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The Kingston Public Library Local History Room currently curates archaeological materials recovered from the town. The material present at the library consists of an extensive collection of pre-Contact and early historic material collected by John and Lester Cram, and a smaller collection of pre-Contact and late seventeenth century recovered by the late Dr. James Deetz at the C-21/ Allerton-Cushman site.
A total of 4321 items (both artifacts and natural pieces) are present. The number of pieces in each collection can be broken down as follows:
Cram Collection 4200
Allerton Site 121
The entire collection was analyzed with the following objectives:
1) identify the types of artifacts
2) identify the temporal associations
3) identify the materials
4) identify any significant trends in the collection
5) place the collection within a larger framework of the town archaeological record and New England prehistory
As each artifact was analyzed, the following charecterists were noted where applicable: completeness, size, type, color, material, unusual wear/charecteristics. Flakes, cores and shatter were counted, and the charecteristics of color, material, and the stage of lithic reduction represented by the artifact (decortification, primary, secondary) were noted.
It was known that these individual collections were the result of unsystematic collection procedures which probably were carried out in much the same way that most surface collections are. That is, the sites were walked over after rains, storms or ground disturbance (erosion, construction) and the artifacts that caught the collector's eye were recovered. Collection practices such as these result in what the MHC has identified as quantitative and qualitative biases in the collection contents, essentially meaning that every site represented in a collection is represented by only a sample of the entire amount of artifacts possibly present (MHC 1980). These samples are formed by the collectors using both conscious and unconscious selection criteria such as the where the sites originate from, raw materials, the fragility of the artifact, the collector's hunting territory, access to the site, the size of the site and collector bias.
The origin of the collection, surface collection versus excavation, will affect the types, sizes and numbers of artifacts present in a collection. Surface collections are usually from disturbed sites and are exposed as the result of plowing, construction or erosion. They represent incomplete samples due to the fact that they were collected only because they happened to be visible on the particular day(s) that the site was collected. They are dramatically affected by collector bias, their unsystematic collection nature and the fact that no features are normally represented in the collection only artifacts.
Specific individual collector bias is probably the greatest factor affecting the materials represented in a collection. Collectors often tend to focus on large, durable, easy to recognize items with exotic items being more sought after and collected. Artifacts that the professional archaeologist views as integral to interpreting and understanding a site such as broken bifaces, chipping debris, pottery and faunal remains are usually under represented due to the fact that collectors often do not know the value of these artifact classes and because of differential breakage. This results in projectile points and lithic artifacts being over represented in a collection. As most collections are from disturbed contexts, the most fragile artifacts, shell, bone, pottery, tend to be easiest destroyed and be poorly represented for the collector. Some collector go to the extreme of only keeping whole artifacts and one will never find a broken point in their collections. Collector bias includes the collecting territories of the individual collector. Collectors may return to the same site over again or they may be the type of collector who moves around to many locations. The collector's site location criteria are related to this as well. Each collector has a different set of conscious or unconscious criteria they use when deciding where to hunt. Some may favor hills, or the coast or sand pits while other favor flat open areas or stream banks..
The raw material that the artifacts are made of can have a important impact on the make up of the collection. The visibility of material leads to collections having the tendency to be over representative in the presence of materials such as quartz and exotic lithics like chert, jasper or chalcedony. The more that a lithic material contrasts with the surrounding soil, the more likely it is that it will be collected.
Other factors affecting where and why collectors collect are site access with readilly accessible sites more often hunted than more remote ones. The general preference for plowed fields due to the high visibility in these areas. This results in an over representation of material from fertile lowlands and flood plains of major rivers. The site size as large sites with wide horizontal distribution tend to be hunted more than small centralized sites.
All of these collector biases and factors affecting what was collected and where it was collected from, result in problems with interpreting the value of a collection to contribute to our understanding of a town's prehistory. Some of the problems that result from unsystematic collection are chronological because collections often only represent a fraction of the sites occupational sequence some components are usually absent due to differential exposure or small sample size. The lack of specific provenance information because often collections are simply labeled as whatever town they came from with no site data or if site data is present it is usually of a vague sort. Finally, because there was no systematic manner in which the site was collected and no way to really be sure that what is present in a collection represents a valid random sample of what was at the site, then we have to watch for the danger of negative information. Just because it isn't in the collection doesn't mean that it wasn't there. Many sites contain small components of a wide variety of time periods due to the fact that if the areas was attractive 10,000 years ago, it was probably attractive 9000 years ago, 8000 years ago and so on. The very nature of sites from some time periods, like those of the Paleoindian period or specialized activity sites, tend to be small and short term resulting in a low degree of visibility but a high degree of focus. Sites such as these occupy a small discrete area and contain a low number of artifacts, a scenario resulting in them being easily missed even during systematic testing and especially during surface hunting.
A. The John Cram Collection
John Cram was born and raised in Kingston where he began collecting artifacts at age seven (KPL 2003: 1). Cram's main study and collecting areas were the Smelt Brook Valley, Rocky Nook and the Bay Farm. What he considered his most significant find was a copper artifact that he identified as a bronze Norse axe that now resides at the Jabez Howland House in Plymouth (KPL 2003: 1). Objects in the collection may have also come from John's father Lester who was known as a member of the Massachusetts Archaeological Society and an avid digger. It is likely that Lester took John on his first digs and it is likely that the two worked together throughout the years.
It is known that Lester Cram excavated numerous sites along the Smelt Brook valley. These include the Resnick Site (MAS number M41NW-3) and the Williams Site (MAS number M41NW-4). Artifacts from both of these sites are likely represented in the Kingston Public Library Local History Room collection. The Resnick Site was excavated around 1960 by Lester Cram and his son John. An unpublished report by Russell Holmes on file at the Kingston Public Library Local History Room, states that the Resnick Site collection was intact in one collection, presumably that of Lester Cram. According to Holmes, materials recovered from this site included large and small triangular points, ceramic potsherds, side-notched #3 points, a group of bone projectiles in a cache and shell remains (Holmes 11). All these items were recovered from what Cram identified as the "upper level". Material recovered from the "middle and lower levels" included many large and small pieces of steatite vessels, small eared points, corner removed #7 points, diamond type points and tapered stem points. No ceramic remains were recovered from the middle and lower levels (Holmes 11). The numerous steatite fragments recovered included many large pieces that had been found in the lower levels, situated close together (Cram 1977: 2).
Appreciable amounts of shell, bone and graphite were recovered, as well as firepits with burnt stone (Holmes 12). Excavation at the site sometimes reached over six feet in depth due to erosion from higher ground to the west and northwest. The fact that this site lay on the second terrace up from the brook and was speculated by Holmes to have been the reason for their settlement at this location. He believed that this site may represent a winter camp located on the second terrace on the west side of the brook where it would be protected from the winter winds (Holmes 13). One spear point over 5" long was also recovered, as well as several bone points which were all found in one concentration (Cram 1977: 2).
The Williams Site was excavated by Cram in the 1930s and was located between Smelt Brook and the present day Smith Lane. Cram identified it as a "small kitchen midden or shell heap site" (Holmes 13). It was reported by Holmes that Cram stated that the site had never been plowed (Holmes 13). The midden was reported to be several feet deep, that was packed almost solid in some places.
Artifacts recovered included several species of shellfish such as quahog, clam and oyster, the oyster and quahog being found predominantly in the deepest portions of the midden; abundant bone remains including some that were decorated with incised lines, bone needles and a bone comb; thin-walled shell-tempered pottery fragments with decoration; and stone projectile points drills and scrapers. The projectile points were of the large and small triangular and stemmed varieties. Little steatite and no gouges or heavy wood working tools were recovered (Holmes 14).
Numerous features were found including two graves, one of a small child containing a complete pottery vessel filled with shells and one adult male with no artifacts present. Cram reported that he recovered the pot and reburied the bones at the site (Cram 1977: 1). The bones of the adult male were donated to a professor in Duxbury (Cram 1977: 2). One clay-lined pit filled with charred acorns was found as were five to six circular fire pits and many pieces of fire-cracked rock (Holmes 14).
Cram considered the site important enough to contact Warren K. Moorehead. It was reported that Moorehead conducted an excavation here, with the unfortunate outcome being that the site was looted with many artifacts being recovered and subsequently sold (Holmes 14)
B. Allerton Site
The Allerton site, located in Kingston, was excavated by Deetz in 1972. The site has achieved major importance because of its early date, placed at 1630-1650, even though it was only partially excavated. The form of house construction, a modified post in ground, is the only example of the type in New England and resulted in the use of this building form in houses constructed in Plimoth Village during the mid to late 1970s.
What was uncovered from the site was the floor plan for the first earthfast house recognized as such in the former Plymouth Colony. Local legend stated that the site formerly belonged to Isaac Allerton and then to his daughter Mary and her husband Thomas Cushman. This local legend was substantiated by documentary searches as early as 1939 and was reaffirmed by Dr. James Deetz. . The stains in the soil revealed a home 20 by 22 feet oriented northwest to southeast with a cobble stone hearth located in the middle of the east wall. Large post hole up to 12 inches in diameter at the four corners outlined the house. It is known from documentary research that Allerton and others were granted land here in 1627 but the grant stipulated that noone was allowed to move out of the Plantation itself and live on their land for four years. As a result of this law, Allerton probably first moved onto the site in 1631/2 and lived there until he left the colony in 1634. Aside from the posthole pattern and hearth, the evidence left by the Allerton family is scant at the site. The land passed through various hands of people who lived in the Jones River area until it was acquired by Thomas and Mary Cushman in 1653. The Cushmans had been living directly across from the site on the North side of the river probably since they were married in 1636. In 1653 it appears that they relocated their home to the former Allerton property and built their new home directly on the remnants of the earlier house . The Cushman's lived here with their children, partially digging a palisade trench but apparently never completing it and digging a cellar hole directly into the center of Allerton's earlier house. It is not known how large the Cushman's house was, but judging from the cellar hole's size and the architectural styles of the day, it probably was of a square design which appears to be based on the earlier houses built by the colonists. The Cushman's continued to live at the site until Thomas' death in 1691 when the land was given to one of his sons. The house itself either eventually fell apart or was dismantled and noone ever lived at the site again until 1972.
Perhaps one of the most colorful characters of the Pilgrim venture, Isaac Allerton was both a shrewd business man and a self-serving entrepreneur. He was originally chosen to be the Plimoth colony's financial representative to England but was eventually relieved of that post after numerous personal money making deals. He left the Plantation early in the 1630s at a time when many people were moving out and appears to have lived in present day Kingston, just north of Plymouth. It is recorded in the 1635 or 1636 that he had land and a house in Kingston, but by1638 he had sold or given the land to Thomas Prence, an associate of his. He then moved to New Amsterdam and lived there the rest of his life. The land in Kingston exchanged hands but eventually was in 1653 sold to Thomas Cushman and his wife Mary, the daughter of Isaac Allerton. The couple lived there until 1693 when Thomas died. It appears that people stopped living at the site at this time. The house was probably arrived and reused and the cellar hole was filled in. So the story of the Allerton site is not one that primarily concerns Isaac Allerton, who does not appear to have had a significant impact on the site itself, but is one which more appropriately concerns the second generation of Allerton descendants and the Cushmans.