Cape Cod History Tidbits

A 1605 map showing Nauset Harbor lined with the wigwams of the Nauset tribe.

A 1605 map showing Nauset Harbor lined with the wigwams of the Nauset tribe.

People have lived on the outer part of the hook of land that forms Cape Cod for thousands of years.  Ancient artifacts, such as Paleoindian projectile points found at several locations on Cape Cod indicate that humans have occupied this land, or at least traversed it for the last 10,000 years.  

The archaeology of Cape Cod has been of interest to inhabitants and visitors for hundreds of years. In his travel narrative about the region, Cape Cod, Henry David Thoreau observed that Cape Cod was once “thickly settled” by Indians and that traces of their occupation, in the form of “arrow-heads,” and piles of shell, ashes, and deer bones, could be seen around the marsh edges and inlets throughout the Cape. More systematic and concerted archaeological studies on the outer Cape by National Park Service archaeologists in the 1980s showed concentrations of ancient villages and activities around Nauset Harbor and Wellfleet Harbor, as well as in the High Head area. Other researchers have found concentrations of sites in Truro near the mouth of the Pamet River and in many locations in the western portion of the Cape.

By 5000 years ago, the human presence on Cape Cod was quite extensive. Artifacts, projectile points in particular, dating from this period are found throughout the Cape; however, sites are rare. During this early period of settlement, human groups may have moved seasonally from one part of the Cape to another without establishing permanent settlements. It may also be that the remains of such settlements are buried deeply and are rarely found and investigated by archaeologists. By 3000 years ago, people left dense deposits of ancient trash, including discarded stone tools, stone flakes used as tools or from tool sharpening, shell from intensive gathering of shellfish for food, fish and animal bone, and ash and stone from fires for cooking and heat. These are found at sites in the Nauset area and probably exist in other areas where settlement was concentrated. Permanent settlement was probably the norm by this time, with parties of men and women traveling out from the villages to hunt or gather food and raw material for making tools, clothing, and shelter.

Francis P. McManamon, National Park Service at


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *