Paleoenvironmental Investigations in the Dutchess Quarry Caves”
|by R. E. Funk & D. W.
|extracted by S. Gardner,
| The Black Dirt area and its wetlands are famous for their
abundance of remains of late Pleistocene mammals, mainly mastodons. (Mammut
americanum), ground sloths (Megalonyx jeffersoni), prehistoric horse, bear
and moose elk (Cervalces scotti). The
geology of the area was affected by the glaciers that covered much of the
north. When the glaciers retreated,
they formed debris piles, or moraines.
Pellet’s Island, in the Black Dirt region, is a local example of an
ice-retreat moraine. This blocked
water flow, and lakes and bogs resulted that eventually formed the Black Dirt. A bog on top of a similar moraine at New
Hampton has yielded fossil pollen nearly 13,000 years old. Prior to being
drained by Euroamericans, the area teemed with life that would have been
attractive to prehistoric peoples.
| Beginning in 1964, a search for cave sites and rock shelters was
begun here, spurred by the scarcity of evidence of the earliest human
inhabitants in the Northeast. Our area
had been long known to be unusually productive in surface finds of the fluted
projectile points that were produced by the Paleo-Indians.
| The quest for previously undiscovered and undisturbed sites led
researchers, following the advice of
Henry Malley, to the limestone outcrops on the northwest side of Mount
Lookout. It is near the Village of
Florida, in the Town of Goshen It had
been quarried extensively since the 1930’s.
Possible overhangs and openings were tested, and when rock falls were
cleared away a large deep cave later named Dutchess Quarry Cave No. 1 was
found. Caribou bones left in the caves have been radio carbon dated to over
12,000 years old, one of the oldest dates attributed to human occupation of
North America. Cumberland type
arrowheads found there as well, which are generally dated about 10,500 years
old. Controversy continues over
whether the older bones were carried in by humans or scavengers.
| Excavations by the Orange County Chapter of the New York State
Archaeological Association took place in 1965 and 1966. Some evidence found suggested that it had
been used by humans occasionally for over 10,000 years. There were many animal remains, including
bones of the caribou; another cave had been removed by quarrying in the
1930’s and artifacts had been found but scattered or destroyed. Much of the original outcropping has been
lost to quarrying activities.
| In 1974 another surge of exploration was begun. A ground-penetrating meter was used to
search for other possible cave sites. Seven additional chambers were found,
their openings often hidden by rock falls.
Three of the seven, Dutchess Quarry Caves No. 2, 7 and 8, were found
to be archaeologically significant, but results were not published and most
of the data was lost.
| In 1987, the outcrops were again surveyed, using
ground-penetrating radar and explorations continued.
|What was found in the caves
| In addition to the late Pleistocene/early Holocene human
artifacts found at Cave Number 1, the several caves on the outcrop that were
excavated yielded animal bones of the ancestors of many of today’s common
local species, and also some of those that are extinct or are gone from
Warwick. These include Rangifer tarandus, (caribou), Ectopistes migratorious
(passenger pigeon), Acipenser (sturgeon), Castoroides onioensis (giant
beaver), Platygonus compressus (flat headed peccary), Cervus canadensis
(elk). Many of these remains are dated to between 10,000 and 12,000 years