Anadromous fish and prehistoric site selection in the Farmington Valley of Connecticut

Date of Completion

January 2000


Anthropology, Archaeology




The extent to which prehistoric populations in southern New England relied on anadromous fish for food has never been resolved. The paucity of evidence for the Atlantic Salmon and other anadromous fish at archaeological sites throughout New England is seen by some archaeologists as an indication that these fish played a minor part in the subsistence of Indian groups throughout prehistory. However, a review of accounts by 17th century writers and the later observations of ethnographers contradicts this view. In addition, since the 19th century, ichthyologists have suggested that salmon, shad, and sturgeon were all plentiful in southern New England rivers and streams prior to the construction of mills and dams in the 1800's. It is the opinion of this author that the quantity and predictability of these fish played an important role in the subsistence and settlement strategies of Indian groups and that other explanations for the absence of these species in faunal assemblages need to be examined. ^ Because fishing activity apparently has a low archaeological visibility, only subsurface testing using techniques designed to recover direct evidence of fishing can provide the information necessary to evaluate prehistoric fishing practices. This research attempts to address this question by the analysis of data recovered during the careful excavation of the Indian Hill Site which lies adjacent to a fall line and a series of rapids in the Farmington River. A model proposed by Moore and Root (1979), which ranks streams according to their resource attractiveness, predicts that just such locations would be selected to take advantage of the anadromous fish resource. The focus of the Indian Hill excavation was a Late Archaic component radiocarbon dated at 5000 years BP. Artifacts stylistically diagnostic of both earlier and later occupations were also present suggesting that Indian Hill was occupied repeatedly throughout prehistory because of the fishing opportunities it afforded. The data recovered at Indian Hill provides not only clues to another aspect of subsistence and settlement within the Farmington Valley, but also has wider regional implications. Indian Hill clearly shares many similarities with other prehistoric fisheries throughout southern New England. ^