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From mastodons to graffiti

Montville - A mastodon's skeletal remains, tools left behind from the state's first inhabitants and graffiti from the early 18th century are just some of the incredible finds by state archaeologist Nicholas F. Bellantoni.

On Sunday, Bellantoni, of the Connecticut State Museum of Natural History and the Connecticut Archaeology Center, revealed some of the state's oldest archaeological secrets as he spoke to members of The New England Hebrew Farmers of the Emanuel Society at the Chesterfield firehouse.

The society, which was founded in 1892 and reactivated in 2006, oversees Connecticut's 24th State Archaeological Preserve - an 1892 Synagogue and Creamery site that sits at the intersection of Route 85 and Flanders Road.

Bellantoni, an honorary member of the society, said he is "blown away" at the remains of the Chesterfield site, stating that the next goal is to "make sure it (the site) is preserved for education and preserved for integrity."

He said there are 6,000 identified archaeological sites in Connecticut, 80 percent of which have been destroyed by subdivisions, strip malls and roads.

However, he did say that the state has "unique and diverse archaeological resources."

"The story really starts during the ice age when a continental ice sheet a mile thick covered the state up until 18,000 years ago when it started to melt and land began to open up," he said.

The Paleo-Indians, who formed small nomadic hunting groups, were the first inhabitants of the state and their presence dates back more than 9,000 years, Bellantoni said.

He said the Paleo-Indians made their homes near river valleys, the coast and around former glacial basins and hunted mastodons. He said he has also discovered fossilized mastodon remains in Griswold.

Bellantoni also talked about how a large rock in Farmington has provided important insight into the fight against smallpox in the state.

He explained that as Europeans began to settle in North America, diseases like smallpox became rampant, forcing Farmington doctor Eli Todd to open an 18th-century inoculation hospital for colonial children. He hoped to expose them to the disease with the hope that they would build an immunity to it, Bellantoni said.

Children who spent their summers at the hospital undergoing inoculation treatments would carve their names into "Hospital Rock" and even drew pictures of the hospital.

"That left us precious information as to who these kids were," Bellantoni said. "We were then able to run their names against medical records and found out that many patients went on to become war leaders and famous members of society."


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