Human effigy on ceramic sherd found in Montgomery County, New York. The horizontal grooves across the torso are found on similar effigies on other Iroquoian pots. Illustrated and described by William Beauchamp, who thought that the long grooves behind the body are suggestive of feathered wings. Undated by Beauchamp, but may postdate European contact.
Beauchamp, William M.
1898 Earthenware of the New York Aborigines. Bulletin of the New York State Museum Volume 5, No. 22. Albany. Figure 41.
Almost a half century of the The Bulletin, the Journal of the New York State Archaeological Association, is now available online. Volume 1, published in 1954, to 1999’s Volume 115 can be downloaded for free at NYSAA’s site. While visiting their site, see if you can spot the photo of Harrison Follett’s camp at Lamoka Lake.
A recent study of bones from an early historic Iroquois site includes a comparison with the much earlier animal bones from the Lamoka Lake site as well as some interesting passenger pigeon finds.
Adam Watson and Stephen Cox Thomas studied animal bones from the early 18th century Townley-Read site in the Finger Lakes region of New York State. The Seneca who lived at the site may have hunted deer year-round. Deer hides, as well as furs from other animals, would have been traded with European colonists. The detailed taphonomic analysis also indicates that deer bones were likely processed to extract the fat-rich grease from the spongy portions of the bones. This is usually considered to be evidence of nutritional stress, but they make the case that processing for bone grease was “a planned accumulation of resources rather than an ad hoc response to seasonal food shortfalls.” (p. 115)
Also of interest is the identification of passenger pigeon bones from one feature at the site. Passenger pigeon, of course, tends to be present at prehistoric archaeological sites in the region with good bone preservation, but in this case, four of the bones are from immature pigeons, providing good evidence specifically for the procurement of squabs in the springtime.
A small number of American eel bones, in contrast, are more likely to indicate fishing in the fall, when eels are heading downstream to spawn.
As a whole, the assemblage has some interesting differences from both earlier and later archaeological sites in New York. The authors provide a detailed and well-researched analysis of the animal bones from this Iroquois site to make the point that “the evidence for economic resilience and stability at Townley-Read contradicts a narrative of pervasive and unimpeded decline, and reinforces the importance of continuing to build and test empirical models grounded in both local and regional archaeological and historical data.” (p. 115)
Looks like the Pember Museum in Granville, New York has a lovely new exhibit on the passenger pigeon. The museum, located near the Vermont border, has two mounted passenger pigeons and a clutch of eggs (a third specimen is on loan to the Adirondack Museum).
CNEHA, the Council for Northeast Historical Archaeology, has recently made most articles in their journal, Northeast Historical Archaeology, freely available. The most recent articles (2010 and newer) are still restricted to members, but that leaves almost forty years of articles available for download.
From the first issue, you can read Dick Pin Hsu’s “The Joys of Urban Archaeology” on the excavation of the Revolutionary War period Fort Stanwix in New York. There’s also Rebecca Yamin’s early article on Raritan Landing in New Jersey and a personal favorite, a guide to agricultural drainage systems by Sherene Baugher, from which the following figure is taken.
In 1908 the New York State Museum purchased a passenger pigeon from Ward’s Natural Science Establishment in Rochester, NY (NYSM 1908:134). The late date of this acquisition is interesting. By this time, the species was considered extinct in the wild. Martha, the last known passenger pigeon, of course, died in captivity in 1914. The latest confirmed killing of a passenger pigeon that Schorger (1955) was aware of occurred in 1900 in Ohio. Greenberg (2014) has since identified two more recent records: a passenger pigeon killed in Illinois in 1901 that survives as a taxidermic mount at Millikin University, and a pigeon killed in Indiana in 1902. That specimen has not survived.
There were, however, unconfirmed sightings of passenger pigeons in the wild. Most, if not all of these, were likely misidentifications of the smaller mourning dove. Schorger has pointed out how even experienced observers could make such a mistake.
The latest confirmed kill of a passenger pigeon in New York was in 1899. Yet a passenger pigeon nest was reported from Monroe County, New York, in 1904 and in 1907 Edmund Niles Huyck saw a live pigeon in Albany County and naturalist John Burroughs recorded sightings of flocks of pigeons in the Hudson Valley (Greenberg 2014; Steadman 1996).
Is it possible that a collector working for Ward’s killed a wild passenger pigeon that was then sold to the Museum? Perhaps, although Ward’s Natural Science was a major supplier of passenger pigeons and all sorts of animals to museums and other institutions. It seems more likely that the State Museum bought a specimen prepared by Ward’s years earlier that had been sitting unsold in a warehouse. In fact, another source, Frank H. Ward himself, tells us that the company obtained their passenger pigeons the same way many other people did: by buying them in public markets in the 1880s. At the time of the death of Martha, the last passenger pigeon, in 1914, Ward’s still had eight skeletons in stock (Pitelka and Bryant 1942).
The New York State Museum has several passenger pigeons in their collections — ten mounted skins according to David Steadman, the former curator of birds there. An earlier report listed five mounted specimens and two study skins at the museum, of which only one, a mounted specimen collected in 1895 from Orleans County, New York, had reliable provenience (Stoner 1940).
The pigeon from Ward’s, whether a stuffed taxidermic mount or a mounted skeleton, is presumably still at the NYSM. Their products would have had a label with the name of the company, but this would not be considered provenience data, as it would not have the date and location the bird was actually obtained. A search of the museum’s archives and an examination of the bird itself might produce more information. The University of Rochester curates the archives of the Ward’s company (link), but a fire in 1930 destroyed many of the earlier records, so it may not possible to ever determine if this bird was truly one of the last wild passenger pigeons.
2014A Feathered River Across the Sky: The Passenger Pigeon’s Flight to Extinction. Bloomsbury USA.
New York State Museum
1908Fourth Report of the Director of the Science Division including the 61st Report of the State Museum, the 27th Report of the State Geologist, and the Report of the State Paleontologist for 1907. New York State Museum Bulletin 121. Albany.
Pitelka, Frank A., and Monroe D. Bryant
1942Available skeletons of the passenger pigeon. The Condor 44:74-75.
1955The Passenger Pigeon: Its Natural History and Extinction.
Steadman, David W.
1996…And live on pigeon pie: the passenger pigeon finally expired at the Victorian dining table. New York State Conservationist. April, pp. 21-23.
1940Unreported New York State specimens of passenger pigeon. The Auk 57:415-416.