Environmental News

Ancient quarry offers clues on cultural shift

The soapstone quarry, which is located in the Peoples State Park in Barkhamsted, Connecticut in the US, has been the site of an archaeological investigation led by Central Connecticut State University (CCSU) Professor of Anthropology Kenneth Feder for the past five years.

According to a report by the university’s news publication, The CCSU Courier, the quarry is about 2800 years old, dating back to the Terminal Archaic period.

The site was found to contain a number of round, stone protrusions, which researchers surmised were unfinished soapstone bowls that the Native Americans had been carving from the soft rock. According to Feder, soapstone was ideal for producing cooking vessels because in addition to being highly durable and watertight, the rock retained heat well.

It was theorised that the Native Americans would take large blocks of quarried soapstone, use a sharp rock to carve off a round piece, then flip the piece over and gouge out the interior into a receptacle.

Feder said the fact that the unfinished bowls had been abandoned mid-production indicated the ancient quarry was “frozen” at a time when the soapstone industry was being disrupted by the introduction of ceramics.

Describing the scenario, Feder said, “Imagine the scene 2800 years ago: workers are furiously carving out soapstone for trade when someone approaches their site and tells them, ‘Um, well, I’ve got some bad news for you. No one is going to need to trade with you to get that stuff anymore. There’s a cheaper option: pottery.’”

Feder said ceramic technology moved into southern New England about 3000 years ago from New York state in the west and the Mid-Atlantic states in the south.

“Soapstone is a great material, but it’s heavy and clunky and not widely available,” he explained. “But clay is ubiquitous. It’s everywhere. Once people embraced ceramic technology, then bye-bye soapstone and bye-bye to the economic (and social and political) infrastructure that moved that soapstone around.”

The CCSU Courier’s full report is available at www.ccsu.edu

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