PETE DALY, Staff Writer
EAST WINDSOR -- About the time Stonehenge was being built, along what is now the Millstone River, a tribe of Native Americans set up a fall camp to prepare for the long winter months.
They collected walnuts and acorns, fished in the river and hunted whitetail deer with spears, stocking up for months before moving on to more permanent winter camps.
What they left behind remained buried for the next 4,000 years.
Residents here got a stunning look at the past when the township unveiled the long-awaited discoveries from the Native American settlement, dug up during the past two years at a site where a developer was preparing to build a 374-unit apartment complex.
"The idea that 4,000 years ago, people were living and functioning in this area, that’s a pretty exciting concept," said East Windsor Mayor Janice Mironov at an unveiling ceremony at the township municipal building last Wednesday. "It ignites the imagination."
Archeologists turned up thousands of artifacts from the site, named Windsor Mills, the most dramatic of which are now on permanent display.
Among the finds: expertly carved stone spearheads, like large arrowheads, littering the site; clusters of "fire-cracked" rocks that indicate the tribe made fires for heating and cooking; carved rocks used to grind seeds and nuts; and pieces of pottery.
"Meat was a significant portion of the Native American diet at this site based on the number of dart or spearheads," said the site’s archeologist, Dr. Carolyn Dillian.
The technology of both the bow and arrow and agriculture predated the inhabitants, who lived in the late Archaic period.
Dillian said the site was probably used seasonally by about 30 people, whose identities remain a mystery despite the evidence they left behind. They could have been direct ancestors of the Delaware tribes who populated the area 1,000 years ago.
"It isn’t an easy answer. There is a possibility that the people living at this site might have been their ancestors, but we don’t know what they would have called themselves," Dillian said.
But the site was clearly not Lenape because "at the time Europeans arrived, the Lenape were farmers living in large villages," Dillian said.
No human remains were found, only small fragments of deer bones, and there were also no foundations of homes. Dillian said the acidic soil at the site likely has decomposed any bone remains and that the Native Americans probably "didn’t use it as a cemetery site."
The artifacts at the site, located where One Mile Road intersects with the Millstone River, were deemed 4,000 years old by radiocarbon dating of nuts, Dillian said.
Native Americans were living in the area as many as 3,500 years before Christopher Columbus landed, according to Dillian.
Those who gazed at the long-buried artifacts last week seemed amazed.
"I think of history as starting as starting with the Mayflower, so this is enlightening," joked Eileen Russo, an 18-year East Windsor resident. "It’s nice to know we have such a substantial connection to the past, something for the kids to be able to see firsthand."