Author presents Connecticut’s native American heritage
By Lillian R. Handleman - ReminderNews
South Windsor - posted Thu., Dec. 19, 2013
If archaeology is indeed “the peeping Tom of the sciences,” then archaeologist/author Lucianne Lavin may well be the quintessential voyeur of Connecticut’s native inhabitants. Her systematic study, recovery and documentation of the state’s rich cultural artifacts have culminated in her new book, "Connecticut’s Indigenous Peoples: What Archaeology, History, and Oral Traditions Tell Us about Their Communities and Cultures." The book studies the life and pluralism of Connecticut’s earliest Indian settlers, long before the Mayflower transported Pilgrims to Plymouth Rock.
With the aid of slides, Lavin discussed the historic revelations in her book, at the Wood Memorial Library on Wednesday, Oct. 9, where she disclosed the archive of Connecticut’s earliest native Americans. She told of the European white settlements that advanced on the tribes in the 1600s, and the subsequent effect colonial aggression had on the Indian cultural evolution over 400 years. "A main theme of the book is that native American communities did NOT assimilate into white culture, and continued their cultures in indigenous communities throughout Connecticut. What was destroyed was their traditional economies," she said.
A 30-year archaeologist, and director of research and collections at the Institute for American and Indian Studies, in Washington, Conn., Lavin, by her own admission, lives and breathes archeology. “There is no other book like this that attempts to eradicate negative misconceptions about native Americans,” said Lavin. “Among the misconceptions are assumptions that all tribes are ‘casino Indians’ who died out long ago.” She noted that the earliest settlers were actually sophisticated, adaptable communities whose art traditions included porcupine quill, embroidery, glass beading, bone and wood carving, basketry and jewelry making.
Settlers within the boundaries of what is now the state of Connecticut arrived from Asia and Siberia more than 10,000 years ago, Lavin said, by crossing the sprawling plains of the Bering Strait. The diversity of Connecticut’s indigenous tribes may best be exemplified in the roles they played over these thousands of years, and in their ever-expanding industrialization throughout greater New England. Connecticut is where Lavin has focused much of her ethnographic research and discovery.
The earliest native American site in Washington, Conn., is where Lavin works - a site where the earliest Paleo-Indians used tools for hunting and fishing on the banks of the Shepaug River. Paleo-Indian artifacts discovered in Connecticut are made of stone, bone and carbonized fibers.
“They were complex societies of native Americans with complex cultural systems,” said Lavin. “The tribal members had roles, responsibilities and rights… as well as religious clans and socio-political hierarchies of warrior societies, servants and slaves.”
Other early Connecticut tribes included Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegans, who that settled in Norwich by the Thames River, thus giving our state its name: “Connecticut” derives from the Indian word "Quinatucquet,” which translates, "Beside the Long Tidal River."
A member of the audience, Betty MacDonald of South Windsor, who once lived in Norwich, said, “When we lived in Norwich we would often visit the monument to Uncas on Sachem Street. Uncas was the first chief of the Mohegan tribe.” The Norwich street name, “Sachem,” means “Head Chief,” and Uncasville, Conn., is named for him.
Other early Connecticut tribes included the Eastern and Western Niantic, the Narraganset, the Nipmuc, and the Wappinger, many of whom have Connecticut towns named after them, including Wapping, an iconic division of South Windsor.
The Wood Memorial Library, the Archaeology Society of Connecticut, and the Friends of State Archaeology hosted Lavin’s presentation as part of October “archaeology month,” so designated by various Connecticut archaeology centers. Preceding a book signing that followed her presentation Lavin reminded the audience that “archaeology is not just digging in the dirt. It’s also geology, artifacts, and discovering the people behind the pots.”
The cultures of native Americans live on in the present native peoples who are our Connecticut neighbors and co-workers. The Wood Memorial Library has a whole section dedicated to preserving Connecticut’s rich ancestral native American heritage. For other upcoming library program information, visit www.woodmemoriallibrary.org.