PLATTSBURGH — Tom Pray has spent a lifetime collecting remnants of the past.
With eyes directed toward the ground, Pray has literally uncovered thousands of artifacts from cultures dating back as far as 12,000 years ago.
“Pray’s farm is full of them; the whole valley is full of them,” Pray said of the countless number of arrowheads, tools and utensils still lying on the surface or buried beneath the earth in the North Country.
He is one of several area residents who have loaned their artifact collection to the Clinton County Museum as part of the museum’s “Cultural Crossroads and Contested Territory” exhibit, dedicated to the Native Americans who called the Champlain Valley home long before Christopher Columbus arrived.
“There’s a general misconception out there that the cultural history of the region started in the 19th Century, a mindset that the people here (prior to that time) were savages and could not produce such beautiful artifacts as you see here,” Pray said.
“There’s an opinion that there wasn’t anybody here, that this (region) was an empty hunting grounds.”
When Europeans first set foot on American soil, they unwittingly brought with them smallpox and other diseases that decimated native populations, including the people who lived permanently along lakes and rivers and in the forests of the Champlain Valley, he noted.
Loaning artifacts from his collection to the museum is one way to combat those misconceptions, Pray believes. He credits outgoing Curator/Director Tricia Davies for approaching him in a manner that he felt promoted the strong educational impact the collection will have on the community.
“They’ve done a wonderful job here,” he said of the exhibit. “Tricia and I understand how important it is to share this information with the kids in the community.”
TOUCH AND LEARN
The exhibit allows hands-on opportunities for visitors to touch certain items, such as animal skins and the gourds from which the natives made bowls, but the arrowheads and other artifacts are protected in glass cases.
The display features three distinct eras: the Paleo, Archaic and Woodland periods. Each one had its own set of natives, with a unique style, though the artifacts showcase the development of humanity across the region.
“It shows adaptation, how they adapted to the changing environments,” Pray said, noting that the region was covered by a thick glacier 15,000 years ago, following by a period when much of the North Country was covered by the Champlain Sea.
“Former New York State Archaeologist William Richie identified about 40 cultures (living in the Champlain Valley over the past 12,000 years),” he added. “It’s interesting to note that Clinton and Essex counties have evidence of all 40 cultures having been here.
“Pretty much every (culture) traveled through, visited or stayed here.”
The exhibit shows how the earliest natives were small groups of people, typically family members living together and traveling from one area to another as their hunting needs required.
Natives of the Archaic period began to travel less and form small communities of 50 or so people, but it was not until the Woodland era and the advent of corn that people began to form permanent settlements.
Funding for the exhibit was made possible by the Lake Champlain Basin Program through the Champlain Valley National Heritage Partnership.
The Clinton County Museum is open Wednesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. or by appointment. Admission is $5 for adults, $3 for seniors and $2 for children 12 and under.
For more information, call 561-0340 or email email@example.com
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