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Archaeology: One Cape / Many Waters

The Archaeology of the Stony Brook Watershed: Human Communities and a Changing Landscape

This exhibit highlights both the archaeological investigations done at CCMNH over the years as well as the various people who have occupied the land. Beginning 10,000 years ago after the glacier receded, through Brewster’s industrial era, the exhibit shows how the landscape has changed geologically and how the human impact has altered the land.

At the end of the last Ice Age, approximately 24,000 years ago, ice sheets of up to one mile high began melting and retreating. Torrents of melt water flowing out carried tons of rock, gravel, and sand, forming the land mass that evolved into Cape Cod. Huge chunks of ice separating from the glacier's leading edge crashed into the land mass forming deep kettle ponds. The melting ice eventually drained into the surrounding ocean, raising the sea level, flooding the lowlands, creating saltwater bays and estuaries: one Cape, many waters.

Glacial Melting

13,000 years ago, Cape Cod Bay and Long Island Sound didn't exist. Animals roamed over a large landmass of grass lands and pine forests that included Cape Cod and extended south to Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket.

10,000 years ago, the first groups of native people, including Wampanoag, arrived at Cape Cod settling here to fish, hunt and gather from the abundant landscape.

8,000 years ago, the grasslands and forests evolved into a mix of pitch pine and oak. Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket were separated from the Cape and became islands.

6,000 years ago, the rising sea covered the lowlands, eroded the glacial sands, formed saltwater bays, estuaries, salt marshes, and beaches, and the shape and composition of the Cape we know today began to form.

Human Habitation

Native People, including the Wampanoag, established settlements in the Stony Brook area 9,000 years ago. The first group of English settlers arrived in the middle of the 17th century. During the 19th century the Stony Brook area was transformed from a farming community into a water-powered industrial hub of leather tanneries and cotton weaving mills. Numerous wind-powered salt works dotted the area around Wing Island.


Since 1987 the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History's Archaeology Program has studied sites in the Stony Brook Watershed to investigate how the Native Peoples of the valley, and then the early English settlers, adapted to the diversity of environments on this constant changing landscape.

This exhibit was made possible by the generosity of the BILEZIKIAN FAMILY FOUNDATION. Photo Courtesy of Bruce Brockway.

NOTE: The Museum is a nonprofit foundation, and our employees are prohibited from authenticating and/or appraising the value of artifacts and specimens. Appraisals can be obtained from private dealers and auction houses.