Well, all hell broke loose in the nation’s capital between the time I typed this post and the time I intended to publish it. But for what it’s worth, here it is.
Archaeologists have relied on the presence or absence of European trade goods to estimate dates for Native American sites. Turns out some of those dates are wrong. Sturt Manning explains how the Dating Iroquoia Project is rearranging the chronology of colonial America:
Our radiocarbon tests came up with substantially different date ranges compared with previous estimates that were based on the presence or absence of various European goods.
For example, the Jean-Baptiste Lainé, or Mantle, site northeast of Toronto is currently the largest and most complex Iroquoian village excavated in Ontario. Excavated between 2003–2005, archaeologists dated the site to 1500–1530 because it lacks most trade goods and had just three European-source metal objects. But our radiocarbon dating now places it between about 1586 and 1623, most likely 1599-1614. That means previous dates were off the mark by as much as 50 to 100 years.
Why was some of the previous chronology wrong?
The answer seems to be that scholars viewed the topic through a pervasive colonial lens. Researchers mistakenly assumed that trade goods were equally available, and desired, all over the region, and considered all indigenous groups as the same.
To the contrary, it was Wendat custom, for example, that the lineage whose members first discovered a trade route claimed rights to it. Such “ownership” could be a source of power and status. Thus it would make sense to see uneven distributions of certain trade goods, as mediated by the controlling groups. Some people were “in,” with access, and others may have been “out.”
Fascinating stuff, and a great case study in how assumptions can blind us to misinterpretations.