Sandy's Point, Yarmouth, MA Projects  

Sandy’s Point (also known as Smith’s Point) is a small spit of land off the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts that was used by the Native populations of the area as a place for fishing, shellfish harvesting, and the growing of corn. Archaeological investigations of the site between 1990 and 1993 revealed a multi-component Native American occupation that among other features included the only known agricultural field ever discovered archaeologically in New England. Since its discovery analysis of site materials have continued including studies of lithics, faunal and botanical remains as well as a spatial analysis using updated GIS technology. Among the issues that have and are being exalmined are gender relations, subsistence strategies and foodways, as well as a recently completed study of botanical remains, site stratigraphy and dating. Graduate students in the Historical Archaeology Program who have used site data for their Master’s Theses have conducted the bulk of this analysis. This research has benefited greatly from the oversight and guidance of David Landon, Heather Trigg, John Steinberg and Dennis Piethcota. Paul Goldberg of Boston University also helped early in the project with the microstratigraphic analysis that Douglas Currie completed for his Master’s Degree in 1999. Currie found evidence that the methods employed to construct and maintain the small hills that comprised the field were consistent with techniques described in ethnohistoric accounts as well as other agricultural features found in greater Eastern North America that have been attributed to Native American farmers. One facet of the field that was not predicted by other evidence was its relatively small size, about one-eighth of an acre. Its orientation with respect to what are believed to be two small structures (wetu) immediately adjacent to the field is, however, remarkably similar to drawings that accompanied Samuel De Champlain’s description of his voyages around Cape Cod at the opening of the seventeenth century. Although somewhat stylized – what appears to be repetitive images of essentially the same field and wetu - the similarity and the location of the site adjacent to a small cove is so consistent that it supports the veracity of Champlain’s descriptions including perhaps his discussion of gender-related work patterns associated with this kind of small scale agriculture.

Currie’s micromorphological analysis also found evidence that Native farmers actively incorporated organic materials into the hills over time. The same analysis also suggested that the field at Sandy’s Point consisted of two phases with the hills in the southern-most portion of the field exhibiting more erosion than those in northern section of the field. This interpretation is also consistent with the remains of two small structures, one beneath the northern-most section of the field that is believed to be the earlier to the two structures and one immediately north of the field that has been attributed to the historic period (circa 1600-1640).

The analysis of botanical remains from the site recently completed by Ferguson (2010) indicates that maize was the primary crop being grown in the field and that much of the botanical assemblage consists of species of plants that were probably present on the site prior to its being cleared for planting. Chief among these was Barberry, a small shrub that is often found in sandy, coastal environments. Radiocarbon dates obtained from Barberry seeds recovered from a variety of contexts across the site including corn hills, suggest that the plants were burned as part of clearing episodes. The dates from Barberry seeds varied in age and suggest that the site was cleared on several occasions during a period of close to 1500 years. Although the majority of these dates cluster in a period between AD 1100 and 1650, there is evidence of an earlier clearing event dating to approximately 1330 years BP (calibrated, AD 660). This early date corresponds with material culture (lithics and ceramics) that are stylistically attributed to this period by archaeologists working in Northeastern North America.

Dating of maize remains from several of corn hills provided very consistent evidence that the field dates to the historic period. Currently there is no evidence to indicate that any portion of the field dates to a period earlier than circa 1600.

Faunal analysis conducted by Chartier (2001) and Malpiedi (2006) confirmed that the inhabitants of Sandy’s Point were collecting a variety of marine resources. Shellfish included oyster, soft-shell clam, whelk and other species. Fish dominated the faunal assemblage with bottom feeders such as sturgeon, scup, and skate predominating. All of these could have been caught close to the site. The same is true of the mammal and bird species whose remains that were recovered from the site. These too were probably caught in the site area. Malpiedi also notes that the particular species involved were most likely seasonally available in spring and summer. A similar seasonal pattern was suggested by Chartier in his analysis of the shellfish from the site. Therefore the evidence of fish and shell fish being collected primarily in spring and summer indicates that marine resources were used primarily to support the site’s inhabitants while they were preparing, maintaining, and harvesting corn from the small field. It also suggests that their remains were available to be incorporated into the field as fertilizer and there is evidence for this from the small hills on the site.

In her examination of the lithics from Sandy’s point and their spatial associations with the field remains, wetu, and other activity areas, Howlett concluded that much of the material culture recovered from the site was associated with the field and for processing of maize. The two wetu appear to be associated with two phases of field use. The small number of post holes associated with the structures and the material culture recovered in the immediate surrounding area indicate that both were rather ephemeral and probably used during the warmer months of spring, summer, and early fall. Much of the historic material culture recovered from the site and that stylistically associated with the Late Woodland Period (circa AD 1000-1600) appears to cluster in the area immediately around the field and wetu. The same is true of the material recovered from a midden surrounding a large glacial erratic near the field. This area appears to have served as a living area for the site where food was prepared and eaten.

Although the site at Sandy’s Point contains evidence of earlier occupations including a Terminal Archaic/Orient Phase occupation that is attributed to the transitional period (3750-2750 BP) of the late Archaic Period, it appears to have been occupied on a fairly regular basis over the past 1500 years with a major occupation during the historic period. Based on Howlett and Ferguson’s research it appears that the site was used primarily for growing maize, was only seasonally occupied, and was very likely occupied by a small group of women, younger children and possibly older men. Although fishing, shellfish collecting and hunting helped to support the site’s inhabitants, the site’s chief purpose was to provide maize.


Currie, D.R. (1994) Micromorphology of a Native American Cornfield. Archaeology of Eastern North America 22:63-72.

Mrozowski, S.A. (1994) The Discovery of a Native American Cornfield on Cape Cod. The Archaeology of Eastern North America 22:47-62.

Related Masters Theses

Currie, D.R. (1999) Soil Micromorphology of a Seventeenth Century Native American Corn Hill Site. Unpublished Masters Thesis, University of Massachusetts Boston, Boston, MA.

Chartier, C.S. (2001) Explanation of the proportional differences in shellfish between two features at the Sandy's Point Site. Unpublished Masters Thesis, University of Massachusetts Boston, Boston, MA.

Howlett, K.F. (2002) Is Gender Etched in Stone? A Lthic Analysis of a Contact Period Native American site. Unpublished Masters Thesis, University of Massachusetts Boston, Boston, MA.

Malpiedi, J.T. (2006) Porgy and Bass : a Study of the Faunal Remains from the Sandy's Point. Unpublished Masters Thesis, University of Massachusetts Boston, Boston, MA.

Ferguson, K.A. (2010) Macrobotanical Analysis of Native American Maize Agriculture at Smith’s Point. Unpublished Masters Thesis, University of Massachusetts Boston, Boston, MA.