New signs of 4,000-year-old life at Kampoosa Bog


TYRINGHAM -- In the 17th century, it is well-known that the native population of the area practiced a form of forest management, such as cutting trails in the woods, or cutting down trees for building and burning for fuel.

But a series of excavations in and around Kampoosa Bog seem to reveal that primitive forest management was carried out far, far earlier than that: Not 400, but more than 4,000 years ago.

"It is the earliest example of forest management -- by more than 2,500 years -- in the Northeast," said Eric Johnson, an archeologist and lecturer at the University of Massachusetts, on Saturday morning. "It's an exciting find."

Johnson spoke to an audience of about 60 people at the Tyringham Union Church on Main Road. The two-hour lecture revealed findings he and a team of archaeologists and other scientists derived from a 1993 expedition to Kampoosa Bog.

The 1,350-acre Kampoosa Bog, located in Stockbridge and Lee, is not technically a bog. It is described as the largest and most diverse calcareous fen in the state. (A calcareous fen is a type of wetland.)

But to virtually everyone who speaks of it, it is either Kampoosa Bog, Kampoosa or The Bog.

The bog came into existence about 12,000 years ago, in the wake of the melting of glacial ice in the area. It has remained fairly pristine since then, and is a protected wildlife area with a host of rare and endangered species inhabiting it.

Admission is restricted by the state Department of Energy and Environmental Affairs in large part because of the number of rare and endangered species. But in addition, the bog is a dangerous place, dotted with unstable floating islands, quicksand-like mud and an assortment of leeches..

The 1993 excavation, said Johnson, consisted of archeological digs at two sites adjacent to the bog, as well as the extraction of core samples from the bog itself.

One of the excavations revealed a "habitation site" -- in other words, an area where people lived. This site appears to be about 2,000 years old.

The second excavation showed a "work site," which appears to be where a large-scale butchering and skinning operation took place. This site was even older, said Johnson, between 3,000 and 4,000 years old.

The work site was intriguing because it revealed, for example, that the work was done communally. Game was chased into the area by a group of hunters and killed by another group.

In addition, he said, the archeologist discovered a number of stone tools that were unfinished. The tools were made from stone from the nearby Hudson Valley, indicating they were mined there and transported or traded for.

These tools, he said, could be quickly finished for various tasks: skinning, or cutting, or stabbing. It indicated that early man was smart enough to avoid carrying around a large bag of tools and instead adapted a smaller number of tools "in the field" for whatever use he needed.

"It suggested to us a large-scale processing area, 4,000 years ago," he said.

In answer to a later question from the audience, Johnson explained that while the bog was probably as dangerous then as it is now, the abundance of game doubtless drew primitive settlers to the area.

In response to another question, Johnson speculated that the gap between the date of the habitation site and the work site could have been due to climate changes, or just a decision to move elsewhere.

The core samples taken from the bog revealed that it has been relatively unchanged since the glaciers retreated about 12,000 years ago. It is also, said Johnson, a valuable history of the trees and plant life that have existed over the life of the bog.

To reach Derek Gentile:,
or (413) 496-6251.
On Twitter: @DerekGentile


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