Submerged Evidence of Early Human Occupation in the New York Bight
Merwin, Daria Elizabeth
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Large expanses of the continental shelf in eastern North America were dry during the last glacial maximum, about 20,000 years ago. Subsequently, Late Pleistocene and Early Holocene climatic warming melted glaciers and caused global sea level rise, flooding portions of the shelf and countless archaeological sites. Importantly, archaeological reconstructions of human subsistence and settlement patterns prior to the establishment of the modern coastline are incomplete without a consideration of the whole landscape once available to prehistoric peoples and now partially under water.This dissertation addresses Early to Mid-Holocene (Archaic period) hunter-gatherer occupation of the coastal plain, both subaerial and now submerged, in and adjacent to the New York Bight coastal province, stretching between southern New Jersey to the eastern end of Long Island, New York. The Hudson River slices through the apex of the New York Bight. Its banks have been the focus of human activity beginning approximately 12,000 years ago, and the archaeological potential of the estuary and surrounding lands is great. However, a portion of the prehistoric human record in the lower Hudson River is virtually invisible using traditional archaeological methods, as sea level rise has inundated portions of river valley on the continental shelf that likely witnessed prehistoric occupation. This dissertation proposes that the coastal plain and its river valleys in the Mid-Atlantic, specifically the New York Bight and the Hudson, were utilized by prehistoric peoples throughout the entire Holocene, but significant evidence of this occupation is now under water due to post-glacial sea level rise. Cultural continuity is also proposed for the lengthy Holocene, and the traditional regional chronology (Paleoindian, Archaic, and Woodland periods) and its implications for marked economic, demographic, and social change is challenged.Data from known Archaic period archaeological sites located on the subaerial coastal plain in the New York Bight are used to reconstruct settlement patterns and to determine high probability areas for underwater prehistoric sites. Analysis of a recently discovered submerged archaeological assemblage known as the Corcione collection and results of new underwater field work in the Hudson River Valley (offshore Sandy Hook and in Croton Bay) are discussed in the context of the terrestrial record.