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Background photo by Don Sylor

Cape & Islands Voices - Brewster The museum’s archaeology program is comprised entirely of volunteers. We have high school kids that take part, we have college students that do it for credit, and we have adult volunteers. I think it’s nice that this is a real scientific research program, but it also allows people to get hands-on exposure. That’s one of the things about archaeology: you can actually take part in it.

When you think about the earth being billions of years old and that Cape Cod as a landform is 24,000 years old, that’s like yesterday. The landform is essentially a pile of sand dumped out against the ocean, and the landscape is very transitory and fleeting. So you think about the first people that came here 9,000 years ago, what was it like? First of all, the landscape would be barely recognizable to us. The southern shoreline of the Cape was Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard. When you see the salt marsh outside the museum of natural history, it would  have been about 15 feet lower than at present. It would probably have a lot of hardwood trees, swamp maple and things growing around it.
You wouldn’t see the bay beyond the island. You would see an expanse of bogs and freshwater swamps and peat swamps and Atlantic white cedar swamps that stretch out across the bay. It would be a vastly different landscape.

Over time, as the sea rose and the landscape shrunk, people stopped moving 30 miles each season. They would maybe move from the shoreline where they spent the warmer months to a protected kettle pond for the winter, then back again. By the time the English arrived, you had all the major embayments and estuaries like Stony Brook or Fort Hill. There would be Indian villages of 500, 600, 700 people. They would congregate after April, set the gardens, and stay until after the harvest. After the winter, they’d come back when the fish began to arrive in spring. Then the English came on to the scene. And it’s amazing to think that 400 years later, that’s all changed.

I was fortunate when I started my research to have a place right here that supported it. To me, that’s been the luckiest thing. I’ve been able to write and teach about this place. Not everybody is as interested in the place they grew up as I am. But that’s what I wanted to do.

It’s an interesting time and the Cape is changing so fast, and I think maybe some of the work I’ve done has tried to bring to light some of its deep and ancient past for the people who are just moving here. It’s changing a lot, and a lot of that history is being lost through development and erosion. You wonder, 100 years out, will the name Wing Island mean anything to people? Or will it just be another place on the landscape with a name and not much attached to it?

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Donna Scaglione is a freelance writer living in Falmouth.

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