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Nahant to display historic artifacts

NAHANT – A human skull, Native American arrowheads and a myriad of other artifacts that were tucked away for decades on crowded shelves close to floors in the library hallway are being cataloged and most will be put on display this spring.Librarian Daniel deStefano said the bulk of the collection was donated to the library in 1925 by the widow of Herbert Foster Otis.”He was an amateur collector,” deStefano said. “He went all over the country collecting artifacts and he had a small museum in his house. His collection was pretty eclectic.”The artifacts have been displayed in dark wood cabinets, which deStefano said may have come from the Otis house since 1925.”It’s a cabinet of curiosities,” he said. “The trouble is there is no light and the shelves are dark so you really can’t see what is in there. We’re putting in Plexiglass shelves and LED lights so it will be nicely lit. We’ll use nice modern museum labels and some of the exhibits may be interactive.”DeStefano has removed most of the artifacts from the cabinets and has them spread out on tables in a small room where he is working.”I have hundreds of hours invested in this project,” he said. “You can’t date the objects using carbon dating because there is no carbon left in them. We have to date the artifacts by dating the campfires the items were found around.”DeStefano displayed a projectile point that he said was from a throwing spear.”This is the oldest artifact we have that was found in Nahant,” he said. “It is a Neville Point and was made just after the Ice Age. It is 6,000 to 7,000 years old. We have a Dalton Classic spear point that was found in Saugus and is about 10,000 years old.”The projectile points were easily recognizable, but when it came to other items deStefano cautioned looks could be deceiving.”It’s very hard to reconstruct what items were used for,” he said as he held a stone.Another stone with a groove was labeled a sink stone for a fishnet, but deStefano said it had been incorrectly labeled decades ago.”It was held in the hand,” he said. “It was used to grind down grains or burnish skins.”One of the more intriguing objects in the display was a tool that looked like a large curved needle with a small handle.”I have no idea of the age,” deStefano said. “I have not been able to find a picture of one anywhere in any collection. I think the point was used to carve wet clay for pottery.”The library has a collection of a couple hundred items but deStefano said only half of those will be put on display. As for the skull, deStefano said it was part of the Otis collection and it would not be on display when the exhibit is completed.”The exhibit is focusing on Native American artifacts from New England,” he said. “The skull was labeled ancient Briton. The skull and some Mexican trade pottery will be put in storage.”DeStefano said money from the library Memorial Fund is being used to redo the exhibit, which deStefano said he expects to cost between $10,000 and $12.000.DeStefano said he hopes the exhibit would be completed sometime in April.”We’ll have a grand opening,” he said. “I want to try to get a couple of spear throwers to stage a demonstration on the lawn.”

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