Introduction to the Luce Collection

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Introduction to the Luce Collection


Frederick Alanson Luce Exhibit

Frederick Alanson Luce (Fred Luce) was an early avocational archaeologist active in the early 20th century. Unlike many avocational archaeologists who simply went out collecting Native American artifacts from plowed fields in the late 1800s and early 1900s, Fred Luce and his wife Thera, a mother of five, set about recording as many artifacts and as many collections from local collectors as they had opportunity. They painstakingly recorded them with numbered entries - over 8,000 of them - with descriptive information and sometimes skillful sketches of the artifacts. They recorded ancient site locations, the names of collectors, the dates of discovery, and other information of value to researchers that for most collections made in that era usually was never written down. Many of the artifacts that Fred Luce recorded were later donated to the Haverhill Historical Society and form a vast research collection spanning a record of 10,000 years of Native American lifeways along the Merrimack River and along other streams and ponds in the Haverhill area. Most of the over 8,000 artifacts came from Haverhill and other local towns: Andover, North Andover, Bradford, Georgetown, Groveland, Merrimac, Rowley and West Newbury. Other artifacts were brought back from Cape Cod, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Florida, and California. There is even a small package of peat from Ireland! 

A Glimpse of One Site and Some of the Artifacts Found

Dozens of ancient Native American sites were identified in the Haverhill Area and collected at by Fred Luce and his friends. The following is a description of one of those sites – referred to as Walker Camp “C” - and some of the artifacts found:

Walker Camp “C” was identified in the summer of 1912 by Howard S. Webster when he stopped to inspect a garden adjacent to the path where he was walking that at the time was owned by the Walker family. Prior to 1912 the land was used for pasture, but in 1912 about two acres were plowed and planted. The site was estimated to be about 500 yards long by 40-60 yards wide. On the west and south the site was flanked by a hill and on the north by the Merrimack River. No less than eleven people were involved in collecting, with the earliest recorded date of collecting taking place in 1914 and the latest in 1943. Clifford Gordon, Charles Morse, Fred Luce and Fred Luce’s son Stanley carried out excavations at the site in the 1940s (Mahlstedt 1986). 

As many as 20 hearths (the remains of ancient camp fires) were excavated from the Walker Camp “C” site, including a circular cobble-lined hearth: “hearths were apparently spaced about 10-15 feet apart and extended parallel to the river bank. Some were exposed by erosion while others were set back from the river 10-18 feet. Gordon told Luce that the hearths were 10-18 inches below surface, oval in shape and constructed with firecracked and fire reddened cobbles, but contained little charcoal” (Mahlstedt 1986). 

Artifacts found included over 100 projectile points (often called arrowheads) – used on spears thrown by atlatls or spear throwers and also on arrows after the bow and arrow came into use. There were other stone tools such as knives and scrapers, ground and polished stone tools often used in wood working or making dugout canoes, grinding stones and pounders, fishing-related tools, ceramic pot fragments often with designs, and burned animal bones from food remains thrown into the fire.

A preliminary listing of the Walker Camp “C” collection at the Buttonwoods Museum was conducted in the 1980s and reported on by Thomas Mahlstedt (1986) and the following listing was made with time periods for artifacts that can be dated by style:

161 Projectile points: 1 Neville-like (Middle Archaic, 8,000-7,000 years old)

2 Neville Variant (Middle Archaic, 8,000-7,000 years old)

2 Archaic Notched (Late Archaic, 5,000-4,000 years old)

51 Small Stemmed (Late Archaic to Woodland 6,000-400 years old)

11 Small Triangle (Late Archaic, 5,000-3,000 years old))

1 Susquehanna Broad (Late Archaic, 4,000-3,500 years old)

2 Wayland Notched (Late Archaic, 3,600-3,000 years old)

1 Fishtail (Terminal/Transitional Archaic, 3,000-2,000 years old)

1 Meadowood (Early Woodland, 3,000-2,500 years old)

51 Untyped points

1 Midsection fragments

37 Point tips

224 Other chipped lithics: 13 Edge tools – used as scrapers, knives and drills

5 Bifaces -  multi-use tools or tools in the making

1 Side notched pebble – net or fishing line sinker

2 Pounding stone – stone hammer

8 Cores – stone chunks being worked to make tools 

195 Chipping waste – leftover debris from stone tool making

20 Ground Stone artifacts: 1 Axe – for felling trees

2 Adzes – wood carving tool

3 Gouges – wood carving tool

1 Ulu – semicircular knife

6 Pendants - ornaments

1 Gorget – ornament with drilled holes

1 Grooved stone

2 Fragments

1 Steatite - soapstone from stone bowl most likely

2 Graphite – for making paint

2 Copper sheet fragments

168 Ceramics with various motifs (Woodland Period, 3,000 to 400 years old)

1000 Calcined animal bone

Total: 1,575 items

There were 146 inventory numbers prior to the 1940s work and 256 inventory numbers from the early 1940s, for a total of 402 inventory numbers out of over 8,000 inventory numbers. Those artifacts attributed to Walker Camp “C” include inventory numbers listed between 5,416 and 5,860. 

The preliminary analysis of collections made from the Walker Camp “C” site indicate Middle Archaic to Late Woodland activities, spanning from 8,000 years ago to 400 years ago. In addition to these artifacts, among Howard Webster’s finds were several dark blue glass beads. The presence of blue glass beads, and possibly the copper sheet fragments, likely indicates a late sixteenth to mid seventeenth century occupation by Native Americans just prior to or at the time of initial European settlement in eastern Massachusetts.

Early Woodland, Middle Woodland and Late Woodland ceramic pot fragments spanning from 3,000 years ago to 400 years ago were recovered and included designs or motifs with incised lines, dentate stamps – rows of square and rectangular impressions, punctate marks – round marks made with a sharp point, rocker stamping – zig-zag lines made by rocking a clam shell or thin tool back and forth, comb stamps, fingernail impressions, cord-wrapped stick impressions and combinations of these designs or motifs. Shattered mineral or quartz grit temper was used in the clay to keep the pottery from cracking during the initial firing to bake the pots. 

Ground stone tools included gouges and stone pendants included drilled examples. Over 1000 calcined (burned) bone fragments were also recovered, including large and small mammal crania (skull fragments), teeth, mandibles and phalanges (foot bones), bird bone, and sturgeon fish scutes - bony scales from the skin of the fish (Mahlstedt 1986:27). 

Fred Luce did not know how old these artifacts were back when they were discovered. Radiocarbon dating of Carbon-14 charcoal samples was not invented until 1946. However, he did collect charcoal and soil samples. He also did not use current terms to describe projectile points but he described "spear points" "war points" and sometimes sketched an outline, along with a description. He did not attempt to give a date for sites and artifacts, but he did utilize the terms "Stone age" and "Prehistoric" at times. Since the 1930s, archaeological excavations and collections research have been able to refine the chronology of Native American lifeways in New England. The scientific value of the Haverhill Buttonwoods Museum collection is greater now than it was when the collecting took place. 

Native American history and culture are not just a bygone era. For 12,000 years New England has been home to Native Americans and continues to be. It is a great honor that we can celebrate this history and offer respect to the First Americans that live among us to this day.

Keeping Local History Local: A Society is Formed and a Museum Created

Frederick Almson Luce (Fred Luce) was the principal founder of the Haverhill Archaeological Society in 1914, one of the earliest in the country and at the time it was the only organization of its type in New England. The Massachusetts Archaeological Society was not founded until 25 years later in April 1939. The preliminary meeting of the Haverhill Archaeological Society was held February 23, 1914. It was decided that meetings would be held once a month in the Haverhill Public Library. William W. Taylor was among the first members and was the first curator. Fred was assistant curator and F. E. Hurd, President. Thera Luce was Secretary from 1917 until 1921. By January 1, 1919 the number of "specimens" in the museum (still in the Library) was 5,870. The collection was moved to the Haverhill Historical Rooms at Buttonwoods sometime during or after 1921. Later when William W. Taylor was purchasing antiques for the Henry Ford Museum, he contacted Fred Luce about buying Native American artifacts. Fred convinced him that the artifacts should remain in Haverhill. History is most valued when it is local to the community from which it belongs.


Elia, Ricardo J.

1983 Report on the Phase II Archaeological Testing of the Ward Hill Interceptor in Haverhill, Massachusetts. Report on file at the Massachusetts Historical Commission, Boston, MA.

Luce, Frederick A.

 nd Unpublished field notes. Haverhill Historical Society. Haverhill, MA.

Mahlstedt, Thomas

1986 Analysis of the Archaeological Collections of the Haverhill Historical Society's Buttonwoods Museum, Haverhill, Massachusetts. Report on file at the Massachusetts Historical Commission, Boston, MA.

(Draft July 6, 2021, M. Dudek)


“Introduction to the Luce Collection,” Frederick A. Luce Collection at the Buttonwoods Museum, accessed August 14, 2022,

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