New research by CIAMS faculty sheds new light on Iroquoian settlement histories

By: John Gorczyk, 
Tue, 12/17/2019

New research published this week in the journal PLOS One by CIAMS faculty member Sturt Manning together with John Hart of the New York State Museum uses radiocarbon dating and statistical modeling to re-date a number of Iroquoian sites in the Mohawk Valley (New York State).

This study investigated the dating of a number of sites in the Mohawk Valley focused on resolving the timeframe during the 16th century AD when European intervention first began in northeast North America. The Mohawk and Hudson River system formed a key transport route from the coast into inland NYS as Europeans and their trade goods entered the region. Portable X-Ray Fluorescence (pXRF) analysis was employed to detect Native versus European source cuprous artifacts at several of the sites. The study finds that the conventional timeframe for a number of the sites needs re-assessment. In previous work, the presence or absence of key European trade goods was used as the key to define time. But this assumption fails to address, among other things, whether all Indigenous groups and peoples either wanted such items, or had equal or any access to them, and when such items reached a site during its overall lifetime. Direct dating of sites by radiocarbon reveals that in several cases past assumptions need re-thinking. This NYS case follows up two other recent papers that Manning and colleagues from the ‘Dating Iroquoia’ project have published on dating of Iroquoian sites in southern Canada which also demonstrate that a chronology based on assumptions about European trade goods can be seriously incorrect, by as much as 50-100 years (even just 400-500 years ago). Such re-dating changes how we address questions around the relationships concerning the directionality and timing and causes of Indigenous social change (in particular processes of coalescence and conflict across the 15th-17th centuries AD) and the entry of Europeans and their trade goods into the northeast in the period from the late 15th to earlier 17th centuries AD. The direct dating approach removes a Eurocentric or ‘colonial’ lens as we seek to better understand the past.


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