Jones Pond and other Archaeological Sites Reveal Early History of Settlement in Sowams

Jones Pond (show below in 2012 before a makeover) at 5th Street and Empire Drive in Riverside, RI is one of more than a dozen sites within Somans that have yielded archaeological evidence of the First People who settled the area starting in 12,000 B.P.  The earliest archaeological evidence for human occupation in southern New England is at the “Sands of the Blackstone” site in nearby Uxbridge, Massachusetts, that was radiocarbon dated at 11,990 ± 60 B.P. (Leveillee 2016). Although PaleoIndian artifacts are rare in northern Rhode Island, single PaleoIndian artifacts or small PaleoIndian archaeological occupations are known from the Twin Rivers Site (RI 165) in Lincoln at the border with Smithfield (Fowler 1952:8); the Bravo (RI 2443) and Crossroads (RI 2773) sites in North Smithfield; the Abbott Run (RI 1746) and Pine Swamp (RI 2767) sites in Cumberland; and Site RI 2431 in East Providence. “While there is considerable variation across time and space in the way the prehistoric peoples of the region organized their subsistence activities (cf. Kerber, 1988), it appears that the coast was occupied by relatively large groups throughout the year, often without the benefit of maize horticulture (e.g., McManamon, 1984; Bernstein, 1990, 1992, 1993). [Mark Tveskov, “Maritime settlement and subsistence along the southern New England coast: Evidence from Block Island, Rhode Island,” North American Archaeologist,18(4):1-1, January 1997]

Prehistoric sites from the Early Archaic (ca. 9,500-8,000 B.P.) are uncommon in Rhode Island and are limited to three well-documented sites: 1) Twin Rivers (Fowler 1952), 2) Mill River (Fowler, 1963), and 3) the Bluff site in Coventry. (Phase IC Archaeological Survey of the Falugo Property on Narrows Road in Bristol, RI, Cultural Resource Specialist of New England, August 1998.)

“A sharp increase in the number of known sites from the Middle Archaic period in Rhode Island reflects an inferred population growth by 6000 B.P. Middle Archaic sites have been identified from a wide variety of topographic settings in the upper Narragansett Bay region, and include a wider variety of features and artifact types. Nevelle and Stark point types were found in the Richardson collection, as well as from sites in Attleboro, on Seekonk Cove, and numerous other locations along the Ten Mile/Seekonk River drainage, reiterating the importance of the environmental model of pre-Contact settlement (Dincause and Mulholland 1977). Middle Archaic components have also been identified at the Walker Point, Jones Pond, Riverside Cache, and Bullock Cove sites in East Providence . . .” [Final Report: Archaeological Assessment, Remote Sensing and Underwater Archaeological Survey for the PRHMDP, Rhode Island, April 12, 2001]

The above photos in the 1939 Narragansett Archaeological Society of Rhode Island report on the Jones Pond Shell Heap reveal one of eleven stone hearths and a skeleton of a young adult male discovered at the site.


Other locations where ancient artifacts have been found include the Kickemuit Narrows (above left) in Bristol, RI, and the Sowams Woods (above right) in Barrington, RI. A small number of Native tools found along the Kickemuit River in Warren are on display at the Charles Whipple Greene Museum on the second floor of the George Hail Library in Warren, RI.


(Above, left, click to enlarge) Evidence of PaleoIndian Period (circa 12,000–10,000 B.P.) occupation of the Blackstone River area reported in 2016 has included stone tools, radiocarbon dates, and a suite of lithic raw materials consistent with known PaleoIndian site assemblages recovered elsewhere in New England. [Alan Leveillee, RPA, “Sands of the Blackstone: A Paleo-Indian Site in the Narragansett Bay Drainage“, October 2016] (Above, right, click to enlarge) PaleoIndian tools including Cormier-Nicholas points were found in South Swansea, MA, two in Barrington, RI, and an assemblage of five late-Paleoindian points, three trianguloid endscrapers, one composite scraper/graver and two fluted preforms in Riverside, RI.[Kevin P. Smith, Amy Smith, and Nina Hellebrekers, “New Evidence for the Paleoindian Occupation of the Narragansett Basin, Rhode Island and Massachusetts“, USA, Archaeology of North America, January, 2012]

The Boats Archaeological Site in Dighton, Massachusetts contains many Paleo-Indian and archaic sites. It was the location where treaties and council meetings occurred during the reign of Metacomet after his father’s death in 1661. It was within 100 feet of one of the few remaining villages and farms that were still inhabited by the Wampanoag before the King Philip’s War. (Lane: 1962)

(Above, left, click to enlarge) “Since 1986, there has been a gradual increase in the number of reported sites with the Narragansett Bay region containing Neville and Stark projectile points, earmarks of Middle Archaic period lithic technology manufactured from about 6000 to 8000 B. P. . . Excavations at both Seekonk 2 and Walker Point provided for the first time detailed information about the activities and behaviors of human groups living in the upper Narragansett Bay territory during the Middle Archaic period. In the process of developing local interpretive contexts for the data, it became clear the eight other sites in the upper Bay territory were visited by Native American groups during the Middle Archaic period.” (figure 3, above) The greatest distance between any two of these sites is just under 2 miles. Significant among these is the Read Farm site in Seekonk, Massachusetts, where years of amateur excavations generated over 700 projectile points, 35 of which were classified as Neville or Stark point types (Barnes, 1975). Read Farm is set on the margins of the Runnins River and extensive tidal marshes, less than four miles south of the Walker Point and Seekonk 2 sites. [Mary Lynne Rainey, Middle archaic period settlement and lithic use in upper Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island and Southeastern Massachusetts. Archaeology of Eastern North America (2005) 33, 127-140

(Above, right, click to enlarge) Except for a few areas in southern New England, such as the middle and lower Connecticut River valley, there is very little archaeological evidence for village-based settlement systems during the Late Woodland period (A.D. 500 to 1600). This is in sharp contrast to most of the rest of Eastern North America. Yet ethnohistoric data indicate that relatively large, semi-permanent villages were common, especially along the coast, at the time of the first European contact. [Jordan E. Kerber, “Where are the Woodland Villages”, Bulletin of the Massachusetts Archaeological Society, Vol. 49, October, 1988]


Shell middens were found at Nyatt Point in Barrington, RI (above, left), at the Pine Hill Site on Prudence Island, and evidence of pre-colonial settlement has also been found at Poppasquash Point in Bristol, RI.(above, right)


Other early settlements were known to exist at the Tobey site in Rehoboth, MA (above, left) and at Bullocks Cove in East Providence, RI (above, right).

Click here for a description of early Rhode Island at EnCompass: A Digital Sourcebook of Rhode Island History produced by the RI Historical Society.

An inventory of Rhode Island’s most important archaeological site related to the history of Native Americans published in Native American Archaeology in Rhode Island includes descriptions of the following sites in the Sowams Heritage Area:

  • Johannis Peninsula Site (RI 1716) located along the Palmer River in Barrington (see photo below, left) shows evidence of occupation between 3200 and 2700 years ago.

  • Mount Hope in Bristol shows evidence of use well before 5,000 years ago.

  • Kettle Point on Watchemoket Cove in East Providence (see photo below, right) had a small settlement used around 500 years ago.

  • Walker Point on the Seekonk River in East Providence “contains some of the earliest evidence of human occupation found in Rhode Island, spanning the period from around 7000 to approximately 1400 years ago.”

  • “On the grounds of Butler Hospital, above the Seekonk River, archaeologists from the Public Archaeology Laboratory found evidence of several Native American settlements used between 5000 and 3000 years ago.”

  • Under the fill surrounding the Providence train station, “archaeologists found the tools, refuse, and cooking hearths of people who had lived around the pond from the time it formed to the coming of English people in the seventh century.”


(Above) Johannis Penninsula in Barrington                  (Above) Kettle Point in East Providence

Click here for an article on “New Evidence for the Paleoindian Occupation of the Narragansett Basin”

Click here for a page on the archaeology of the Swansea area nearby.

Click here for a Summary of Archaeological Periods.

Click here for a video on early migration patterns of aboriginal people to North America.

Click here for a video of the Native American History Of Massachusetts

Click here for a Google Map of Jones Pond which is on 5th Street in East Providence, just south of Pierce Field.