Let’s Find…..Treasure?

If you’ve stumbled upon a twenty dollar bill lying around, you’ve experienced the thrill of finding a treasure.  Finding stuff is cool. Therefore, most people think that an archaeologist’s job is pretty awesome because they’re always digging up exciting treasures! Well, I was an archaeologist for an entire day without digging anything up.

Most people don’t realize a site must be carefully surveyed and mapped before it can be excavated. That’s what I did last Tuesday; I mapped an area in the Catskills, a region that New York City purchased over the past century and drastically changed to preserve their water supply, a place called Ashokan Reservoir.

Ashokan Resrvoir as seen today

Ashokan Reservoir

Ashokan Reservoir spans over 8,300 acres, previously farm land and towns.  New York City purchased the land through eminent domain in the early 1900s and eventually constructed a dam, creating the largest reservoir in the world at the time, upon the ruins of communities. An archaeologist begins with a hypothesis, and evaluates whether what they find fits what they expected to find. Our team, including Professor Dr. Beisaw, an archaeology major and three eager adventurous archaeology hopefuls did just that.


We wondered how this part of the Catskills was used before New York purchased it. What I found trekking through the forest with two archaeology students, who might or might not have mastered the GPS until the end of the day, helped us answer this question.

GPS and map we used to find our way through the Catskills.

GPS and map used 


The first challenge is to not get lost. Having the right equipment is important (we did, thanks to our team leader), as is being able to use it! You also need to be sure that you’re not trespassing. Keeping everything in mind, we found a clearing with a big tree with branches close to the base. Forest trees don’t have branches near the base as light doesn’t reach here, so we deduced that this tree used to be in a pasture, which explained part of the past of this area. A bone, thought to be either pig or goat, suggested that people in the area had domesticated animals, although it is possible that the bone came from elsewhere, a transposed artifact. Stumbling across a road and finding rusty old cans and trash nearby with fewer items further up the mountainside suggested habitation in the lower area.  Clean, tool cut tree trunks indicated that people used the land there.  An important discovery was a stone wall, parts of which were deteriorating but others in prime condition; this suggested the land was marked for multiple purposes or animals.


Similar stone wall we stumbled upon in the Catskills. With tress fallen upon it, moss and some deterioration.

Stone Wall

While all the finds (yes archaeologists consider a rusty old can, a pile of rocks and tree stumps finds and we had to stop and mark all of them on the GPS) answered some questions, they left some unanswered and raised others. Who knew how much one can learn from walking in the forest if you pay attention? Archaeologists do more than just dig. They learn about the past, answer questions, and more importantly, help plan for a better future.

Works Citied:


Image 1: http://www.skyviewpictures.com/skyviewstore/products.php?pid=258&detail=true

Image 2: http://www.flickr.com/photos/wessexarchaeology/176900281/

Image 3: http://www.cnyhiking.com/BestOfNCTinNY-BullyHillStateForest.htm

2 thoughts on “Let’s Find…..Treasure?

  1. Despite the common misconceptions you point out here, finding valuable objects isn’t really the point of archaeology; often, the value of the discipline can be in highlighting the experiencing of those forgotten by mainstream historical narratives, like the displaced residents of the Catskills whose material legacies you were searching for in the woods. Take, for example, the canonical history of the Ashokan Reservoir. The official Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) page for the reservoir tells us that the structure was completed in 1915 and supplies about 40% of New York City’s water. It holds 122.9 billion gallons of water when it is at its fullest capacity, and its water is carried from Ulster County down to the city through the 92-mile-long Castkill aqueduct. Tellingly, however, the towns that were destroyed or “relocated” as a direct result of the Ashokan’s construction are absent from the DEP page. When these towns are forgotten or purposely omitted by mainstream narratives, archaeology becomes more important than ever.
    You can read the DEP article here:

    • I think that depends on what you consider to be valuable? Something with monetary value, absolutely not . But finding artifacts, such as a rusty old can and an array of bricks, are extremely valuable, especially for looking at the questions we were exploring. I consider those to be valuable objects, as they are the very means by which we “highlight the experiences of those forgotten”. Without them, how are we supposed to bring these purposely omitted stories to the forefront. And that needs to be done, because as one can see from this link: https://www.google.com/#q=ashokan+reservoir+buying+land+out+today there is no news, articles, websites or mention at all about the past problems New York City had imposed on the area and the continued strict rules and continued attempt to buy out more land to depopulate the Catskills around the Ashokan Reservoir. Just like in archaeology, the absence of artifacts (or in the case data) can sometimes tell more than actual artifacts. Therefore, I agree with you that archaeology has a grand role to play here, and the finding of, or lack therefore of “valuable objects” will help accomplish just that.

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