Fragments of the Past
Archaeology at the Van Alen Homestead
Decades of Foundation Digs
(Exhibit Installed in the North Room of the Luykas Van Alen House on Route 9)
Over four decades of archaeological excavations on the Luykas Van Alen Homestead grounds
have yielded valuable insight into the early settlers, including the original native inhabitants of the land.
The Luykas Van Alen House is one of only a handful of surviving Dutch houses in the Americas. Built in 1737 on land purchased from the Mohicans, it remained in the Van Alen family for five generations.
Archaeology together with other sources of information forms a complete picture of the past. Objects from each excavation on the property tell the story of Native American occupation prior to Dutch settlers, agricultural life, trade with the Mohicans for the land, changing patterns of wealth in the family, and slavery.
Since the restoration of the Luykas Van Alen house, several archaeological excavations commissioned by the Columbia County Historical Society have revealed details not recorded in written history. Although records show the Dutch purchased this land from the Mohicans in 1667, the discovery of a small Native American campsite on the property points to occupation of the land for at least 4,000 years prior to this transaction. In addition to prehistoric evidence, excavations also uncovered evidence pertaining to the Van Alen family.
Native American artifacts such as projectile points, flakes, pottery, and fire-cracked rock are arranged within a large vitrine, as if 'in-situ'. Supplementary materials including the original property deed have been scanned and enlarged; these indicate specific items traded with the Mohicans in exchange for the homestead property. Architectural elements such as bricks, a klopperklinck, nails, and a brick tie, are displayed as historical evidence used in the reconstruction of the house.
Archaeologists identified the remains of a barn and traces of a cobblestone path not previously documented. Finally, they discovered fragments of discarded ceramics that indicate how the layout of domestic space and dynamics of the household shifted from the 18th to the 19th centuries. The exhibit is housed in the North Room of the Luykas Van Alen House on Route 9, open to the public during the visitor season.
The last descendant, Maria Van Alen Herrick died in 1935. The house was then purchased in 1938 by William Van Alen, a descendant of Luykas’ brother, Johannes. In 1964, unable to undertake extensive restorations himself, William generously donated the house to Columbia County Historical Society. As part of the restoration process, CCHS conducted several archaeological excavations on the property. The material culture recovered contributes to a more complete understanding of the inhabitants of this land, from the Mohicans who first settled here to the 200 year occupation of the Van Alens.
This exhibition is made possible by a generous grant from the Ellsworth Kelly Foundation.