for National Geographic News
About 3,000 years ago, a group of hunters perched on a ridge near what is now New Haven Harbor in Connecticut and fashioned quartz into projectile points.
The points were likely intended to form the lethal end of an atlatl, or spear-thrower, dart.
A skillful stalker could wield the weapon, which predated the bow and arrow, with enough force and accuracy to send a dart into a deer, turkey, or other small prey.
Those ancient hunter-gatherers have since vanished, but the quartz artifacts survive on the ridge, known as West Rock.
Michael J. Rogers, associate professor of anthropology at Southern Connecticut State University and his student, Nancy Parsons, have found almost 5,000 stone artifacts at the site, including several unfinished points and at least one unbroken dart point.
The discovery reveals the importance of stone ridges to the hunter-gatherers of 3,000 to 4,000 years ago and adds details to the sparse knowledge of the Late Archaic period of North America.
The find also hints that dozens or hundreds of similar sites probably lie inaccessible under parking lots and buildings across the Northeast United States.
Rogers and his students found the site after first consulting Cosimo Sgarlata, now a graduate student at the City University of New York, who had discovered other archaeological sites in the West Rock area.
"West Rock was of central importance," Sgarlata said. "By the Late Archaic, people had become more specialized, and the population grew, so they wanted to exploit all resources of the environment."
The till topping the ridge is a jumble of clay, sand, silt, rocks, and boulders. While walking a path, Rogers and Parsons spotted a few small pieces of quartz that had been shaped by human handsand their excavation began.
Parsons has now cataloged and recorded the location and type of every stone uncovered at the site. Since last fall, Parsons and assistants have excavated to a depth of about 1.5 feet (46 centimeters) through countless shallow scrapings.
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