Preliminary Starch Grain Evidence of Ancient Stone Tool Use at the Early Archaic (9,000 B.P.) Site of Sandy Hill, Mashantucket, Connecticut

  • Thomas C. Hart Department of Anthropology, University of Connecticut, Beach Hall U-1176, 354 Mansfield Road, Storrs, Connecticut 06269
  • Timothy H. Ives Rhode Island Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission, The Old State House, 150 Benefit Street, Providence, Rhode Island 02903
Keywords: Paleoethnobotany, starch grains, New England, Early Archaic, lithics


Early Archaic subsistence strategies of New England remain poorly understood despite their importance in helping researchers understand how people adapt to changing landscapes following the end of the last glacial maximum (21,000-14,000 B.P.). Excavations at the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation in Mashantucket, Connecticut during the 1990s revealed a large, semi-sedentary village nestled alongside a complex wetland ecosystem. In this paper, we present preliminary starch grain analysis of several stone tools recovered and curated from these excavations. The results of this study indicate that both transitory and reserve starch grains are preserved on these artifacts and that at least one of the artifacts may have been used for leaf or stem processing. The results of this study also demonstrate the potential for future research in which paired macrobotanical and residue analysis will allow for a better understanding of subsistence practices at the site and during the early Archaic in general.


Barton, H. 2007. Starch residues on museum artefacts: implications for determining tool use. Journal of Archaeological Science 34:11–11.

Chandler-Ezell, K.C., Pearsall, D.M. 2003. Piggyback microfossil processing: Joint starch and phytolith sampling from stone tools. Phytolitharien 15:2–8.

Dillehay, T.D., Ramirez, C., Pino, M., Collins, M.B., Rossen, J., Pino-Navarro, J.D., 2008. Monte Verde: Seaweed, Food, Medicine, and the Peopling of South America. Science 320:784–786.

Forrest, D.T. 1999. Beyond Presence and Absence: Establishing Diversity in Connecticut's Early Holocene Archaeological Record. Bulletin of the Archaeological Society of Connecticut 62:79–99.

Fuller, D.Q., Qin, L., Zheng, Y., Zhao, Z., Chen, X., Hosoya, L.A., Sun, G.-P. 2009. The domestication process and domestication rate in rice: spikelet bases from the Lower Yangtze. Science 323:1607–1610.

Hart, T.C. 2011. Evaluating the usefulness of phytoliths and starch grains found on survey artifacts. Journal of Archaeological Science 38:3244–3253.

Haslam, M. 2004. The decomposition of starch grains in soils: implications for archaeological residue analyses. Journal of Archaeological Science 31:1715–1734.

Jones, B.D. 2006. A 3-Culture System Model for Early Holocene New England. Paper presented at the 46th annual meeting of the Northeastern Anthropological Association, Albany, NY (

Jones, B.D., Forrest, D.T. 2003. Life in a Postglacial Landscape: Settlement-Subsistence Change During the Pleistocene-Holocene Transition in Southern New England. In Geoarchaeology of Landscapes in the Glaciated Northeast, edited by D.L. Cremeens, and J.P. Hart, pp. 75–89. University of the State of New York, Albany, NY.

Lapham, J., Drennan, D.S.H., 1990. The Fate of Yellow Nutsedge (Cyperus esculentus) Seed and Seedlings in Soil. Weed Science 38:125–128.

Lewis, R. 1995. Geologic History of Long Island Sound. In Ecology, History, and Recreation. edited by Glenn D. Dryer and William A. Niering. pp.12-16. Connecticut College Arboretum, Bulletin No.34, New London, CT.

McMaster, R. L., and L. E. Garrison. 1967. A submerged Holocene Shoreline Near Block Island. Journal of Geography 75:335-340.

McWeeney, L. 1994. Environmental reconstruction using plant macrofossil analysis: The Mashantucket Pequot's Cedar Swamp, Report on File, Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center, Mashantucket, CT.

McWeeney, L. 1999. A Review of Late Pleistocene and Holocene Climate Changes in Southern New England. Bulletin of the Archaeological Society of Connecticut 62:3–18.

Messner, T.C. 2008. Woodland Period Period People and Plant Interactions: New Insights from Starch Grain Analysis. Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation, Department of Anthropology, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA.

Messner, T.C. 2011. Acorns and Bitter Roots: Starch Grain Research in the Prehistoric Eastern Woodlands. University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa, AL.

Neff, H., Pearsall, D.M., Jones, J.G., Arroyo, B., Collins, S.K., Freidel, D.E. 2006. Early Maya Adaptive Patterns: Mid-Late Holocene Paleoenvironmental Evidence from Pacific Guatemala. Latin American Antiquity 17: 287–315.

Nicholas, G.P. 1998. Wetlands and Hunter‐Gatherers: A Global Perspective. Current Anthropology 39: 720–731.

Pearsall, D.M. 2000. Paleoethnobotany : a handbook of procedures, Academic Press, San Diego, CA.

Pearsall, D.M. Chandler-Ezell, K.C., Zeidler, J.A. 2004. Maize in ancient Ecuador: results of residue analysis of stone tools from the Real Alto site. Journal of Archaeological Science 31:423–442.

Perry, D., 1998. Interim report on the analysis of vegetative plant remains from sites 72-97, 72-91, and 72-66. Report on File, Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center, Mashantucket, CT.

Perry, D., 1999. Charred Vegetative Plant Tissues from Site 72-97: Preliminary Results. Report on File, Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center, Mashantucket, CT.

Perry, D. 2000. Vegetative plant remains from site 72-163. Report on File, Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center, Mashantucket, CT..

Perry, L.L. 2011. The International Code for Starch Nomenclature. Foundation for Archaeobotanical Research in Microfossils. Available at: Accessed on February 19, 2013.

Piperno, D.R. 2006. Phytoliths : a comprehensive guide for archaeologists and paleoecologists. AltaMira Press, Lanham, MD.

Piperno, D.R., Weiss, E., Holst, I., Nadel, D. 2004. Processing of wild cereal grains in the Upper Palaeolithic revealed by starch grain analysis. Nature 430:670–673.

Reichert, E.T. 1913. The Differentiation and Specificity of Starches in Relation to Genera, Species, Etc., Stereochemistry Applied to Protoplasmic Processes and Products and as a Strictly Scientific Basis for the Classification of Plants and Animals. The Carnegie Institute of Washington, Washington D. C.

Roberts, N., Rosen, A.M. 2009. Diversity and Complexity in Early Farming Communities of Southwest Asia: New Insights into the Economic and Environmental Basis of Neolithic Çatalhöyük. Current Anthropology 50:393–402.

Robinson, B.S., Peterson, J.B. 1993. Perceptions of marginality: the case of the early Holocene in northern New England. Northeast Anthropology 46:61–75.

Thorson, R.M., Webb, R.S. 1991. Postglacial history of a cedar swamp in southeastern Connecticut. Journal of Paleolimnology 6:17–35.

Torrence, R., Barton, H., eds. 2006. Ancient Starch Research. Left Coast Press, Walnut Creek, CA.

How to Cite
Hart, T. C., & Ives, T. H. (2013). Preliminary Starch Grain Evidence of Ancient Stone Tool Use at the Early Archaic (9,000 B.P.) Site of Sandy Hill, Mashantucket, Connecticut. Ethnobiology Letters, 4, 87-95.
Research Communications