Connecticut Before Us: The Native American Archeological History of Connecticut


A group of hunter-gatherers set up camp in the middle of an iceless tundra. Gathered in a small circle, they sharpened stones for their fluted spears. The rest of their tribe spent the time collecting food from the surrounding flora. They couldn’t stay for long, as they were getting ready to track down the next migration of their prey, the woodland caribou.


Such a scene sounds alien to anyone living in Region 12, but in fact, it is the history of the area. This is very likely what was occurring during the Paleo-Indian period 10,190 years ago at what is now the Templeton Site in Washington, CT. Initially excavated over 40 years ago, it was Connecticut’s oldest dated archaeological site at the time. The town of Washington, home of the Institute for American Indian Studies, has a rich history in Native American archeology.


The majority of the timeframe of human activity in the towns of Region 12 took place before the conception of what we know as Connecticut. It stretches from the Paleo-Indian Period of 12,000 to 7,000 BC, the earliest known period of human habitation in North America, all the way to the first contact with Colonists. Throughout Connecticut, thousands of archeological sites have helped provide insights on fascinating and important stories about Connecticut’s cultural heritage that cannot be found in history books, including several within our region.


Beside the Templeton site, The Kirby Brook site and the Woodruff Cave are two other sites that are found in Washington. Kirby Brook site, located on a terrace along the Shepaug River, was first occupied during the Terminal Archaic Period and has been discovered to have had consistent use and occupation up until the contact period when it was purchased from the tribal leaders of the Pootatuck tribe.


Woodruff Cave is a rock shelter that is a case of exceptional faunal remain preservation, providing insight into the diets of people during this period. Recovered from the excavations were large amounts of faunal bone and shell material, as well as some pottery created in a style which indicates people living here were in communication with indigenous communities further north.


New England has a vast history that started thousands of years before Europeans ever set foot on the continent. Luckily, this land’s rich history has been studied and recorded in thousands of different museums and websites. What we know about pre-colonial Connecticut is largely thanks to organizations such as the Institute for American Indian Studies, who have and continue to conduct the excavations of most of the Native American archeological sites in Washington, and who you can visit if interested in learning more about Connecticut’s Native History.


The Digging Into The Past website has a considerable amount of research and information on the Paleo Indian era, specifically the Templeton Site in Washington Ct.


At  The Institute for American Indian Studies in Washington, CT, those interested in experiencing a bit of pre-colonial Native life may wish to try the Wigwam Escape. “In an immersive forest setting with no locks, keys, or clocks, Wigwam Escape’s thematic puzzles challenge game players to hunt, find water and prepare food similar to how Native people did for thousands of years before European contact. The institute’s mission is to ‘preserve and educate through discovery and creativity the diverse traditions, vitality, and knowledge of Native American cultures’. We chose an escape room setting as an interactive and captivating way to educate the public about how pre-contact native peoples lived within their environment over 500 years ago. This hand-on experience of history is demonstrated through a series of custom puzzles and a handcrafted set design, complete with a full-sized traditionally sourced wigwam.” -Wigwam Escape


1984, Paleo-Indian and Early Archaic Occupations in Connecticut. Bulletin of the Archaeological Society of Connecticut, Volume 47: 41-47. Edited by Renee Kra.

1980.6LF21 A Paleo-Indian Site in Western Connecticut. Published by the American Indian Archaeological Institute, Occasional paper number 2