Thursday, December 5, 2013

Arkville Cave

Earlier in the blog post Indian Shelter Excavated  I wrote about an excavation Ralph S. Ives made in 1934.  It might be the cave described in the transcribed newspaper article below.

Attorney Ives Describes Cave

Rich Find Within 100 Feet of Main Highway

Attorney Ralph S. Ives of Roxbury recently made a speech before the Oneonta Kiwanis club in which he described the Indian cave at Arkville,
The Oneonta Star gives the following report of the speech by Mr. Ives.
Mr. Ives explained that he had been collecting Indian flints and relics since he was a lad, told how the hobby had grown with him, and of the interest with which he read about excavations in the Pyrenees, arousing a desire to some day take part in some original excavations himself.  He then relate events during his boyhood at Margaretville and of the stories about the Indian cave at Arkville about which he heard throughout his life, spent in that vicinity and Roxbury.
Cave Within View of Highway
While drawing a deed this spring, mention was made in the papers of the Indian cave, and he determined to visit it.  The cave faces southeast on a mountain near the Arkville railroad station, the mouth being readily seen from the highway which runs within 100 feet of it.  The cave is about 30 feet long, about 20 feet deep, and had a vaulted roof about eight feet from the ground at the time digging operations were started this spring.
Because the work had to be done in spare time, activities were carried on quietly, but in five or six weeks the excavation was completed.  Because few perfect specimens have been found in caves, Mr. Ives and his sons started their digging, carefully with stiff case knives, about 10 feet from the opening of the cave.  Arrowpoints and scrapers of the Algonquin type were found, together with broken bone implements and pottery, before excavation was started within the cave.
Inside the rock shelter a rock floor was found under three or four inches of loose soil, this base being flatiron-shaped with dirt on the sides. On the north side of this floor, definite layers of  charcoal were found to a depth of two feet and one-half, indicating that the camp site had been used for centuries.  At a depth of four and one-half feet below the floor were found a number of perfect bone implements, needles, awls, bone arrowpoints, and broken pieces.  Because of their age, these pieces of bone were very brittle and it was necessary to protect them under glass.  A small display case of these articles was exhibited.
Estimates Age at 2,500 Years
In fixing the age of finds in the cave, which Mr. Ives estimated at from 600 to 5,000 years, he explained that the Algonquins lived in this vicinity before the Iroquois.  He considers it most probable that some of the bone implements are 2,500 years old.  He also expressed the conviction that bone was used fully as much as stone  by the early Indian and said that he hopes some day to establish that wooden implements were also common.
Excavating to a depth of four feet, the party also found fragments of pottery and fresh-water clamshells, probably used as ladles or spoons.  Portions of two pipes, rubbing stones, drill points, bases of drills, fishnet sinkers, arrow points and scrapers were also found in substantial quantities in this strata. The rusted blade of a knife was found some distance below the surface in the cave, indicating to Mr. Ives that others had explored it mysteries, probably many years ago.

Catskill Mountain News, 22 June 1934, Margaretville, NY


  1. On reading this report one can only hope that Mr. Ives and sons didn't dig up the whole cave floor. It would be interesting to know if any archeological professional has examined it since; Mr. Ives knew far too little about his subject to extract much useful information about his destructive work. An important related question would be, where is the collection he assembled now? That would tell present-day experts much about the culture(s) he uncovered. His age estimations seem to be snatched out of the air and the prehistory he states has been superceded by a near-consensus of scholars that the Algonkian and Iroquois held their historical geographical positions contemporarily, not that one came before the other. From having excavated to the depth of four feet, Ives undoubtedly destroyed the record of a number of cultures, many that flourished before either Algonkians or Iroquoians. Digging an archeological site by non-professionals has been, is now, and always will be looting.

  2. In addition, there have been great technologically advances in archaeology. It would be interesting to follow up.

    Information on the collection is given on the post about Mr. Ives' collection.