Rock shavings made by American Indians on Long Island when they carved arrowheads hundreds or even thousands of years ago have joined millions of other artifacts stored at the New York State Museum in Albany.
The shards of quartzite -- found six years ago during a road construction project in Brookhaven Town -- may not look like much to the untrained eye. To archaeologists, however, they could help answer questions about Long Island's earliest inhabitants, museum officials said.
The rocks, known to archaeologists as chipped stone debris, will be kept in the museum's collections for use by researchers.
They also could become part of museum displays or donated to other institutions, museum officials said.
"They provide us with information about the changing landscape of the past," Christina Rieth, a state archaeologist and director of the museum's cultural resource survey program, said in an interview last week.
"They also tell us about trends such as changing foodways and the changes in the environment."
The small pieces of rock were among 4,300 items dug up by a 12-person team from the museum in the summer and fall of 2009 during the state Department of Transportation's reconstruction of Sunrise Highway from Route 112 in Patchogue to Center Moriches. Some work was in areas believed to have been occupied centuries ago by American Indians.
The Brookhaven Town Board formally approved the materials' transfer to the museum last month. Museum officials said roughly half the excavated material consisted of typical roadside detritus such as broken glass and wrappers.
But among the debris were rock pieces left over when projectiles such as spearheads were made by the original Long Islanders, who used them to hunt deer and small game long before European colonists arrived in the 1600s, said Daniel Mazeau, a principal investigator for the museum. Rieth said the shards were "hundreds, possibly even thousands of years old."
Mazeau said the quartzite excavated near the South Shore is most commonly found in rock left on the North Shore by receding glaciers at the end of the ice age 12,000 years ago. That indicates those early Long Islanders moved between both coasts and inland regions.
Rieth said the objects will join the museum's collection of about 16 million pieces, including material found on Long Island dating to the ice age.
"The things that the town ceded to us fill in the gaps between the ranges of those different artifacts," she said.