The archaeology of early place: Early postglacial land use and ecology at Robbins Swamp, northwestern Connecticut
Wetlands were an important component of the northeastern landscape. This investigation of early postglacial land use and ecology is focused on Robbins Swamp, the largest freshwater wetland in Connecticut; of the more than 500 archaeological sites found in its vicinity, 37 contain Paleoindian and/or Early Archaic components.
The study is based on two models of long-term land use, with changes in site distribution identified through two related variables: geographic focus and recurrence in site location. The Glacial Lake Basin Mosaic model posits a cultural geography in which large interior wetlands acted as focal points for land use. During the early Holocene, such wetlands ranked highly in terms of values for resource productivity, diversity, and reliability. Corresponding values for the coastal zone remained low due to sea-level transgression. Local and regional site distribution patterns demonstrate a high correlation between early sites and wetlands for this period.
The Ecological Leveling model provides a way to explain long-term shifts in local land use relative to regional landscape developments and changes in degree of contrast between different ecological zones. Interpretation of local and regional paleoenvironmental data reveals that the ecologically diverse character of New England was established very early. Prior to 8000 B.P., when the degree of contrast between the forested wetland mosaics of the lowlands and the coniferous forests of the surrounding uplands was high, settings such as Robbins Swamp may have served as culturally defined places on the landscape during the early Holocene. This is supported archaeologically by high values for geographic focus and recurrence of occupation. After 8000 B.P., changes in regional precipitation patterns and vegetation reduced the number and extent of wetlands and supported an increase in oak in the uplands. People subsequently used large wetlands in a more peripheral manner relative to new places located elsewhere, such as along the major river valleys or the coast, as evidenced by a relative increase in the percentage of archaeological sites there.