Background photo by Don Sylor

Fred Dunford

Cape Cod Museum of Natural History Archaeologist

Fred Dunford: Cape Cod Museum of Natural History Archaeologist

My family moved to the Cape when I was six. I moved to Harwich and went to Harwich schools. Then I went off to college at Harvard and to UMass Amherst for my master’s and Ph. D. My specialty is the archaeology of the Cape. Later, I moved to Brewster. Here at the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History, I have volunteers who work with me, and we’ve done digs all around the Cape.

Growing up on the Cape, I found my first arrowhead when I was six years old. That just got me interested in finding things. When I was about 12, my family got a copy of Josiah Paine’s History of Harwich. I used to read that book all the time—it tells where the English first arrived in the 17th century. I’d see the map and then I’d try to go find those places. I think that was it, the fact that everything was accessible. I could go out in the woods and find old arrowheads, and it allowed me to actually see it firsthand.

Since 1995, we’ve been doing a dig right here in Brewster at Wing Island. It was named for John Wing, the first colonist to live on this part of the Cape. The Native American history here goes back almost 10,000 years. It’s really kind of neat. The island and the valley here are a microcosm of the history of the Cape.

On Wing Island, through the forest and below the ground, is the evidence of the way people have lived out here for 9,000 years. The stone tools, the bits of rusted metal, bricks, rocks—all of it is out there, left in a pattern by the people. If I were to go out there, bulldoze everything and drag it all back here, I’d have a neat pile of stuff, but I wouldn’t know how it worked. Now, if I go out there carefully and lay a grid across the island and begin to excavate in a precise method that allows me to record everything, I could tell you exactly what happened on the island out there.

The trick with archaeology is to not disturb the patterning while you excavate. You would dig right into the ground and things would be thrown up, and you’d lose the pattern. The artifacts are pieces of the puzzle.

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Donna Scaglione is a freelance writer living in Falmouth.

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