Come one and All to the Upper Susquehanna Chapter Archaeology Open House at the Roland Hill Museum! When: May 19th from 9am-3pm What: Free admission to the chapter's museum, flintknapping, cordage making and other early technology demonstrations, hands-on children's activities. Come one and all to our big annual event! Where: The Roland Hill Memorial Museum of Archaeology, 92 Main St. Otego, NY The Museum will be open on Saturdays from 11-4 and Sundays 1-4pm all summer long and by appointment.
Photo 1. A display of 32 bifacial knives, scrapers and projectile points from the Merrill collection.
Photo 2. A frame of six spear points.
Photo 3. Display of four slate bannerstones from the Merrill Collection.
Photo 4. Pipes and spear points from the Merrill collection.
Photo 5. Clay pipe from the Merrill collection at the GOHS History Center.
Photo 6. Effigy face from the Merrill collection at the GOHS History Center.
Prehistoric Artifacts in the Collections
of the Greater Oneonta Historical Society
Anyone who happens to find themselves in downtown Oneonta on a Tuesday or Saturday
afternoon should stop into the Greater Oneonta Historical Society (GOHS)’s History
Center located at 183 Main Street. They have a wide collection of material from Oneonta
area, including Native American artifacts, both on display as well as behind the scenes in
Prehistoric artifacts only make up a small percentage of the material on display at the
museum, although the artifacts they do show are diverse and of notable quality. All of the
artifacts currently on display were collected by Earl Merrill and donated to the historical
society by his son, Jack Merrill. Artifacts on display include:
Other artifacts from the Merrill collection not on display include a cigar box and silver
flatware box filled with artifacts. Richard Johnson, Collections Coordinator for the
GOHS states that to date they’ve found a total of 173 artifacts in the collection that they
believe to part of the Merrill collection. Sadly, no provenience information about where
Merrill’s artifacts came from currently exists, severely limiting the research potential of
The finest of Merrill’s artifacts are displayed on cards and in a glass display case (Photos
1-6). Of note within the collection are a series of two pipes and clay effigy face (Photo
4). One of the pipes is made of clay and has an effigy face that would have faced the
user (Photo 5), while the other is a clay platform pipe, which is not typical of our area
and may have been traded with someone from farther west. The clay effigy face is also
impressive and unusually individualistic (Photo 6). The head itself appears too round to
have once been attached to a pot although it may have been part of a pipe. I did not see
evidence of a hole where it might have been worn as a bead or attached to an object. The
face appears in remarkably good condition.
In addition to the Merrill collection, the historical society also has another collection of
Native American material formerly belonging to George Hale. The collection includes a
pestle and eleven glass display boxes of other artifacts from collection of the late George
Hale of Binghamton. The accession card for the collection states: “Artifacts dug up on
the Van Woert Farm along Susquehanna River. Given through the courtesy of Mr. and
Mrs. Floyd Baker, Oneonta, NY May 1973.” A total of 369 artifacts exist in the Hale
collection including the pestle.
It may be worthwhile to research the location of the Van Woert farm on historic maps
with the hopes of identifying the site’s approximate location. While this information
would be no substitute for the detailed level of provenience information archaeologists
require to interpret and understand the past, it might increase the research value of the
collection if we knew where in Otego they were found. I could find no mention of the
Van Woert farm in the Hill Museum’s electronic database, suggesting that farm may
have been one of the less extensively collected sites in the town. There may be artifacts
from the Van Woert farm in the Upper Susquehanna Collection at the Yager Museum at
Hartwick College, although additional research would be required to know with certainty.
None of the artifacts in either of these two collections have been inventoried and
no catalog currently exists. Such a project would be an excellent undertaking for an
experienced student or avocational archaeologist seeking to increase their experience
working with artifacts while helping to make these collections available for research.
While the artifacts on display are few but fine, the text which accompanies the display
is also well worth noting. Rather than to glamorize the unscientific collecting practices
of Merrill and others, the text seeks to make the reader aware of the tragic problem of
unprovenienced artifact collecting. The display cites some grim statistics, including that
over 100,000 artifacts have likely been taken from the Upper Susquehanna region by
unscientific collectors without any provenience information. Overall, the display does a
good job of explaining the error of otherwise well-intentioned collecting and shows how
critical provenience information is to reconstructing past behavior. If you’re in downtown
Oneonta you’d do well to stop in- it’s well worth a visit!
Thanks to Richard D. Johnson, Collections Coordinator at the GOHS. The History Center
is located at 183 Main Street in Oneonta and is open on Tuesdays and Saturdays. You can
contact them at 607-432-0960 or via the web at www.oneontahistory.org/