Archaic Period (3,500 – 1,300 B.C.)


The Archaic Period ( 3,500- 1,300 B.C. ) is identified by semi-nomadic village1 settlements that were usually located near tidal bays where they could harvest shellfish. In the winter months, some of the households probably moved into sheltered areas where trees or low hills protected them from the cold winter winds.

These villagers developed a fishing technology well suited to the shallow bays, small streams, and kettle whole ponds. They harvested sea sturgeon, rock fish, bluefish, flounder, shad, and striped bass. The bays abounded with oyster, bay scallops, periwinkles, channeled whelk, and hard and soft shelled clams, which provided a year round source of protein. Water fowl migrations brought flocks of birds to the bays on a seasonal round.

The forests behind the bays were full of many varieties of seeds, berries, nuts and game. Deer, of course, was a favorite source of protein, but archaeological sites indicate that the people also ate wild turkeys, raccoons, box turtles, woodchucks, and squirrels.

The material culture of the Paleo-Indian Period was expanded to include dug-out canoes, and tools and utensils from stone, bone and fiber. The women used wooden bowls, grinding stones, mats, bone drills, and awls in their daily domestic routine.2

Artifacts from this period have been found near Little Northwest Creek and Lake Montauk.

Food Gathering

The only food found from excavation was from natural gathering, there was no evidence of horticulture at te time.1


Early Archaic

During the Early Archaic (ca. up to about 6000 B.C.), sea levels were still much lower than today (Salwen in Truex 1982: 36). There appears to be a lack of Early Archaic evidence at all on Long Island. This may be due, at least in part, to the rise in sea levels burying former coastal sites during this period. Cultures represented at this time are the Laurentian. Diagnostic artifacts include Lamoka projectile points (Wyatt in Truex 1982: 70; Gwynne in Truex 1982: 195; Ritchie 1989: figure 1, 10; Lain 1988: 104; Salwen in Truex 1982: 36).3

Middle Archaic

Middle Archaic evidence (ca. 6000 to 4000 B.C.) is somewhat rare on Long Island (Wyatt in Truex 1982: 70; Gwynne in Truex 1982: 195). According to Fairbridge’s sea level charts, sea levels ranged from about 10 feet below present sea level (Salwen in Truex 1982: 36; Lavin 1988:104; Gwynne in Truex 1982:195). Some diagnostic artifacts from this general locale include Brewerton Corner Notched, Brewerton Side Notched, Vosburg, and Normanskill points (Ritchie 1989).3

Late Archaic Period

The Late Archaic (ca. 4000 to 1300 B.C.) is generally represented in the northeast by a thriving population, and proliferation of distinguishable regional adaptations and interareal exchange of raw materials (Gwynne 1982: 195; Lavin 1988: 104-108). Sea levels ranged from about 10 feet below to 10 feet above present (Salwen in Truex 1982:36). On Long Island, most Late Archaic sites are located along the coast and associated with shellfish collection. Cultures represented during this period include the Susquehanna. Some Squibnocket, Bare Island, and Popular Island points (Ritchie 1989: figure 1, 10, 131; Ritchie 1965: 48).3

Social Structure

The social structure was essentially egalitarian. The mobile lifeways of the Paleo-Indian Period evolved into a more sedentary pattern which exploited the local ecosystem on a seasonal round. The size and number of settlements on Long Island increased as the people took advantage of the rich flora and fauna resources produced by the gradually warming climate. The village bands were probably organized into extended family groups, which had kinship connections with bands on Long Island and southern New England.

The decision-making process in these small bands was democratic. Generally, a village headman was looked to for guidance, but only after he had demonstrated his capacity to lead and to have sound judgment. There were few hereditary social positions, although the son of a successful leader might have an advantage after the death of his father. Leadership was “situational” in nature. The man best able to deal effectively with a crisis or a particular challenge became the acknowledged leader for the duration of the situation: the best hunter led the hunting party; the best fisherman led the fishing expedition; the best orator represented the group in its diplomatic relations with other bands.2

Later and Current Colonial Imposed Social Structure

This rather amorphous political institution was later to pose problems with the Europeans when they attempted to impose a system of treaties and contracts on the Montauketts. These European legal concepts presumed a political hierarchy which did not exist among the Long Island bands. An Individual Native American might identify more strongly with a lineage or with a clan than with the particular “tribal” names (place names ) which were imposed by the Europeans in the decades after their arrival.2

Materials and Tools

paleo-and-archaic-artifacts-from-william-ritchie-ny-state-educational Archaic Period (3,500 - 1,300 B.C.) Jeremy Dennis On This Site
Artifacts Types of the Paleo-Indian Stage (a) and Archaic Stage (b to r). From William Ritchie NY State Educational Leaflet, pp. 9

During the Archaic period, long houses were covered with elm-bark.

The material culture included canoes, atlatl-spear throwers, steatite pots, folded bark containers, wooden and stone tools.1

Artifacts of the Archaic period show that the Native people lived around estuaries, harbors, streams and ponds of this beneficent land, as well as made stone tools, hunted, and camped at inland sites. So far no evidence of the Late Archaic Red Paint Burial Cult has been found in East Hampton.4


Marriage rules differ, but nearly all cultures require that spouses be selected from outside their family lineage or clan and often from outside the village as well. Generally, but not always, the woman will go to live in her husband’s household and become a member of that community.

The villagers on the east end of Long Island’s south fork, therefore, were part of a kinship network which sent marriage partners back and forth in the system, creating a complex, dynamic, and social interaction sphere.2


Evidence of religious ceremonialism has been found in a fascinating site at Lake Montauk; unfortunately, it was located by state archaeologist William Ritchie in the 1950s after it had been partially destroyed by pot hunters.

He discovered two human cremation burials embedded in red ocher and honored with a bird bone flute, shell beads, and eight spear points. The use of red ocher and cremation in funerary rites was well established in the Northeast during this period.

It is possible that the flute was a part of a shaman’s paraphernalia used in religious ceremonies. In many northern Indian communities, people who were believed to have special powers such as shamans were cremated.2

Late archaic archaeological evidence suggests a great interest in studying the cycles of the moon and position of the stars, as shell objects were found with astrological notations on them.1

Archaic Sites

  1. David Martine, Shinnecock History Timeline pp. 1[][][][]
  2.  John Strong, from Transcript of Indians of Eastern Long Island Lecture, 2002[][][][][]
  3. Alfred G. Cammisa, Ten Thousand Years of Land Use at Fort Pond: A Portage Haven Phase III Data Recovery Excavations of the Payne Site Montauk, 2008, pp. [][][]
  4. Gaynell Stone, Transcript of Lecture on The Material History of the Montaukett, 1998, pp. 1[]