By Emma Nolan
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Binghamton University in Broome County, N.Y. is often referred to as a “Public Ivy”. It is ranked among the elite public universities in the country, and according to its website, boasts a “broad interdisciplinary education with an international perspective and one of the most vibrant research programs in the nation.”
According to The Princeton Review’s “America’s Best 378 Colleges” (2013), Binghamton’s students are “well-rounded individuals who are globally aware and environmentally conscious.”
Seems like a great place to go to school, right? Underneath the praise, talent, and accolades shared among students and alumni, Binghamton’s campus is a rich cultural and historic site. The school is located within Broome County, which was inhabited by Native Americans until the end of the American Revolution in 1783. Recent excavation upon the proposed site of new student housing has uncovered a vast array of Native American artifacts, dating from as early as AD1300.
The two main Native American settlements in Broome County were found at Onaquaga, near present-day Windsor and Otseningo, located along the Chenango River, just north of the city of Binghamton we know today.
The Native Americans who lived there and around the heartland of modern-day New York State, collectively known as the Iroquois, were forced from their lands and territories by the Sullivan-Clinton Expedition in a brutal scorched earth campaign at the end of the American Revolution. The Iroquois were loyal to the British rule in the States and after the revolution when their homes had been destroyed they were forced to relocate to British regions in Canada, Buffalo and Niagara Falls. So thereafter, Binghamton was founded within Broome County.
But enough of the history lesson, Nina M. Versaggi of the Public Archaeology Facility at Binghamton University tells BTR that the Native American artifacts discovered on the university campus are from different seasons of excavation.
“We found mainly lithic [stone] tools; both finished tools like knives and unfinished materials left over after use.”
Nina Versaggi and her team’s years of training have allowed them to unlock meaning from each artifact. The stone tools and how they were made tell us a lot about their skills and how the people who used them lived.
“There is a large rich assembly of clay pots; we found 68 distinct vessels in total as well as animal remains. We found remains of white tail deer, of fish, birds, even a vulture.”
Nina goes on to explain how some of the bone remnants discovered had been fashioned into tools such as scrapers (for scraping animal hides clean) and whistles. She describes the way that these tools and other items were fashioned provide us with deep insight into the daily lives of these settlers, and thus, insight into their values.
Radio Metric Dating dates the Binghamton artifacts from AD1300 to AD1600.. Using an excavated fire pit or hearth to find seeds and nut fragments and through a process in a lab, the method provides the most accurate information in regards to dating objects, Nina explains to BTR. The artifacts Versaggi and her team found at Binghamton come from about the same period as similar artifacts from other Native American archaeological sites in the US.
Nina is committed to sharing these local discoveries with the Binghamton community. They hold regular exhibitions and presentations at their community outreach program to keep everybody in the loop.
“We like to let the community know that there was a rich and vibrant, thriving community who lived here before us,” she tells BTR.
Versaggi describes archaeology as a “different kind of time travel” and uses these exhibitions as a way to build pride in the community, to inform the inhabitants of their abundant history and to raise awareness of how to treat the land and to remember what went before.
Nina and her team at Binghamton relied on the help of living Native Americans in their excavations, using their oral histories of the locations to better understand the discoveries, and although they building on the site could not be avoided because the land had already been purchased by the university, both Nina, her team and their Native American consultants are extremely satisfied with how the construction was redesigned to preserve as much as possible.
The inviting, quaint Twin River Commons complex is the housing that resides on the ancient site today, yet Nina feels there lies a good balance between the new and the attempt to preserve the old.
“It was a very fruitful endeavor, the developers included as much preservation as possible so there was a good balance and the Native Americans who worked on the project with us were delighted with how their history at this site was preserved,” she says.
Stories of ghosts associated with Native Americans and Native American Burial grounds have long been a recurring topic among modern American folklore, gothic literature, and ghost stories. Among the principle reasons they are so pervasive is because modern American society was literally built on top of a past society who were never treated well by their impending invaders in life.
Thus, the spirits associated with these grounds are often thought to be angry and still claiming ownership of the land were they once lived and had stolen from their people. There is no shortage of websites online dedicated to people telling their stories of their experiences of living within a close proximity to a Native American archeological site and they are incredibly frightening. However with the success of the preservation of the heritage site at Binghamton, Nina M. Versaggi believes that if there are any ghosts at Twin River Commons, they are likely to be quite happy with how their culture was respectfully examined and their remains well-looked-after by her research team and Binghamton officials.