The Mahaney Site (UB 666) -- Habitation of Special Purpose Site?

Catherine M. Serventi

PhD Thesis 2005

By the time of European contact (c. A.D. 1500) the Five (now Six) Nations Iroquois comprised a loose confederacy of five tribes located in what is now the state of New York. From east to west, the five tribes are the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga and Seneca. The Five Nations Iroquois were a distinct political component of a set of tribal groups and confederacies that shared a common language family (Northern Iroquoian) and similar lifeways, including corn horticulture, semi-permanent villages of longhouses, and matrilineal descent. These characteristics distinguished the Iroquoian groups from the surrounding Algonquian speaking hunter-gatherers. The area of broader Iroquoian settlement (including the Five Nations Iroquois) extends from central and western New York into southern Ontario. The term Iroquois generally refers to Five Nations (New York) settlement system although the term Iroquoian includes any groups associated with the Northern Iroquoian language family and includes groups in Southern Ontario such as the Hurons and Neutrals. While Iroquoian tribes share many cultural characteristics, there is a fair amount of variation visible in the archaeological record such as average settlement size, length of site occupation, population density, emphasis on horticulture and political complexity (e.g. Trigger 1978).


This paper is concerned with a site in the Cayuga cultural area, the Mahaney site (UB 666), which has been dated to approximately 1350 A.D. (Niemcyzcki 1984). Using data collected during fieldwork conducted by students in the University of Pittsburgh Archaeological Field School in July of 2002, and previous excavations conducted by the University of New York at Buffalo during the summers of 1969, 1970, and 1971, the paper will consider the following research questions.


1. Is it possible to place Mahaney within a taxonomy of sites? In other words, is it possible to determine if Mahaney is a secondary site with a special purpose in the settlement system or is it a primary habitation site? And if so, what does Mahaney's role imply about the overall subsistence strategy for the region, particularly in the context of risk management?


2. What types of activities were occurring at the site, based on the artifacts that were present? What do the activities represented (or not represented), tell us about the inhabitant's subsistence strategies? Are the activities represented consistent with Niemcyzcki's (1984) belief that Mahaney represents and early example of a continuously occupied village that appeared as the Cayuga began to rely more directly on agriculture for subsistence?