Artist’s Discoveries Remap Early Human History on Long Island

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John Pagliaro shows his ancient artifacts in his Shelter Island studio. Photo by Carrie Ann Salvi

Mr. Pagliaro is an outdoorsman who loves to comb the beaches of Shelter Island for arrowheads and other ancient stone tools. In six years, he has found six points, polished by thousands of years of tides that archaeologists confirm were produced during Paleo/transitional paleo times, 10,000 years before present. One of the points has been identified as a Clovis point, which dates between 10,000 to 13,500 years before present.

Archaeologists have confirmed that some of the points take back to the Clovis culture. Photo by Carrie Ann Salvi
Archaeologists have confirmed that some of the points date back to the Clovis culture. Photo by Carrie Ann Salvi

That’s of vital importance, he said, because only two decades ago, “The first Native American presence on Long Island was thought to be 3,500 years ago. That must be reconsidered,” Mr. Pagliaro said. The chances of one person finding such a concentration of paleo points must indicate the nomadic hunters had a recurring presence on the Island.

Former conclusions reached by William Ritchie, a New York State archeologist, asserted that there was no longstanding presence of humans during the immediate post-Ice Age period on Long Island, aside from that of a transient nature. “He must have been digging in the wrong place,” said Mr. Pagliaro, who said that although digs have taken place primarily in Stony Brook and Orient, Shelter Island was the most significant place—geographically, culturally, and spiritually—for Native Americans across Long Island.

Shelter Island’s sachem, a patriarch named Yoco, was the sachem of all sachems on Long island, as far west as Hempstead and the Rockaways, making Shelter Island the ceremonial and perhaps even ritual epicenter of Long Island, according to Mr. Pagliaro.

“We are not the first—I want people to be aware of that,” he said. Signs may say “settled in 1652,” but residency went back at least 10,000 years.

Just this week, John Pagliaro made this beautiful discovery on the beach on Shelter island. Photo by John Pagliaro
Just this week, John Pagliaro made this beautiful discovery on the beach on Shelter island. Photo by John Pagliaro

Intrigued with the realization of how those before us survived and interacted with their environment, Mr. Pagliaro began to explore history through lithic (man-made stone tools) databases.

“What struck me foremost was the humanity of this object that represented in absentia, somebody’s life, a calling card sent through time and space into my hands, and what was behind it was a person just like me, who loved to fish and walked the beach procuring food,” he said.

This the only way that I can meet a Manhansset Indian,” he said. “It is heartbreaking.”

Mr. Pagliaro, an avid fisherman, finds his stone point treasure on the sand. There is no diving, no excavation. They usually appear at the same two Island beaches where he has had successful fishing ventures. “It must have been the case then too,” he figures.

Arrowheads are a plenty on two Shelter Island beaches. Photo by John Pagliaro
Arrowheads are a plenty on two Shelter Island beaches. Photo by John Pagliaro

Showing a tip he knows was used to harpoon a whale, Mr. Pagliaro said that it tells the often untold story of the maritime environment before a time when Sag Harbor became a major whaling port on the East Coast.

“Europeans learned that skill from the Native Americans,” he said. Because they were such extraordinary hunters and harpoon men.

The artist, who is primarily a pinch potter, also shows his points and handmade arrowhead jewelry at his Shelter Island showroom.IMG955440

To a recent price inquiry of his arrowhead collection at an ArtMarket and Design Hamptons show, he responded, “The cultural value is inestimable. It has to be preserved at all costs.” The show attendee, who happened to be on the board of the Smithsonian Institute, agreed and said, “We’re on the same page.”

“I really do hope that it ends up in the Smithsonian Museum,” Mr. Pagliaro said of the piece, “so as many people as possible can view it and learn from it.

John Pagliaro’s studio is located at 36 North Ferry Road on Shelter Island  Down2EarthArt.com on Instagram @johnpagsartJPPinchPots

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