By: Alex Goddard, Rust to Green Civic Fellow, Fall 2018-Spring 2019
The Bundy Museum exhibit “Rivers of Relations” offers a glimpse into a part of Binghamton history that is often overlooked. While Binghamton has a well-documented history of settlement by Europeans, the area’s history before the revolutionary war is less known. The Rivers of Relations exhibit taught me a lot about the indigenous history of the Binghamton area, but also about how historical events can be interpreted in different ways by various communities and individuals.
The recorded history of the Binghamton area started around 10,000 b.c.e., when glacial ice retreated from the Broome County area, creating a temperate forest biome which enabled human settlement. Around 800 c.e., the Haudenosaunee Confederacy formed, linking five tribes in upstate New York together. The Binghamton area was largely unsettled, though likely was used as hunting grounds by surrounding tribes. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, European settlers and missionaries made first contact with the indigenous groups of the area. The conflicts that broke out as a result of some of these encounters marked the beginning of European colonization in the Broome County area.
The research process has taught me a lot about the differences that recorded histories can have when recalling the same event. I found it interesting to compare the differences between the histories found online and in the exhibit. I also learned about some of the archaeological practices researchers have used to get a better picture of ancient indigenous life in the Binghamton area. For example, many of the artifacts found in the area are dated using a soil layer analysis technique called relative dating, which gives a rough estimate of how old the artifact is when compared to others in a similar area. Alternatively, other artifacts were dated through radiometric processes, which analyze the various levels of radioactive isotopes in a sample of an artifact.
In recent years, construction crews have discovered artifacts like arrowheads and pottery fragments when excavating foundations for buildings and municipal parking lots in Binghamton and surrounding areas. One of the most significant discoveries was the discovery of Otsiningo longhouse remnants when digging a foundation for a rest stop in the 1970s. Other digs near the confluence of the Susquehanna and Chenango Rivers yielded arrowheads in a range of styles. Archaeologists believe that the various shapes and sizes of the arrowheads found at the site represent the cultural diversity within the Otsiningo tribe. These findings are interesting reminders of the people that settled the Binghamton area in the past.
I found the exhibit very interesting, and liked that the Bundy Museum, a museum that runs out of Binghamton manufacturing magnate Harlow Bundy’s former house, also included an exhibit on the indigenous history of the Binghamton area. While some might argue the most well known part of Binghamton’s history is the birth of companies like IBM and Endicott Johnson, it is important for citizens to embrace the settlements and communities that preceded them. The “Rivers of Relations” exhibit serves an incredibly important role in educating Binghamtonians about the origins of the Binghamton area before European settlement. Future developments in the Binghamton area can build off the example set by this exhibit to better recognize indigenous people in the city’s history.
After talking with a curator at the Bundy Museum, I learned that the opening night of the exhibit was overrun with people. I see this as an indicator of the public interest of indigenous history, and maybe will encourage other local museums to run their own exhibits on indigenous people in the Binghamton Area.
Even in my short visit and walk through downtown Binghamton, I found it interesting how Binghamtonians have embraced their history and choose to document it through statues and other public installations. In the future, the information that Bundy Museum Rivers of Relations curators worked hard to collect could be featured in other venues throughout the City, such as exhibits at Confluence Park, or trails that the city would like to build along the Susquehanna and Chenango Rivers. The rivers of relations exhibit broadened my knowledge of indigenous history in upstate New York greatly, and increasing awareness of the history of indigenous people in Binghamton may provoke further study and understanding of this important and interesting topic.