Projectile points are a category of pointed, bifacial stone artifacts that were used as arrowheads, spear points, and harpoon points for thousands of years; they are distinguished from other types of stone tools such as drills, scrapers, and knives by their distinct forms. They changed over time due to trade, how the point was used, influences from other cultures, and the available stones, among other reasons. Archaeologists tend to classify points through typologies, which group the artifacts into types based on shape, size, and age. By grouping them in this way, we can study not only how technology changed over thousands of years, but can also learn about trade, mobility, hunting, and diet.
For thousands of years, the Wampanoag and other Indigenous cultures were hunter-gatherers. They were quite mobile as they hunted animals, fished, collected plants, and harvested shellfish. When the climate warmed during the Early Archaic Period (10,000-7,000 B.P.), new animal and plant species were available for hunting and gathering, as well as fish and shellfish in new waterways and shorelines. The Wampanoag utilized these new resources, such as small mammals or acorns, for food. Later, during the Woodland Period, food acquisition techniques changed drastically as bows and arrows replaced spears as the preferred hunting weapon and as plant gathering was supplanted by farming with the introduction of maize (corn). The artifacts here reflect different methods the Wampanoag used to acquire food over time.
Culture strongly influences how food is prepared and cooked so researchers look to food to study the cultural identities of people in the past. From oral history, archaeology, and accounts of European explorers we can begin to understand how the Wampanoag prepared their foods and what their meals were like. Cooking techniques changed over time as a result of what foods were available and what tools were available for cooking. For example, the Wampanoag people who lived directly after the Ice Age typically roasted their foods over a fire, but later in time they tended to cook more stews in vessels like stone bowls or ceramic or metal pots. Oral history and historical accounts can help us learn more about how food may have been seasoned, prepared, or served. This selection of artifacts demonstrates variability in Wampanoag cooking techniques.
For thousands of years the Wampanoag and their neighbors, such as the Nipmuc, Massachusetts, and Narragansett Tribes, were interrelated through dynamic and complex economies, politics, and social interactions. Indigenous communities used long-distance trade networks over water and land routes to exchange goods, news, and information. They also interacted due to warfare or conflict, alliance, and intermarriage, among other reasons. This selection of artifacts speaks to the larger regional society and broader world the Wampanoag and their neighbors inhabited for millennia. When Europeans started coming to the Northeast in the 1500s, they entered this complex political landscape, but also influenced it with their own conflicts, alliances, and trade. When colonists arrived in 1620, the Wampanoag and other Indigenous populations had been recently decimated by a European-introduced plague, with mortality rates estimated as high as 90%. The Pilgrims also influenced trade and communication by establishing themselves permanently in Wampanoag homelands.