Frog Pond Site

The Frog Pond Site was discovered in 1988, and is located on Boston Common near the present-day Frog Pond.

Boston has undergone massive landscape changes over the years since Europeans arrived including the removal of most of the hills of Shawmut, filling in the Back Bay, and expanding the shoreline outwards in all directions. Since Boston Common was set aside as pasture/park land in 1630, almost no development has taken place on the Common, and only moderate land removal and redepositing has occurred. Thus, sites like the Frog Pond and Block 79 Sites were partially preserved. There were likely numerous archaeological sites throughout Shawmut, however building, land removal, and sea change have likely destroyed most of them.

Numerous stone tools and pottery fragments were found as well as a dense shell midden.

 A Shell Midden eroding on the coast of Massachusetts

Throughout prehistory, the area that is now Boston Common would have been on the western shore of Shawmut near the tidal area of the Charles River that made up Back Bay. At low tide, the entire area from Boston Common to Kenmore Square would have been a massive mudflat perfect for harvesting Clams.

Throughout prehistory, the area that is now Boston Common would have been on the western shore of Shawmut near the tidal area of the Charles River that made up Back Bay. At low tide, the entire area from Boston Common to Kenmore Square would have been a massive mudflat perfect for harvesting Clams.

Digital reconstruction of the Back Bay about 5,200-400 years ago as seen from near the Frog Pond Site

The Native Peoples collected clams from the bay, ate them, then disposed their shells in a general trash pile. Over time, these disposal areas were buried by natural processes and left behind what archaeologists call a Midden. Middens are very dark soils madeup primarily of organic food remains and other disposed items. When shells are found in the midden, archaeologist call them Shell Middens.

The Frog Pond was a natural spring even during Prehistory, and would have been present in roughly the same location for thousands of years before it became the skating and wading center it is for Bostonians today.

Stone tools found at the Frog Pond site shows that the people who lived on what is now the Boston Common collected local stone materials, traded for stone material, and produced stone tools right on the Common.

Numerous Flakes were found at the site. Flakes are the small pieces of stone that break off when someone is making a stone tool like a spear point or arrowhead. Flakes usually do not tell us what type of tool is being made, but the can give archaeologist information about where people were trading, and how a site was used.

At the Frog Pond, Flakes of all sizes and types were found, which shows that people were breaking down large stones for the first stages of making tools, as well as the much smaller flakes that are produced when someone is putting the final touches on their tool.

There are flakes from the Frog Pond that come from many areas. Flakes of rhyolite, quartz, quartzite, and argillite ( types of stone used for tools because they break in a way that produces a sharp edge) were found at the Frog Pond. These materials can be found locally at such places as Saugus, the Blue Hills, and in the glacial deposits throughout Shawmut. Other flake are made of materials not found anywhere near Boston. Two flakes from Boston Common were made from stone found only in Pennsylvania. This shows that people were traveling and trading long distances in the past.

Neville Point from the Frog Pond Site

Several completed stone tools were also found. Some were broken in a way that makes it almost impossible to date them. New England Archaeologists have spent many decades developing dating techniques based on shapes of points and carbon 14 dating. Combining the two, we now have the ability to determine approximate dates for sites based solely on the style of point found at the site.

A Neville point, seen here, was found at the Frog Pond site. This dates to the Middle Archaic and is between 5,000 and 7,500 years old. This makes it the oldest site on Shawmut so far. You can see in the photo that the top half of the point is broken off. We guess that the person who left this point behind broke this point while hunting on Shawmut. They probably realized it was too short to resharpen and decided to discard the point and replace it with a new one. Thousands of years later Archaeologists rediscovered the broken Neville.

Other stone tools include a rhyolite drill, and a Levanna point. Levanna points and drills of this style date to the Late Woodland Period (1,000-450 years old). Small Levanna points like this one are the only point type that archaeologists are fairly certain were used on arrows as arrowheads. The Bow and arrow was only invented about 1,000 years ago, so older points like the Neville were probably used as knives or spear points.

Pottery was also found at the Frog Pond Site.

Like stone tools, archaeologists can date a site by comparing the styles of pottery to sites with known dates. At the Frog Pond, 37 pieces of pottery were found in 1988 and represent no fewer than 6 different vessels.

Based on their decoration (or lack of decoration), the types of materials found in the clay used to make the pots, and the thickness of the wall of the vessel, we can date some of the pottery to the Early and Middle Woodland Periods (3,000-1,000 years old).

Levanna Point from the Frog Pond Site

One pottery sherd (piece of pottery) in particular was decorated with a net. Sometime in the Middle Woodland (1,600-1,000 years ago) someone pressed a woven net into the walls of a still-wet clay vessel. While the soils of Shawmut are too acidic for the net to be preserved, we have a perfectly preserved impression of this hand-spun, hand-woven netting preserved on this single sherd of pottery. The preservation is so good, we can see the individual fibers of the cordage used to make the net. there are 15 warp strands each between 2mm and 3mm wide, and four weft strands all less than 1mm wide preserved in the impression.

Overall, the Frog Pond sites shows that men women and children were using Shawmut for at least 7,000 years. People made pottery, stone tools, ate clams, harvested in the Back Bay, and hunted for thousands of years in what is now Boston Common.

Net/Fabric Impressed Pottery from the Frog Pond Site (Left) and impression of cordage (right)

Sources and Additional Information

 

 

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