Echoes of the Ancestors:
Transformations of Wampanoag Life from the Paleoindian Period through the Colonial Era
The Eel River Archaeological Site, named for its location on the banks of the Eel River in Plymouth, Massachusetts, is located on the main campus of Plimoth Patuxet Museums. It was continuously inhabited for at least 8,000 years by the Wampanoag people, whose name means “People of the East” or “People of the Dawn,” and both archaeology and oral history show evidence of Wampanoag people in this area beginning at least 10,500 years ago. Many modern Wampanoag still live in their homelands in parts of what is now present-day Massachusetts and Rhode Island, but for thousands of years their ancestors came seasonally to the shores of the Eel River, an area they call Patuxet, to utilize natural and marine resources for food and tools. Beginning in the 1940s, collectors and professional archaeologists found over 40,000 cultural items, many of which are tools or materials for making tools. You can learn more about the many excavations of the Eel River site here.
A small selection of cultural items are presented here and they represent only a fragment of the thousands of years of Wampanoag life along the Eel River. Although archaeology allows us to study long spans of time, it is limited by what is preserved in the ground and what is later excavated. Because of these constraints, this exhibit can only speak to topics related to the archaeological artifacts found at Eel River. This exhibit showcases both photographs and 3D models of artifacts to demonstrate both continuity and change in their culture over time. You can explore the exhibit either by archaeological time period or by topical theme by following one of the two tracks below. The time period track allows you to understand changes in Wampanoag material culture over long spans of time, whereas the theme track allows you to investigate artifacts relating to one type of activity or tool. Through both tracks you will investigate artifacts relating to daily life to understand how changes in culture, the environment, regional trade, and foodways practices are all connected.