Spectacle Island

Spectacle Island is just one of the 34 islands that make up the Boston Harbor Islands, and is one of the 24 harbor islands included in the Boston Harbor Islands Archaeological District.

Spectacle Island consisted of two closely situated drumlins (elongated glacial hills). Their close proximity and a tiny spit of land between the islands made them look like a pair of glasses, thus the name Special Island.

Archaeological investigations on the island found a large shell midden (large organic food remains deposit with shells). Within this midden archaeologists found numerous stone tools, bone tools, food remains, and pottery.

The earliest use of the island is indicated by a Neville-variant point dating to the Middle Archaic (7,500-5,000 BP- Years Before Present). At this time sea levels were much lower than today and Spectacle Island would have been one of several small hills along the coast. No other artifacts of this period were found, so this point may have been an isolated find left behind by a hunter.

A Small Stemmed Point of the Late Archaic (5,000-3,500 BP) was also found, indicating a minor occupation during this time.

Primarily, the Island was most heavily used during the Middle Woodland (1,600-1,000 BP) and Late woodland (1,000-450 years old) Periods.

Archaeologists found charcoal remains which were dated to between 535 AD (1400 BP) and 1590 AD (360 BP). This points to the islands being actively used all the way up to Europeans first arriving.

Food remains were plentiful, especially given the fact that shells change the chemistry of Boston's acidic soil such that bones preserve in shell middens. Examination of the shells and bones of the site shows that the people who used Spectacle Island ate primarily soft-shell clam, cod, and some mammals, birds, and hickory nuts.

There is great examples of bone tools found at Spectacle Island. Numerous barbed spear points were found during excavations.

Examination of the bones and shells also gave information about specific times of years the island was used. Certain animals and plants are only found at certain times of the year. For example, deer only give birth during the spring and hickory trees drop their nuts in the fall, so if you find evidence for these on a site, you have a pretty good idea what time of the year the site was used.

In the case of Spectacle Island, archaeologists determined the site was most used in the Fall and Early winter, and a bit in the spring. Imagine harvesting Clams in the mud flats of Boston Harbor in the Winter!

Overall, Spectacle Island is one of the most archaeologically well-studies islands in the Harbor. This is mostly due to the fact that Special was chosen as the location to place the dirt excavated from the Big Dig project. Archaeological investigations of the island was required before the island was permanently covered in massive amounts of fill, so in 1987 the archaeological investigations began. The information above is the direct results of these excavations. Today, Spectacle Island has grown tremendously due to the big deposit from the Big Dig.

Sources and Additional Information


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