This Native American stone knife, among other stone tools, was essential to the survival and development of the Lenape civilization. It may seem insignificant, but these tools were used throughout Native American history, and it is even more effective in strength and sharpness than our steel knifes today. Because its exact date is unknown, this object speaks for centuries of history at New Paltz.
This stone knife measures around 3.5cm by 2.6cm by .8cm. It is known as a cryptocrystalline lithic, and is made out of chert—either Eppler or Harmonyvale. It was sharpened by chipping flint, and the small sharp pieces could very well have had their own uses. It is a milky white/grey color, has percussion marks, and appears to be flat. It is temporarily non-diagnostic, which means it could have originated anywhere in the time span from 7000 BC-1678.
This artifact was found by archeologists in New Paltz on July 27th 2002, in unit 60 at the grid coordinate South 59, East 10. This is the location in historic Huguenot around the corner between the Jean Hasbrouck house and the Deyo house. It was then taken to be cleaned in a lab on August 15th of the same year. The archeologists who procured the small knife go under the initials: JG, LE, LN, and NH. It finally ended up in Dr. Joseph Diamond’s collection where it remains among several other historical and Native American objects found in New Paltz.
Native Americans from anywhere between 7000 BC and 1678 could have used these helpful objects. It is possible it was much bigger than this and chipped with age, or that it was made to be small, which can be useful as well. Perhaps it was from the earlier time periods, before the Dutch settlers came to the Huguenots to colonize. The Native Americans, known then as Munsee’s, had many stone tools like this. This particular tool is a knife, used to cut meat, vegetables, string, or create sharp flints. It is surprising how efficient these tools are, suggesting an understanding and intelligence in the Indians beyond settlers’ conception of them as barbaric. This knife, when chipped properly, is even sharper and stronger than our steel ones today. It was still widely used even after various trades were made between the Europeans and the Native Americans. In place of land, they received various metals, tools, industrial products, and alcohol. Some of these new objects were exponential to their survival, but were also the catalyst to their demise. This particular knife is significant to New Paltz history broadly, as it encompassed the lives of the ones who lived here initially. This item is indicative of how they used nature and what was around them to create sustaining lives and culture.
Because the exact date of this knife is unknown, it encompasses the entire Indian history on the land of what is now Huguenot Street, where it was found. The history of this time span is large and extensive, and takes us back from the beginning of the Indian culture in Munsee country to their demise from European settlement, war, and disease. The knife could have originated around 7,000 BCE, almost 10,000 years ago. This is very early in Native American history, when people belonging to “archaic cultural traditions” began hunting small game like deer and gathering plants more intensively in the Northeast. Between 4000 and 1000 years ago, Native American civilizations began to emerge, and their technological innovations developed, such as pottery, bows and arrows, longhouses, and vegetable cultivations.
It is likely possible this efficient tool originated around this time, or anytime hereafter, as its uses was not diminished by Native American advances or European settlers. It is necessary to unveil this timeline of Native American history in order to cover the potential histories this ambiguous object holds. Around 500 years ago Europeans began sailing to northeastern North American shores, and by 1607 it is discovered that the total Indian population in Munsee country may have been as large as 15,000 people. Around two years later Dutch merchants commissioned an Englishman named Henry Hudson to sail east to find a northern passage to the Orient. He sailed across the Atlantic to find a northwest passage instead and became the first European known to sail up the river that today bears his name. It is around this time fighting between the Indians and Europeans began, and shortly after various foreign diseases plagued the Indians, and by 1618, the 30-Years War broke out in Europe. The expansion of Europe, diseases spreading, trading, and fighting continued over the following 20 years, such as the first Mohawk-Mahican War, which ended in 1628. By 1634, the Indian population in Munsee country declined to somewhere around 6000 people, and by 1645 it dropped to 4000. In 1652, Esopus sachem Harmen Hekan, better known among settlers as Ankerop, started appearing in Dutch records, and by 1659, fighting broke out between Indians and settlers at Esopus. The Indian people living in Munsee country are reduced to less than 3000 as the colonial population in New Netherland reaches 9000 by 1664, and the Dutch signed a treaty ending the war with the Esopus, and New Netherland falls to an English fleet and is renamed New York.
Perhaps this object contains in it the more peaceful beginnings of this account of Indian history at New Paltz, being used and reused by a tribesman or woman to cut various meats, vegetables, and fashion tools and other creations. Maybe it was tossed in favor of a bigger stone that would serve more cutting purposes, or it was lost on a hunt, slipping from the strong mans hands with no time to look back. Maybe it was thrown in a desperate attempt to flee or fight as the European settlers destroyed Native American villages. It is mutually possible that it was one of the most important objects to a person’s life, as an essential key to survival, or the last thing on that person’s mind as his or her very way of existence is being changed and shaped. This small, seemingly insignificant stone knife holds in its mystery the entire Native American history here at New Paltz and our very origins.
Grumet, Robert. The Munsee Indians: A History. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2009. Print.
Kraft, Herbert. The Lenape-Delaware Indian Heritage: 10,000 BC to AD 2,000. Lenape Books, 2001. Print.
Diamond, Dr. Joseph. Personal Interview. 20 Mar 2013.