4th Grade Geography Inquiry


The People of the Shore: Shinnecocks of Long Island



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The People of the Shore: Shinnecocks of Long Island


By Patricia Polan

INTRODUCTION

The Shinnecock Indian Nation is a tribe recognized by the federal government whose home community and reservation are a short distance west of Southampton, New York. (Refer back to Supporting Question 2 Source A to see where they had lived prior to English settlers arriving.) These native people, who spoke an Eastern Algonquian language, have lived on eastern Long Island since before the arrival of Europeans early in the seventeenth century. The Shinnecock Nation Culture Center and Museum is located on tribal land and is open to the public. This source explains the food, clothing, and dwellings of Shinnecocks along with wampum making and whaling.



ARCHAEOLOGICAL EVIDENCE

To learn something about people who had lived in the past, scientists called archaeologists carry out excavations--digs--where artifacts and other evidence of human activity are found. From these materials they draw conclusions about the daily lives of Native people. The Sebonac site discovered near today's Shinnecock reservation has provided archaeologists with information about the lives of these Native people from centuries ago.

At this site, there were mounds that prompted archaeologists to investigate the area. They found shells from oysters, hard and soft clams, scallops, mussel, whelk and crab in the mounds. In the vicinity, they also found evidence of bones from deer, raccoon, muskrat, and wild fowl, as well as shells from land snails and turtles. They found the charred remains of corn cobs and hickory nuts, tools made from bones and antlers and fragments of pottery.

The archaeologists located pits that were broad and basin-shaped, about six feet across and two to three feet deep. Shinnecocks used pits to cook food by lining them with stones, building a fire on top of the stones, and keeping it burning until the stones were hot. The food to be cooked was placed on top of the hot stones. To prepare other foods from corn or nuts, the people used stone pestles to grind in wooden mortars. Pottery made from clay was used for cooking. Utensils for eating included cups, bowls and spoons made of turtle shell and wood.

At the site, the archaeologists also found evidence of circular dwellings that were about twenty feet in diameter. There was evidence of arrow heads, fish hooks, harpoons, and sinkers which led researchers to conclude that hunting with bow and arrow and fishing were important to the people who used to live here.

TOOLS

The remains that archaeologists recover from sites are usually items that do not decay over time. Even so, food remains along with wooden and bone tools and sometimes woven nets and basket fragments are often found, providing more information about native culture. The descendants of indigenous people created tools as their ancestors had. The Shinnecocks used wood to make objects like these—one is a pot scrubber and the other is a broom.




Scrub brush, pot scrubber

National Museum of the American Indian

Smithsonian Institution

(Catalog Number 20/5282)


Photo of pot scrubber


Broom

National Museum of the American Indian

Smithsonian Institution

(Catalog Number 20/5283)


Photo of broom

HOUSES

The houses of the Shinnecock are called wigwams. These houses were constructed using small trees, or saplings, or poles which were driven into the ground, then bent and tied together to form a dome-shaped frame or framework. Other poles were lashed horizontally to the frame. The frame was covered with woven mats or bark sheets. The woven mats were made of leaves, rushes, or cattails. A hole was left open at the top for smoke from the fire to escape. Inside, there was a fire pit in the center. A bench would serve as a bed, table or seat. Items could be stored under the bench. There was an opening to serve as a door, which could be covered with a curtain of animal skin.




Wigwam located in Wikun Village

Shinnecock Nation Cultural Center and Museum



Photo by Patricia Polan
Photo of wigwam

The Shinnecocks would move with the seasons and to be closer to resources. Some wigwams would be found near the fields where Shinnecocks grew corn, beans and squash. Others would be located near streams where fish could be caught. Still others would be near the shore in late summer and fall. In the winter, Shinnecocks would move inland. Other wigwams would be erected closer to hunting grounds.



FOOD

The Shinnecocks lived in a rich environment that provided them with a variety of foods. The fruits native to Long Island include mulberries, grapes, huckleberries, raspberries and strawberries. Butternuts, walnuts, acorns, hickory nuts and chestnuts were gathered in the fall. These nuts were husked and dried for later use. Then these were ground into coarse flour using a mortar and pestle and used in soups and stews.

Deer, bear, wolves, foxes, raccoons, opossum, rabbit, squirrel, weasel/mink, muskrat and beaver were hunted, along with turkey, duck, quail, partridges, pigeons, and geese. Seafood that was available included oysters, clams, scallops, lobsters, and crabs. Fish included bluefish, flounders, herring, bass, perch, trout and eels. Turtles and frogs were also part of their diet.

Shinnecocks also were farmers. They grew corn, beans, squash, and tubers, specifically, the Jerusalem artichoke which is in the sunflower family. Tubers are plants with thick, edible roots. Tobacco was also grown.



WAMPUM


Broom

National Museum of the American Indian

Smithsonian Institution

(Catalog Number 20/5283)


The Shinnecocks and other Native people in the region made use of shells found in the waters of Long Island Sound, including whelk and the hard shell clam or quahog. The central column of the whelk was used to make white beads of various sizes and shapes to be worn as pendants and necklaces or attached to clothing. Later on, small, barrel-shaped, white beads were made from the whelk along with identically-shaped purple beads from quahog shells. Strung into strings or woven into belts, wampum was and in some cases is still used for a variety of purposes: as ornamentation, in trade, in ceremonies, in gift exchange, in treaty agreements, and as a currency.

Photo of whelk and quahog shells


The spiral shell is a whelk and the larger shell is a quahog. These shells were found at an archaeological site.

On display at Shinnecock Nation Cultural Center and Museum.

Photo by Patricia Polan




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