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The Native Americans' River
The River in the Revolution
Mills and Dams: An Engine of Economic

Shaping The Environment: Mapping, Moving
and Bridging the Charles


The Native Americans' River

Long before European settlers named and shaped the Charles, Native Americans living in New England made the river a central part of their lives. The Indian name for the Charles River was "Quinobequin," meaning meandering.
Anecdotal and archaeological evidence has left behind some clues as to how American Indians lived alongside the river.

This detail from a bronze relief at a park along the Charles River in Charlestown shows a twentieth-century artist's imagination and memorialization of Native American life along the Charles.

In the center of the image you can see a person standing in the middle of the river in front of what looks like a small dam. This is a fishweir, a complicated constructed trap designed to catch fish.

The Boylston Street Fishweir

Boston is home to one of the oldest archaeological finds in New England, the Boylston Street Fishweir. Boylston Street, like the rest of Boston's Back Bay neighborhood, was once part of the Charles River estuary -- the body of water where the Charles River met Boston Harbor and the Atlantic Ocean. An archaeological project, initiated in the early twentieth century because of some construction projects, uncovered an extremely old fishweir far below street level. Native Americans had constructed this to trap fish several thousand years ago. Archaeological explorations of the site have continued during subsequent construction projects. The fishweir was located near the site of Copley Square and the John Hancock tower.

Excavations of the Boylston Street Fishweir

Constructed of spokes of wood with brush and other objects squeezed in to form wattling, the fishweir would trap everything from oysters to alewifes.

The images below show aspects of how the fishweir worked, and the remains that exist in downtown Boston, of what thousands of years ago was a working maritime economic enterprise:

Other Archaeological Sites of pre-European Activity on the Charles

Dena Dicuze, a Harvard archaeologist affiliated with the Peabody Museum, conducted extensive research of Native American sites along the Charles River, extending to the inland towns far beyond Boston. You can view pictures of some of these artifacts, or visit them at Harvard's Peabody Museum. A map she has prepared shows the location of these sites.

Web Links on Archaeology of the Charles River

Visit these sites on the world-wide-web to learn more about the Boylston Street Fishweir, and archaeological projects along the Charles River. Many of them have been funded by archaeological projects required by the Big Dig, New England's most recent effort to re-shape the Charles River.



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