the use of pottery. As far as we know right now, pottery was not made in New England during the Archaic period and soapstone was not used as widespread as it was during the Archaic. When and where and even why pottery was first manufactured in southeastern Massachusetts is a mystery to archaeologists. Pottery is more fragile, but lighter than soapstone and the raw material is readily available and easily acquired but not as valuable as soapstone. The switch from soapstone to pottery was neither immediate nor widespread but eventually it did occur everywhere in southeastern Massachusetts. It may have been a product of increasing sedentism and larger community size. In this case, because people were not moving around as much there was less of an occasion for the pottery to be broken during transport and more people began to make it. The earliest pottery in southeastern Massachusetts dates from approximately 3000 YA (Braun and Braun 65). This pottery, identified as Vinette 1, has thick walls tempered with a great deal of crushed rock temper and little decoration. These pots are believed to have been suitable for simmering but not boiling. The use of pottery may be related to an increased utilization of nuts and the removal of oils thorough boiling. Pottery may have also been used to render fat to grease in much the same way, little decoration
Other identified changes from the Late Archaic include the formation of stable estuaries with tidal flats (Cross 1996:5-6) and an apparent increase in the amount of exotic raw materials used such as jasper, chert, and copper this increase in exotic goods may reflect an increase in trade and communication. Sites dating to this period have been found around large wetlands and lakes, along large river valleys and on the coasts at the mouth of rivers and streams.
Artifacts attributable to the Early Woodland include side-notched bifaces, lobate-stemmed Adena, Small Stemmed, Orient Fishtail, Meadowood and Rossville projectile points, and cache blades. Smoking pipes, possibly used for the ritual smoking of tobacco, but also for the smoking of other plants such as pokeweed or mint, began to be present in the archaeological record.
The only site yielding Early Woodland pottery, a birdstone and one projectile point was the Sweet's Knoll Site.
In the Middle Woodland period, 2000-1200 years ago, settlement and subsistence patterns are similar to the those of Early Woodland period, with the main difference being lengthened stays at large sites along waterways and a continuation of the use of upland areas for short-term resource procurement.
During this period there is a marked decrease in the number of exotic finished goods, and changes in mortuary practice to an increase in secondary interments and less use of ocher. Ceramics vary more in decoration and form with more occurrences of smoothed surfaces and the beginning of the use of shell temper. The decrease in the variety of projectile points may be evidence that these were now less important in the tool kit although this point is still being studied. Typical projectile points include Fox Creek and Steubenville points and in the later Middle Woodland, Jack's Reef points. While the amount of exotic finished goods decreased, the amount of exotic raw lithic materials increased, with Jack's Reef points often being made of non-local chert (Shaw 1996b:92-93). Some projectile point types, such as Rossville and Small Stemmed appear to continue into the Middle Woodland (Shaw 1996b:90; Hasenstab et al. 1990).
The Middle woodland is evident in Dighton only at the Boats site where one Fox Creek Lanceolate point was recovered and from the Sweet's Knoll site where one Greene point was recovered as well as some pottery types possibly diagnostic to this time.
The Late Woodland period, 1200-400 years ago, is the period just prior to European contact and as a result, many of the historical reports written by the early explorers to New England (Verrazanno, Gosnold, Pring, Smith) present one way of understanding the late Late Woodland period. Some of their observations may be able to be extrapolated back into the prehistoric past through the use of ethnographic analogy. These analogies can be created with more confidence as pertaining to the culture of the Late Woodland period than any earlier one.
Ethno historically, it was recorded that the Native people lived within a community territory that for the most part supplied their needs. Being on the coast or within a coastal environment, the Native people of Cape Cod and southeastern Massachusetts participated in a seasonal migration that was probably very similar to that which they had done for centuries before. This seasonal system incorporates elements of both an intensive and an extensive subsistence system.
The seventeenth century Wampanoag were practicing what is well known to anthropologists as a mobile economy. These people were seasonally migrational so they moved from place to place throughout the year to coordinate the resources of their territory. To these people, the resources they are using are ill-distributed so, as a result, they had developed a specialized successful economy that maintained higher population numbers than could be done if those resources were gathered in isolation by specialized groups (Higgs and Vita-Finzi 1982:28).
These people exploited a diffuse range of plants and animals and coordinated their gathering so that as each species came into season it was intensively harvested and stored for the winter. In order to do this, the people would split up during the spring, summer and early fall and each family would venture out to their planting fields, which became their seasonal bases. They would then move out from these to exploit various resources. In the fall they would all join up again and move as a community to a sheltered valley or into the woods and establish a winter seasonal base from which to venture out and exploit winter resources. Come spring the entire process would begin again.
The ceramics of the Late Woodland period are often shell-tempered or made with fine grit temper and have thinner bodies and a more globular form than the earlier ceramics. The diagnostic projectile point of the Late woodland period is the triangular Levanna points and occasionally the Madison. This period is marked by an increasing importance in food production (maize, beans, squash, sunflower and other vegetables) in coastal or riverine zones, which begins by ca. 1100 BP on Martha's Vineyard (Ritchie 1969).
These decrease in projectile point styles and the increase in the reliance on horticultural crops, may be attributed to increasing numbers and densities of population at larger sites. While the occurrence of the "village" in southeastern Massachusetts continues to be debated, the affect of an increased reliance on corn, beans, squash and to a lesser degree gourds, sunflowers and tobacco, definitely led to a degree of sedentism not seen prior to this time (Hasenstab 1999; Kerber 1988; Luedtke 1988; Thorbahn 1988).
The Late Woodland is surprisingly not well represented in the collections of Dighton being encountered only at the Segragansett River, Back Porch and Sweet's Knoll sites. At two of these sites only one or two projectile points from this period and a few ceramic sherds have been found. At the Sweet's Knoll site one Late woodland to Contact period ceramic vessel was recovered as well as 17 Levanna points. The distribution and occurrence of Late woodland sites appears similar to the Middle Archaic ones with the exception of an increased focused on the area closer towards the Berkeley/ Dighton bridge as opposed to the more southern sections. Possibly, the people living in Dighton during the Late Woodland established larger communities further inland and used the river on an occasional basis for procuring resources. One of these larger more inland sites may have been the Native community present around Council Oak that appears to have focused on Muddy Cove Brook.
The Contact period was a time a dramatic social, political and personal upheaval for southeastern Massachusetts Native populations. This period began with amiable trade relations with European explorers such as Verrazanno (1524) and Gosnold (1602), followed by a growing distrust of Europeans and an increase in hostility between the two, especially on Cape Cod (Pring 1603, Champlain 1605). This hostility was due primarily to the kidnapping of Native men by Europeans desirous of returning home with informants or curiosities from the New World (Weymouth 1607, Hunt under Smith 1614). By the time of the settling of the English at Plymouth, 1620, Natives in southeastern Massachusetts had been decimated by a European epidemic, 1616-1619, with mortality rates possibly reaching 100% in some communities.
At this time The Native name of what is now Dighton may have been Segragansett or more probably Segragansett meaning the place of the long river. Other Native place names nearby are Poppasquash, the place of the partridges, this was centered on the southern branch of the Segragansett River between present day Horton and Wellington streets. Nistoquahannock or the Three-Mile River. Nistoquahannock means the people of the two stones water place. Finally the Taunton River may have been called Tetiquet (titicut) meaning the place of the shaking ground for the extensive marshes along the shores.
Native trails were probably located following present day Elm Street and Somerset Avenue with other possible routes being along Pleasant and County streets. An interior route may have followed the Segragansett River northwest. Native settlements may have been located with the core at Council Oak between the Cedar Swamp and Muddy Cove or Richmond Brook. There may have been significant depopulation of the area due to and following the 1616-1618 epidemic but populations must have remained large enough for Metacomet aka King Philip to have considered the Natives here powerful enough to warrant a meeting prior to King Philip's War.
The Sweet's Knoll site may bear evidence to the Contact period in the presence of a finely decorated ceramic pot and Levanna points. Maurice Robbins, Arnold and Arthur Staples noted in a 1969 article that numerous possible contact artifacts have been recovered along the Taunton River in Dighton at sites situated slightly away from the shore. Unfortunately the authors did not elaborate on what types of artifacts.
The following is a discussion of four of the most important sites in Dighton known at this time. This is followed by a discussion of two interesting inscribed rocks found in or near Dighton.
The Boats site was well know to local collectors and archaeologists before Edward Rose published two articles about it in the Bulletin of the Massachusetts Archaeological Society. The area was farmland for numerous years and had bee impacted by the dynamiting of large boulders in the fields. This site lies directly in front of Grassy Island and was named for the several scows that had been sunk in the mud in front of the site years before. The site is approximately 100 feet from the river's edge with several springs being located further to the west but adjacent to the site. While the area had been heavily collected by locals for years prior to Rose's work, his was the first actual systematic excavation to have taken place here.
Rose initially excavated here in the 1950s and uncovered a total of twenty-five features including what he described as "house floors". These features had diameters of approximately 15-55 inches. These features apparently were cremation burials dating to the Late Archaic period. Artifacts recovered from these burials included pestles, points and knives that had been fractured by the heat of the cremation fire. In addition to artifacts, a large amount of charcoal, ochre and some shell and bone were recovered. A total of 11 post molds were also encountered forming an irregular square around the burials.
Rose returned to the site in the 1960s and excavated an area away from the burials. Here he found large amounts of hammerstones and flakes as well a many pieces of fire cracked rock. Four hearths were also identified with the largest one measuring over 61/2 feet in diameter, possibly representing the crematory associated with the burials uncovered earlier. The most interesting feature encountered was a concentration of eight sandstone and argillite grooved net weights. These were found to lie in a more or less strait line approximately 3" apart. Apparently this represented a fishing net that had been buried or stored here. In association with these stones were two quartz Squibnocket Triangles and one argillite Small Stemmed point. This points to Late Archaic Period deposition.
Another interesting occurrence at the site was 2 extensive groupings of large rocks. The largest grouping occurred around a large glacial erratic where the stones were placed to form three circular "rooms". The second grouping was composed of eleven rocks laid in one or two rows.
One unique artifact recovered was a 3" long fish/ killer whale or porpoise effigy perforated through the dorsal fin for suspension. This artifact is unique in New England and shows the importance of the river and ocean to the Archaic people.
Over 1000 artifacts were recovered including Early, Middle and Late Archaic types. These included one Early Archaic Bifurcate Based point 9000-8000 BP, two Middle Archaic Neville points 8000-7000 BP, two Neville drills, one Middle Archaic Stark point 7000-6000 BP, fragments of at least three Middle Archaic semi-lunar knives at least two Middle Archaic adzes, and at least three Middle to Late Archaic plummet weights. Late Archaic artifacts illustrated in Rose's 1965 article include six Small Stemmed points 6000-2300 BP, seven Squibnocket Triangle points 5000-3000 BP, five Brewerton Eared Notched points 5000-4000 BP, one Atlantic point 4100-3600 BP, and six Susquehanna Broad points 4000-3500 BP. Woodland artifacts included one Fox Creek Lanceolate point 1800-1200 BP and some small pottery fragments.
The Boats site represents the most important archaeological site in Dighton. Occupation of the site spans as much as 9000 years with the most intensive occupation occurring during the Late Archaic period. It appears during this period, the Taunton River was the subsistence focus for the people living in Dighton, at least for part of the year.
Back Porch Site
The Back Porch Site was located behind 1455 Somerset Avenue and was excavated in the late 1960s to early 1970s. Due to continued construction at the site, nothing remains of it today. Through excavation testing and walkovers conducted after spring plowing, the investigator, Arthur Staples, was able to determine that the site originally covered approximately 290 feet (88 m) north to south and 300 feet (91 m) east to west. The site is situated on a small plateau above swampland to the south and east. The majority of the material recovered was prehistoric in origin although Maurice Robbins recovered one French coin during a walkover.
Over 500 artifacts were recovered during Mr. Staples testing and collecting at the site with over half of these being made of locally available quartz. Artifacts included Late Archaic material such as Squibnocket Triangles and soapstone, Middle Archaic material such as one two-knob gouge and one whale tail atlatl weight of grey shale as well as a small amount of Woodland materials including one grit tempered ceramic shard. Other artifacts recovered included stone knives, scrapers, a sandstone grinder, sharpening stones, hematite, graphite and pieces of fire-cracked rock. Raw materials for these artifacts were limited to quartz, quartzite, shale, felsite or rhyolite, sandstone and one fragment of flint or chert.
One feature was encountered described as a "pailful of burned stone". Associated with this feature were one hammerstone and both a large and small "chopper". Fire cracked rock was noted as being scattered across the site as well, indicative of intensely used fires for cooking or warmth.
Artifacts pictured in Staples' 1983 article include one grey rhyolite possible Neville point 8000-7000 BP, two Otter Creek points 6000-4500 BP (one of brown/ grey rhyolite and one of grey argillite), two Brewerton eared Notched points 5000-4000 BP (one tan quartzite and one grey rhyolite), one quartz Squibnocket Triangle 5000-3000 BP, one dark red argillite Atlantic point 4100-3600 BP, one black chert Meadowwood 3000-2500 BP, one green argillite Fox Creek lanceolate point 1800-1200 BP and one brown rhyolite possible Levanna 1300-400 BP. Other artifacts included a rhyolite-stemmed knife, a red felsite possible axe blade or biface, a white quartz stemmed scraper, a grey rhyolite oval biface. These artifacts indicate possible moderate utilization of the site during the Middle Archaic, heavier utilization in the Late Archaic and then no utilization again until the Late Woodland.
Segragansett River Site
The Segragansett River site is located on the north shore of the Segragansett River just south of the Back Porch Site. Arthur Staples systematically tested this site in 1966. It was located immediately behind the Dighton police station and was found to be inundated by the high tide and covered with cattail reeds. Staples encountered a 4" deep black layer of organic, what he interpreted as "midden" soils after the removal of the cattail reeds. Artifacts recovered included seventeen stone tools made of felsite/ rhyolite, quartz, green chert and argillite. Diagnostic projectile points recovered included five Squibnocket Triangles 5000-3000 BP (2 green to grayish green chert, argillite, quartz, rhyolite), four Small Stemmed points 6000-2300 BP (2 quartz, 2 rhyolite), two Levannas 1300-400 BP (quartz). Other artifacts included a rhyolite flake knife, 3 notched net sinkers, a purple argillite possible scraper and a round flat stone of quartzite that appeared unworked. Staples also recovered 989 flakes of which 54.8% (N=542) were quartz, 41% (N=406) were felsite/ rhyolite, 4% (N=40) were chert (red, honey colored, green, brown and black) and .1% (N=1) of argillite. The chert flakes recovered (called "flint" by Staples) may be comprised of a mixture of New York cherts and Pennsylvania Jasper the first occurring in the red, black, green and brown, the latter in the "honey-colored".
One feature, a well laid hearth, was also encountered. This hearth was bowl shaped on three sides and measured 80 by 90 cm, was 10 cm deep and contained charcoal and burned stone. A small amount of red ochre and a cupful of calcined bone were also recovered.
This site seems to represent a fishing and resource procurement location with a focus on the river and possibly adjacent resources. The site appears to have been most heavily utilized in the Late Archaic and again in the Late Woodland periods.
The Sweet's Knoll site is located slightly to the north and east of the Segragansett River Site on a small knoll surrounded by swamp to the south and east. At this site, Maurice Robbins, Arnold and Arthur Staples encountered extensive evidence of Late Archaic and Late Woodland people's use of the knoll, probably with a focus on the river and its resources. Numerous pit and hearth features were encountered during the course of their excavations as well as many interesting artifacts.
Two of the most interesting artifacts were two different styles of atlatl weights. The first was what archaeologist have termed a bar atlatl weight. These take the form of a rough oval through which a hole has been drilled so that it could be slipped onto the end of the shaft. The example from the Sweet's Knoll site is one and three quarters inches long and one and one half inches wide with a hole diameter of just over five eighth of an inch. The other interesting artifact was what has been termed a birdstone.
This type of atlatl weight was carved in the shape of a long bird and was tied onto the spear thrower shaft. The example from the site is made of sandstone and appears to have broken in the process of being made, as one of the holes through which the string to tie it on was only partially drilled and the other not even started. This birdstone is 20 centimeters long, four centimeters high at the head and three centimeters high at the tail. The body is triangular in cross-section and tapers from beak to tail. These artifacts are extremely rare with one other one being recovered from Rhode Island and several from Connecticut. Willoughby in his 1894 work "Antiquities of the New England Indians" stated that the distribution of these artifacts appear to be confined to the southern and western portions of New England. Their general distribution extends from southeastern Massachusetts west to Illinois and central Wisconsin and from central Ontario southward to the Ohio River and southern Pennsylvania with a few being found in Kentucky and Tennessee (Robbins et al 66). When found in graves they often are accompanied by objects made of Native copper. Warren K. Moorhead, noted early twentieth century New England archaeologist, stated that unfinished birdstones are rarely found outside of "Ohio/ New York/ Indiana/Michigan/Wisconsin area". Birdstones are associated with the spread of the Adena culture form the southwest, which coincidentally is the same direction that the Wampanoag believe the Creator lives and the direction from which corn and beans spread into New England. This birdstone is obvious evidence of an extensive exchange of at least ideas from the Natives living to the south and west.
Other artifact recovered from the site were made of a variety of materials with 53.3% of them made of quartz (N=64), 21.7% of argillite (N=26), 20% of felsite/ rhyolite (N=24), 3.3% of quartzite (N=4) and 1.7% of chert (N=2). In opposition to the other sites discussed, at Sweet's Knoll Native pottery was recovered in abundance. From the sherds recovered, a total of four vessels were identifiable. Vessel 1 was a medium sized vessel with a coarse mineral body temper and a body thickness of 1.2 to 1.4 cm. On the exterior a dentate decoration around the neck was present having been made by pressing a small-toothed tool into the wet clay. Vessel 2 was a small thin walled pot with a fine mineral temper and vessel wall thickness of .5-.7 cm. These fragments were found in association with a hearth containing a small triangular possible Squibnocket point indicating a possible Early Woodland date. Vessel 3 was in poor condition but was found to have a mineral temper with some possible vegetable matter included either accidentally or purposefully. Vessel 4 was the most complete vessel recovered being represented by over 300 fragments. This vessel was tempered with fine mineral grit with the body thickness averaging about. 5cm. The exterior around the rim was extensively decorated with incised lines and deep indentations in triangle and diamond shapes. This vessel dates to the Late Woodland to Contact Periods.
Projectile points recovered from the site fell into the following classifications:
Late Archaic -11 Brewerton side and corner notched (5000-4000 BP), 7 Atlantic (4100-3600 BP), 19 Squibnocket Triangles (5000-3000 BP), 56 Small Stemmed (6000-2300 BP), Early Woodland-1 Rossville (2500-1500 BP), Middle Woodland- 1 possible Greene (1800-1200 BP), Late woodland/ Contact-15 Levannas (1300-400 BP). Other artifacts recovered included what were interpreted as knives (N=12), scrapers (N=5), a pestle (N=1), drills (N=5), hammerstones (N=11), a chopper (N=1), graphite (N=5), and one other atlatl weight (N=1).
A total of 41 features were uncovered at the site with the majority of them being hearths. These hearths were shallow bowl-like basins constructed of flat to oval pebbles. Other features included pits that were generally round or oval in cross section and sometimes filled with hearth waste. One hearth was found to have been associated with a layer of soft shell clamshells while one of the pits was found to contain a densely packed oyster and charcoal fill.
No discussion of Dighton is complete without at least a brief mention of Dighton Rock. While this stone is not in Dighton, it lies on the eastern shore of the Taunton River in Berkeley, from a Native perspective it was probably associated with what we now call Dighton. Dighton rock is an eleven-foot long, five foot high and nine and one half foot wide piece of glacially deposited layered sandstone of the Dighton conglomerate group. Its originally westward facing side is covered with carved figures, symbols and lines. Europeans first noted it in the late seventeenth century when the high tide would cover the lower half of the stone. By 1768 the rock was completely submerged at high tide. In 1963 the decision was made to move the stone out of the water and eventually an enclosure was built over it.
Hundreds of books and articles written about it and more than 30 theories advanced to explain it. These range from carvings by the Phoenicians, Egyptians, Norsemen, Vikings and Portuguese. Unfortunately none of these theories has any supporting evidence. No artifact other than Native American and colonial period European have been found in the vicinity of the rock. Essentially while theories abound about who carved the symbols on the rock, there is no evidence that anyone but the Natives living in the area did so.
If the Natives carved them, what do they represent? Some theories that have been advanced to explain the carvings put forth the notion that they are nothing but tools sharpening marks, that they are just idle sport or doodling, that they are a memorial of some special event, that they are a record of hunting activity or war or that they are Indian names and signatures. In a letter written in 1807 by Edward Kendall, Kendall relates a Native story associated with Dighton Rock and the Assonet Neck area. Kendall stated that "There arrived in ancient times some white men in a bird; [it is said] that the white men took some Indians into the bird, as hostages; that they filled water at the spring; that the Indians fell upon them and slaughtered the white men at the spring, which thence derives its name; and that the hostages escaped from the bird...during the affray thunder and lightning issued from the bird". This seems to be a symbolic representation of historical events that are said to have occurred near Dighton Rock. Whether the figures on the rock relate to this event is not known but it could be one explanation.
On the face of the rock are four outstanding carvings and numerous smaller less clearly defined ones that may be serpents, zoomorphic or anthropomorphic shapes. The largest figure on the rock is a stylized human figure with a round head containing two eyes and a nose, broad shoulders, and a triangular body tapering inward at the waist and then expanding below to form a smaller triangle, possibly representing legs. Edward Lenik, an authority on Northeastern rock art sees a parallel of this figure being present at Birch point in Machaisport Maine where it has been interpreted as possibly representing a shaman or spirit figure dating to the Late Woodland. On the right hand side of the rock are two anthropomorphic figures with round heads eyes, mouths and narrow amorphous shaped bodies. These too are interpreted as possible spirit figures. Simple heads such as these with two eyes and a mouth but without a body have been found all over the northeast and are considered a common design element. A well-defined quadruped, possibly a deer, is carved near center of rock. It has a rectangular body divided into four sections by vertical lines with each section containing circular dot, a tail and horns. One final large carving is located near the top center of the face and may represent a thunderbird or some type of flying bird. This figure is almost as large as the large figure carving on the left hand side of the face and has a similar shaped body. In this case though the body is placed horizontally and has two right triangles and three dots within the main portion of it. No head is clearly defined if this is a bird but it may be located on the right side and is composed of another triangle. The carvings on the rock most likely do not represent a single episode of work on its surface but are likely the result of possibly generations of Natives adding to the face.
Dighton Grave Marker
This stone, in the possession of the Old Colony Society is a roughly cut piece of sandstone measuring 33 cm long by 23 cm wide and approximately 4 cm thick. It is believed to have marked the location of a Native grave in Dighton although there is no documentation to support that this was removed from a gravesite. Legend has it that Reverend Danforth carved the stone for the Native and that the symbols on it read, "Here lies a Christian Indian. The aim of his life was towards the Banner of the Cross." It is unknown why Danforth would have been carving the symbols on the stone instead of writing those words. The stone may in fact be another piece of petroglyphic art similar to other found nearby such as Dighton Rock. What can be seen on the stone is the representation of several objects. From Left to right top to bottom there is carved an X, a human face with three lines sticking out of the top, a V, an arrow, a square with an X inside, an isosceles triangle attached onto the right side of a possible long pipe and finally a small triangle. These symbols have been interpreted as Greek letters, a sun figure, a hand on a pipe and a Native house. The central figure on the top row is very similar to faces found carved at Bellows Falls in Vermont. If the stone is in fact a grave headstone, the entire message may refer to the passage of the deceased spirit to the afterworld.
Historical Sites and Potential
During the early Historic Period from 1600-1675, there does not appear to have been a great deal of European settlement in Dighton. After King Philip's War ended in 1676/ 1677 colonists were slow to settle Dighton. The first recorded settlers were Jared Talbot
in 1678 and George Gooding in 1680. Talbot is believed to have settled near the meetinghouse while Gooding settled on the fertile flood plains of the Taunton River near the present day Bristol County Agricultural School.
The Native trails along Elm Street and Somerset Avenue functioned as main roads and subsequent settlement occurred between the two early homes. The first meetinghouse, built in 1708 was located in what is now the town cemetery. The structure was probably located on the top of the high knoll present at the site today with the first cemetery spreading to the rear and right of the meetinghouse. By the early eighteenth century additional settlement was located along Elm Street, Spring Street and Lincoln Avenue. The earliest industries were set up between the mouth of the Segragansett River
and old Town Landing. A shipyard was built at the foot of Main Street 1693 and a boat yard continues to occupy the site today.
Dighton was an important port due to its ability to serve as a place for the transportation of goods inland from Dighton. Because ships could travel no further up the Taunton River than Dighton, it acted as the commercial distribution point for southern and central New England. Ships arrived loaded with goods from the West Indies, South America and Europe exchanging them for fish, barrel staves, lumber, grain, and hops. Goods from these ships were shipped further inland and were probably sold in the general store which was located at the junction of Main and Pleasant streets at some time before 1775.
Due to the power that could be derived from the Segragansett and Three Mile rivers, industries soon sprang up along its shores. These included an iron forge erected in circa 1700 on the three mile river above the junction Lincoln Ave and Spring Street; a sawmill
at junction of School street and Lincoln Ave. At the junction of the Segragansett River and William Street, Josiah Talbot built a gristmill circa 1740 that lasted until 1834 while Matthew Briggs built a forge and gristmill across road.
Any of these sites hold the potential for significant archaeological discoveries. It would be fascinating to discover the site of Talbot's house, the first timber frame structure in town or to find evidence of the extensive foreign trade that was being brought into Dighton in the eighteenth century. This trade is hinted at by the discovery of an old French coin at the Back Porch site.