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Mattituck teen’s Eagle Scout project curates ancient artifacts for museum

When the time came for Alex Bradley to choose an Eagle Scout project, he looked to the past for inspiration.

The recent Mattituck High School graduate devoted his time to sorting through nearly 400 boxes of material excavated from a construction site in Glen Cove.

Collected by John Milner Associates, a historic preservation and cultural resource service, the material was found during a soil search that preceded construction of a residential development at the site. The boxes were given to the Southold Indian Museum in 2014, where they sat until Mr. Bradley, 18, organized a group of volunteers to curate them last summer.

“The volunteers I led were a lot of Boy Scouts and family members and we spent hours sifting through the archaeological spoils,” he said.

Mr. Bradley added that before teaching the volunteers — an important part of an Eagle Scout project, which is designed to teach leadership skills — he had to learn how to conduct an archeological dig and what exactly to look for.

While working on the project, which took months and also included writing reports and refurbishing the display case at the museum, Mr. Bradley and the volunteers found numerous artifacts, including some dating back approximately 6,000 years.

Notable finds include shells with “perfectly pinched holes” — a sign that they were used as adornments — and items made of catlinite, or red clay stone. Catlinite is not native to Long Island and shows evidence that the Algonquin Indians participated in travel or trade, museum secretary Lucinda Hemmick said. She added that a catlinite pipe was most likely used ceremonially, potentially as a peace pipe.

While he enjoyed his first archaeological dig, Mr. Bradley said it became difficult at times to determine if something was just a rock or had some historical and cultural significance.

“A lot of things looked tool-ish, but we had to discard some because we can’t just keep a bunch of rocks that look like tools,” he said.

He added that he learned to look for ridges, flat or sharp edges, or any other evidence that humans had been “chipping away” at the stones.

Only weeks away from starting college at Tufts University in Massachusetts, Mr. Bradley is entering with an undecided major, but is considering Native American history. If it does not eventually become his career, he said, it will always be a hobby.

“I liked Native American history previous to the [Eagle Scout] project because I have ancestors from other parts of the world, but Long Island being where grew up I know the people who lived here for the longest time were the Algonquin people,” he explained. “So it’s important to me because they’re the people who first inhabited the land where I live now. They’re my ancestors, in a way, even if they’re not biologically my ancestors.”

Mr. Bradley officially received Eagle Scout recognition July 1 during a ceremony at the Southold Indian Museum.

In addition to being on display at the museum, pictures of the Glen Cove artifacts Mr. Bradley identified are posted on its website at southoldindianmuseum.org. The online photos are part of a digital archiving project funded by a $4,300 grant from the Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation that the museum received last August.

Photo caption: Alex Bradley shows a few of the oldest artifacts he identified, some of which date back to about 6,000 years ago. (Credit: Nicole Smith)

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