Coffin Stream

West Newbury, MA

The Coffin Stream Assemblage represents a collection of archaic and ceramic era stone tools collected by one family at one location along the Merrimac River over a period of decades.  Antonio Possante and family maintained a market garden at the end of Coffin St. in West Newbury at the intersection of River Rd. across the Merrimac River from the Rocks Village section of East Haverhill.  All of the tools in the collection, with two exceptions, were collected within a small area bordering the Coffin Stream over a period of about 75 years.  These stone tools were often turned up during cultivation of the family's market garden; newly discovered specimens were carefully gathered and added to the existing collection on an annual basis.  Only one knife and a pestle were located further up the shore of the Merrimac River.  The collection eventually became the property of Maurice Burnham of Milton, NH, who has generously made them available for installation and display at the Museum.  Maurice has also given the museum a large mortar (located in the extreme right of this display), found by his father along the Salmon Falls River near Lebanon, Maine, many decades ago.

The Coffin Stream Assemblage is significant because it illustrates continual occupation of a single site for a period of over 3,000 years.  The stone artifacts recovered from this site show a distinct similarity to the artifacts collected from a variety of eastern Maine archaeological sites now on display at the Abbe Museum in Bar Harbor.  The stone tools and artifacts on display at the Abbe, recovered from the Blue Hill Bay and Frenchman’s Bay area, also illustrate intermittent seasonal occupation of strategically located trading and marine resources sites over a period of thousands of years.

One of the most intriguing puzzles of Native American history in the years prior to European settlement pertains to the size, location and significance of a confederacy of coastal Native American communities located in Maine until the intertribal Indian wars and great epidemic (1607 - 1619) decimated the majority of communities on the New England coast east of Narragansett Bay.  At its high point, the confederacy of Mawooshen extended its influence as far as the tidewater communities of Massachusetts and Cape Cod Bays.  Late ceramic period inhabitants on Coffin Stream would have been within the southern fringe of this confederacy.  We will never know the extent to which they participated in the social activities and trading networks of this confederacy.  The Coffin Stream Assemblage display includes several synopses of the Wawenoc - Mawooshen controversy.


Many thanks to Jim Clark, our guest curator, for identifying and installing the Coffin Stream Assemblage in this display.  The collection of perishable natural materials (feathers, skin, bone, etc.) that would have been utilized by typical Native American communities during this period, located to the left of the Coffin Stream display, were also supplied by Jim Clark.  Accompanying them is a labeled series of stone tool reproductions, which shed further light on the styles and types of stone and bone tools found in New England area encampments from the Paleolithic to the late ceramic.

We would also like to express our thanks to MBNA for the grant that enabled The Davistown Museum to build the installation for this display.