Dr. Charles C. Abbott: Father of New Jersey Archaeology

Charles_Conrad_Abbott_1843-1919

By: Erin Bloodgood

Dr. Charles C Abbott is known today as the father of New Jersey Archaeology. He was born in Trenton, New Jersey on June 4, 1843. Growing up he had a passion for natural history and archaeology but there were no formal degrees for those subjects at the time, and so Abbott attended the University of Pennsylvania. He went on to study medicine and received his medical degree there in 1865. Although he was a trained physician he abandoned the medical field to pursue his interest in natural history and archaeology. He studied local history and read the works of European archaeologists. He turned to writing to earn an income and wrote several articles on natural history and later in life went on to publish seventeen nature books, such as A Naturalists Rambles About Home, Upland and Meadow, and The Birds About Us.

Several books on nature written by Charles C. Abbott.
Several books on nature written by Charles C. Abbott.

After several years of examining and studying local artifacts from the Trenton area he published The Stone Age of New Jersey in 1872. Abbott’s article examined local artifacts that seemed to show evidence of a Stone Age culture in America. He compared the pieces of rudimentary artifacts found around Trenton to the stone tools being found around Europe. He believed that either the artifacts that he was finding were made by the ancestors of the Native Americans that the Europeans came into contact with while colonizing America, or that they were made by an entirely separate group of earlier native peoples.

Abbott faced criticism and backlash for his beliefs. At this time the world was digesting Darwin’s theory of evolution and still adjusting to the proposed longevity of humankind. As Abbott researched, excavated, and expanded his theories he was met with a more positive reception. He expanded his original beliefs to include what he saw as three distinct but overlapping cultures based on the artifacts he was unearthing in distinct soil layers. The three cultures included the Palaeolitic culture of the Ice Age which was based off of chipped stone artifacts, an Argillite Culture consisting of arrow heads and other artifacts made of argillite, and finally the Modern Indian culture consisting of more advanced tools made of flint and other materials.

Throughout the next century archaeologists and geologists all over the world challenged Abbott’s ideas and artifacts time and time again. Although other theories were accepted over Abbott’s “Paleolithic” man in America at the time, he still opened the discussion about the indigenous peoples of America and brought archaeology to the attention of the scientific community and the public. Even today Dr. Charles Abbott is a well-known and discussed figure in the history and archaeology of New Jersey.

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