Under the direction of Dr. Albert Dekin, MS Laurie Miroff will collect data for her doctoral dissertation. The immediate goal of her project is to coordinate specialist analyses of archaeological materials excavated from the Thomas/Luckey site, located in the Town of Ashland, New York. This large open air occurrence dates from 900 - 1300 AD and, on the basis of ceramic remains, is attributed to the Owasco culture. The Owasco, archaeologists believe, are directly ancestral to the Iroquois peoples who inhabited a large region of the US Northeast at the time of European contact. The origin of the Iroquois is poorly understood and based on comparisons with adjacent groups, the distinctive Iroquois language appears intrusive. Because early ethnographers studied the Iroquois extensively their prehistory is of considerable interest because it provides a background for understanding colonial period adaptation. Although based on ceramic typologies the Owasco culture appears directly ancestral to the Iroquois, relatively few sites have been excavated and their social organization is poorly known. MS Miroff's research has the potential to remedy this situation. The Thomas/Luckey site contains large scatters of archaeological material and beginning in 1994 has been excavated over multiple field seasons. Lower soil layers are undisturbed and they preserve traces of house posts. MS Miroff and colleagues have discerned the presence of two large dwellings which, based on ethnographic comparison, likely were occupied by multiple family groups. MS Miroff will conduct a spatial analysis of recovered material to determine spatial clustering, infer whether these represent domestic groups and then compare across groups to examine the extent to which social differentiation or specialization existed. At the time of contact, the Iroquois were organized into chiefdoms and tribes and status differences were clearly present. It is uncertain when these first appeared. With NSF support, MS Miroff will obtain radiocarbon and thermolumenescence dates to determine contemporanity among features. Botanical and use wear analyses of stone tools will also be carried out and the results will be incorporated into cluster characterization.
This research is important for several reasons. It will illuminate a poorly understood period of US prehistory and will provide data of interest to many archaeologists. It will shed light on the development of complex societies and contribute to training a promising young scientist.