Skip to main content

By David Malakoff

A Delft plate, from the house of independent trader Hendrick Andriessen van Doesburgh (ca. 1651-1654) Photo credit: Paul HueyMarie-Lorraine Pipes estimates she has examined more than three million pieces of animal bone found at archaeological sites during her four decades as a zooarchaeologist. Once she feels she’s documented every bone, most collections don’t get a second look. But over the past two years, Pipes has repeatedly trekked 200 miles to the New York State Museum in Albany to painstakingly reexamine a collection of bones that she and a group of college students first analyzed nearly 20 years ago. Her goal is to see if the bones, found more than 50 years ago at a dig near the museum, could yield previously unrecognized insights into life in New Netherland, a Dutch colony that in the 1600s stretched from modern-day Connecticut to Delaware.Pipes isn’t the only archaeologist taking a fresh look at New Netherland, which existed for about four decades and this year marks the 400th anniversary of the arrival of its first permanent settlers. In recent years, researchers have been revisiting artifact collections, reopening decades-old excavations, and dusting off obscure research reports in a bid to deepen their understanding of an often overlooked period of American history—a time when the Dutch Republic, then an emerging military and economic power, sought to dominate a huge swath of eastern North America. The work has catalyzed an intriguing inquiry into the enslaved Africans who lived at New Netherland’s first major outpost, and helped reveal a long-lost Dutch fort that fought a last-gasp battle to prevent the colony’s collapse. And it has generated a flurry of products that have helped draw renewed attention to the archaeology of New Netherland, including several books and museum exhibitions, and an upcoming special issue of a scholarly journal.

“Every time I turn around these days, there’s a new question rising up with regard to New Netherland,” said Pipes, a consultant and adjunct professor at the State University of New York Geneseo who has been examining whether the colony’s enslaved residents left behind tools crafted from bone. One way to answer those questions, she said, “is to look again at the material culture, but with a new eye.” 

Such reassessments come as historians mark the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the settlers who created New Amsterdam, New Netherland’s capital city on Manhattan Island, which ultimately evolved into New York City. It is also the quadricentennial of the construction of Fort Orange, the colony’s first permanent settlement, along the Hudson River in present day Albany, New York. Both outposts originated from efforts by Dutch entrepreneurs to find a new sea route to Asia’s lucrative trading grounds. In 1609, during an unsuccessful expedition to find that passage, Henry Hudson, an English captain funded by the Dutch East India Company, sailed up the river that now bears his name, reporting that he obtained valuable fur pelts from the Natives he met. Dutch businessmen were soon eyeing the region and in 1614 established a small fur trading post on the Hudson River near Albany. In 1624, a new enterprise—the Dutch West India Company—went further, dispatching ships loaded with colonists to establish more permanent trading settlements along the Connecticut, Hudson, and Delaware rivers, and formally creating the Province of New Netherland. 

This is an excerpt of the A Look Anew at New Netherland in American Archaeology, Summer 2024 | Vol. 28 No. 2. Subscribe to read the full text.


a small fort, which our people call Fort Orange exhibition, New York State Museum in Albany through 2024.

New York Before New York: The Castello Plan of New Amsterdam, exhibition at the New York Historical Society, New York City. Through July 14, 2024.

Beneath the City: An Archaeological Perspective of Albany exhibit, New York State Museum, ongoing. 

The Archaeology of New Netherland: A World Built on Trade, Craig Lukezic and John P. McCarthy, editors, 2021, University Press of Florida.

Before Albany: An Archaeology of Native-Dutch Relations in the Capital Region 1600–1664, James W. Bradley, New York State Museum Bulletin 509 2006.

Spaces of Enslavement: A History of Slavery and Resistance in Dutch New York, Andrea C. Mosterman, 2021, Cornell University Press, 2021.