What to do at the Museum this month: Archaeology


H.L. Ferguson at ‘dig” on Fishers Island, circa 1930s. Courtesy of H.L. Ferguson Museum

The Ferguson family has had a three-generation love affair with archaeology on Fishers Island. Henry L. Ferguson moved to Fishers Island in 1912. He was an amateur archeologist who began the first systematic collection of Fishers Island’s Native American artifacts. His excavations from the 1920s and ’30s provided the basis for his collection, and a summary of his findings were notated in his monograph, Archeological Exploration of Fishers Island, New York, published in 1935.

Many of the artifacts found during this period are currently on view in the Henry L. Ferguson Museum. Henry L.’s son, the late Charles B. “Charlie” Ferguson, shared the same passion. As a boy, he loved finding arrowheads (known scientifically as projectile points) and added them to his growing collection of artifacts. As an adult Charlie met New York State archaeologist Dr. Robert E. Funk and Connecticut archaeologist John E. Pfeiffer and thus began a 10-year period (1985–95) of scientific excavations on Fishers Island, yielding radiocarbon dates from approximately 3000 A.D. to 1600 B.C.

Charlie participated in those digs (along with Penni Sharp, Marnie Ferguson Briggs, Libby Cook, and other interested islanders), and for him, this was a dream come true. Finally, a scientific excavation in which samples were collected properly and sent off for dating!

The third Ferguson involved in Fishers Island archaeology is Charlie’s daughter, Marnie Ferguson Briggs. She completed her master’s thesis in archaeology based on analyzing Fishers Island and related sites, circa 9000 B.C. to 1600 A.D., including those sites originally discovered by her grandfather, thus bringing the legacy of the Ferguson family’s love of Fishers Island archaeology full circle. Their history and contributions can be viewed in the Charles B. Ferguson Archaeology Gallery, renamed in 2018 to honor her late father.

Did you know? Most Native American households kept multiple dogs. “The Dog Burial,” on view at the museum, is a plaster cast of the original artifact. It was so perfectly preserved that the remains include evidence of the dog’s last supper, a cooked blackfish, seen in the dog’s stomach. The remains, dating from 300 to 1600 A.D., were intact enough to allow a plaster mold to be precisely cast.

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