The Archaeology of Cape Ann

Archaeological evidence for camp and village sites on Cape Ann comes mainly from surveys and excavations conducted in the first half of the 20th century. Researchers included Marshall Saville, Rockport-born Harvard archaeologist, one-time director of the National Museum of the American Indian in New York, and founder of the Sandy Bay Historical Society where his collection is stored; N. Carlton Phillips, president of the Russia Cement Company (LePage’s Glue) in Gloucester and an avid amateur archaeologist (his collection is stored in the Cape Ann Museum in Gloucester and the Robbins Museum of Archaeology in Middleborough); Frank Speck, a University of Pennsylvania ethnologist who specialized in Eastern Woodland Indian cultures and summered in Riverview; and Speck’s student Frederick Johnson, one-time director of the American Anthropological Association and the Robert S. Peabody Museum of Archaeology in Andover (some of their finds were sent to the Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation, in New York).1 Their reports and collections, along with the countless casual finds of artifact collectors and residents, all point to well-populated pre-Contact native settlements on Cape Ann over the past 10,000 years or more.

Sample Artifacts from the Saville Collection of Late Archaic and Early Woodland Sites on Cape Ann










Clockwise from top left: Hatchet; projectile points (Cape stemmed, Neville, Brewerton side-notched, Fox Creek stemmed); macerator hand tool; pestle; gouge; polished celt. The Saville Collection is stored in the Sandy Bay Historical Society in Rockport.

Sample Artifacts from the Phillips Collection from Middle Archaic to Middle Woodland Sites in Riverview and Ipswich


Clockwise from top left: Bone and antler harpoons, fish hook parts, and other implements; perforated paint stone; broken effigy stone; animal bones from one of the shell middens in Riverview (including wolf dog, deer, and extinct auk); a steatite (soapstone) mortar; and a corn abrader (flattened on one side from rubbing kernels off dried corn cobs). The Phillips Collection is in the Cape Ann Museum in Gloucester and with the Chadwick Collection in the Robbins Museum of Archaeology in Middleborough.

A Record and some finds from the Speck and Johnson Survey                           


Mya clamshells and a box of potsherds. Some finds by Speck and Johnson are in the Harvard Peabody Museum and the Robbins Museum of Archaeology. However, artifacts collected by them from three shell middens on Pearce Island, Rust Island, and Thurston Point were apparently “lost” in the Museum of the American Indian in New York. Their site records are in the R. S. Peabody Museum in Andover.

                                    History of Archaeology on Cape Ann

1867-1922       F. W. Putnam, Warren K. Moorehead

1897-1925       Marshall Saville, George Heye

1917-1927       Frank Speck, Frederick Johnson

1930s              Charles Willoughby, Ernest Hooton

1938-1942    N. Carleton Phillips, Foster Saville, Henry Collins

Douglas Byers, Carleton Coon

1947-1949   Ripley Bullen

1950s              Roland Wells Robbins

1960s              Sarah Keller

1970s              Frank McManamon

1990s —       Irving Soucholeki, MHC-CRM Projects

Charles Willoughby’s ” Annisquam Head” is in the Harvard Peabody Museum in Cambridge. It was found in a sandy bank at the head of Lobster Cove in Annisquam and it was purchased for Harvard by Ernest Hooten for $100 in 1940. It is a 20cm sandstone three-dimensional sculpture of a woman with an infant carried at  the nape of her neck. Her distinctive peaked headdress identifies her and presumably her maker as a Mi’Kmaq or Maliseet (Tarrantines). It is possible that Tarrantines were occupying Pawtucket sites on the coast of Cape Ann as they were being abandoned after 1690. The Harvard Peabody also has a large collection of potsherds from Cape Ann.


Willoughby’s “Annisquam Head” and stick-incised and punctate pottery fragments from Cape Ann at the Harvard Peabody Museum. Also at the Harvard Peabody is this Contact-Period trade bead necklace with Jamestown beads, from Annisquam.

Archaeology done on Cape Ann since World War II has included university digs and salvage archaeology associated with municipal projects and privately funded contractual work. For example, in 1965 a Boston University graduate student excavated a Contact Period native site in Wingaersheek. Artifacts from that project are stored in the Harvard Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology as the Matz Collection.2 An example of salvage archaeology is the Essex Falls site excavated by Eugene Winter, one-time president of the Massachusetts Archaeological Society and curator of the R. S. Peabody Museum, where his finds are stored.3

Sample of Artifacts from the Matz Collection, a Contact Period Site n Atlantic Road in Wingaersheek


Clockwise from top left: Broken projectile point, quartz scraper and gravers, decorated quartz-tempered potsherd, cylindrical clay beads, full-grooved axe, hardwood pipe with brass mouthpiece. These artifacts are in the Harvard Peabody Museum in Cambridge.

Sample of Artifacts from the Winter Collection from a Woodland Site at Essex Falls


Clockwise from top left: Stick-incised potsherd, quartz-tempered punctate potsherd; pegmatite tool block or preform; points and flakes in chert, rhyolite, and felsite; hoe blade; and a core from which flakes were struck . These artifacts are in the R. S. Peabody Museum in Andover.

Post-war projects also involved Cultural Resource Management (CRM) surveys conducted under the auspices of the state archaeologist, the Massachusetts Historical Commission, or at the federal level the National Park Service. CRM projects have identified several pre-Contact sites on Cape Ann and have confirmed radiocarbon dates for two of them, dating to the Early and Late Woodland Periods (3,000 and 750 years ago).4 The results of such work are seldom made public, however, often at the request of tribal councils, a city or state, or private property owners, for fear of looting or desecration or costly construction delays.

Cape Ann collections in private hands include Tom Ellis’s artifacts from Coffin Beach, Coles Island, Cross Island, Spit Island, and Hog Island; the Simonettis’ artifacts from Plum Cove; artifacts collected by the Annisquam Historical Society; artifacts found in excavations at Cogswell’s Grant in Essex; and artifacts picked up by residents in Magnolia, Lanesville, Plum Cove, Lighthouse Beach and many other locations.5  

In every case I have tried to avoid repeating images of artifacts from these sites that already appear in my articles published in the Bulletin of the Massachusetts Archaeological Society. See, for example, Algonquian Shellfish Industries on Cape Ann, in the Spring 2017 issue,  78 (1), and The Maritime Archaics in Essex Bay: The Saville and Ellis Collections, in the Spring 2018 issue, 79 (1).

.Sample of Artifacts from the Ellis Collection from Islands in Essex Bay




Clockwise from top left: Sinker or plummet from Coles Island; grooved net weight from Cross Island; thumbnail scraper from Cross Island; hand tool used in weaving from Hog Island; chert core from which flakes have been struck from Hog Island; and projectile points from Spit Island (left to right: Perkiomen, Levanna, Neville, Rossville, Beekman, Merrimac, and Cape Stemmed).

Artifacts from Ellis’s Bull Brook Collection






Sample of Artifacts from the Simonetti Collection from Plum Cove, Gloucester



Clockwise from top left: Greene “leaf” in jasper; reamer with perforated stone; Kirk corner-notched point; felsite debitage from manufactory; quartz points, mostly Rossville and Squibnocket stemmed; and two-fisted deerhide scrapers.

Sample  Artifacts from the Annisquam Historical Society




Clockwise from top left: Votive vessels and points; head effigy of uncertain provenience; full-grooved axe; broken ceremonial pipe in Minnesota pipestone.

Sample Artifacts from Cape Ann in the Essex Peabody Museum in Salem







Clockwise from top left: fish hook made from the nasal bone of a deer; Greene “leaf” point in jasper; flat-sided pestle; a Genessee point in exotic stone; a trowel or mattock blade; and a felsite clam knife.

Some Local Artifacts in the Ipswich Museum


Clockwise from top left: Deep-grooved gouges; atlatl weight fragment; triangle points (Snappit, Squibnocket, and Levanna); steep-sided deerskin dressers;  St. Anne ceremonial blade; and an atlatl weight.

Sample Artifacts from the Manchester Historical Society in Manchester-by-the-Sea



Clockwise from top left: Vosburg points; Genessee point with a broken base; two-headed axe head; long grindstone pestle; Greene and Lamoka points; and a torque reamer.

Torque drill collected by Jackie Jamieson in Riverview near Green Landing

Map of site locations (to come)

Archaeology on Cape Ann is complicated by the fact that, in addition to being looted or otherwise disturbed by collectors, sites tend to have been repeatedly covered up and exposed by dune migration, flooding, wind erosion, and wave erosion. These actions mix up the stratigraphy or layers of cultural and geological deposits, making site interpretation difficult. In addition, as a result of sea level rise, our most ancient sites are now underwater in coves, at river outlets, and under protected dunes or salt marshes.6

Another reason that comparatively little archaeology has been done is that sites are overlain by municipal and private residential and industrial development. The most likely site of Wenesquawam (Wonasquam, Wanaskwiwam) village, for example, is now under a mid-20th century housing development between Riverview Road and Corliss St. in Gloucester. Today, prospects for underwater archaeology and archaeology on city properties, public lands, protected areas along waterways, and drained wetlands offer the best chances for rediscovering Cape Ann’s pre-Contact past.

The interpretation of evidence for the prehistory of Cape Ann is complicated by the fact that collectors have removed thousands of artifacts from archaeological context without documenting them. In many cases, both the provenance (tracing possession of a find) and the provenience (identifying the location of a find) are lost. Also lost is information about the nature of the site and the depth or stratigraphy where the object was found, which is crucial for interpretation. Artifacts from Cape Ann of both known and uncertain provenance and/or provenience may be seen in the Cape Ann Museum, Annisquam Historical Society, Manchester Historical Society, Essex Historical Society and Shipbuilding Museum, Ipswich Museum, Robbins Museum of Archaeology in Middleborough, Sandy Bay Historical Society, R. S. Peabody Museum in Andover, Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, and Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology in Cambridge. More details on the artifactual evidence for Cape Ann is forthcoming in other chapter of this book. My maps attempting to reconstruct settlement and resource use patterns on Cape Ann are informed by my studies of these collections.



  1. Saville’s papers on the subject include Indian Notes and Monographs (1919), Museum of the American Indian Heye Foundation 5 (1), and Indian Relics from Newburyport and Gloucester (1920), American Academy of Arts and Sciences 1. Speck’s article, Massachusetts Indians, especially relating to Cape Ann, was published in the Gloucester Daily Times, August 4, 1923. The Museum of the American Indian, now in Washington, DC, says it has no archaeological acquisitions in its Heye Foundation collection under the names of Speck or Johnson. Johnson’s work preserved in the R. S. Peabody Museum in Andover and the Robbins Museum of Archaeology in Middleborough does not include material from Cape Ann. N. Carleton Phillips never published his extensive findings and the documentation for his surveys and excavations (maps, site reports, photographs) have not been found. He gave talks, however, for example at Rotary club luncheons, describing his activities and finds, and unpublished transcripts of these talks are in the library of the Cape Ann Museum. I wrote an article about the content of those papers that was published in the Bulletin of the Massachusetts Archaeological Society 74:2 (Fall 2013). See also my article on the Saville and Ellis collections in the Spring 2018 issue of the Bulletin of the Massachusetts Archaeological Society.
  2. Keller, Sarah. 1965. Matz Collection of artifacts from West Gloucester. Cambridge, MA: Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University. Matz, Robert. 2013. Gloucester, MA. Personal Communications about the Contact Period archaeological site at Wingaersheek, May 1 and August 7, 2013.
  3. Gene Winter’s 2007 article, Additional Information on Late Archaic Caches in Essex County, MA, appears in the Bulletin of the Massachusetts Archaeological Society 68 (1): 28-32.
  4. The Massachusetts Historical Commission’s public records include their Reconnaissance Survey Town Reports, for example, the 1985 Reconnaissance Survey Town Report: Gloucester ( For a useful comparison see also the reconnaissance surveys for other nearby cities and towns. Modern CRM studies documenting prehistoric activity or occupation have been conducted in Ipswich (Suvalis et al. 1979); Beverly-Salem (Ritchie et al. 1996); Gloucester (Thompson 1978; Leveillee 1988); and Essex (Macpherson et al. 1999; Raber et al. 1980/1981). Specific sites with prehistoric significance have been identified at Castleview in West Gloucester (Dwyer & Edens 1995), Cogswell’s Grant in Essex (Wheeler and Stachiw 1996), Thurston Point in Riverview (Leveillee 1988), and Little River in Gloucester (Chartier 2001).
  5. Tom Ellis’s collection also includes around 25 artifacts from Carlton Hoyt’s collection from Bull Brook, Ipswich, an assortment of Archaic and Woodland period points. A large private collection I have not been permitted to see, reported in Elizabeth Waugh’s book, The First People of Cape Ann (Dogtown Books, 2005), is the property of Judith Juncker of Annisquam, Gloucester. Another large private collection I have not seen is in the hands of James Oliver of Gloucester.
  6. Donnelly, Jeff. 2001. Sea Level Rise (in Massachusetts). Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute: See also Possible Shipwreck and Aboriginal Sites on Submerged Land (in) Gloucester Massachusetts (Riess 1998):, and a 1990 report of the Massachusetts Bay Marine Studies Consortium, Cultural Resources Committee, Maritime Cultural Resources of Massachusetts Bay: The Present State of Identification and Documentation. Also Dean Snow, 1972, Rising sea level and prehistoric cultural ecology in northern New England. American Antiquity 37 (2): 211-222.
  7. For assistance with identifying and classifying archaeological artifacts, see Jeff Boudreau’s A New England Typology of Native American Projectile Points (2008 and a new 2018 edition), and A Handbook of Indian Artifacts from Southern New England by William S. Fowler and Curtiss R. Hoffman. Both are available through the Massachusetts Archaeological Society, Archaeology is strictly regulated in Massachusetts. For assistance with examining and confirming archaeological sites, please contact the state archaeologists at the Mass. Historical Commission,