Ancient America

Learning Lenape

by John Kraft

For over 12,000 years the Lenape and their ancestors occupied northwestern New Jersey. Who were they? How did they live? What kinds of tools did they make and use? Archaeologists have been trying to answer these questions for over a century.

Lenape group
For Archaic peoples, rock shelters, consisting of natural overangs or hillside depressions, were temporary stopovers that offered protection from the rain and snow. In winter they might have been closed in with windbreaks made from skins or brush.

The native people of the Skylands region had no written history. In fact, they had no writing except for the use of pictographs, some of which were carved on stone. Much of what we do know about New Jersey's prehistory is a result of work done by archaeologists working with other scholars to reconstruct the life and culture of the Lenape and their ancestors through the systematic study of artifacts, seeds, pollen, bones, and a myriad of other clues found in the soil. Early accounts by explorers and travelers, along with journals kept by missionaries and settlers, have also provided a wealth of first-hand observations about the social customs of indigenous groups living here in the 1600s and early 1700s.

Bevans Rock Shelter
The Bevans Rock Shelter in Montague is one of several excavated in Northwest New Jersey.

Archaeological exploration of the area goes back at least to the late 1800s, when collecting natural and cultural objects for curio cabinets became a popular Victorian pastime. Digging along the Delaware River at the Minisink Site in 1893, Dr. Edmund S. Dalrymple of Branchville uncovered a number of Indian burials, some of which were accompanied by European trade goods. Sufficiently impressed by Dr. Dalrymple's collection, George C. Heye and George H. Pepper of the Museum of the American Indian excavated the same area in 1915 discovering additional burials and artifacts. Employed by the State Division of Geology at about the same time, Max Schrabisch documented hundreds of archaeological sites, including villages, hunting camps, and rock shelters. Later, in the 1930s, Dorothy Cross of the NJ State Museum also did a statewide survey and excavated the Fairy Hole Rock Shelter near Jenny Jump Mountain, the Rosenkrans Ferry Site near Flatbrookville, and other sites. In the 1960s, when the Tocks Island project proposed to turn the Upper Delaware Valley into a reservoir, academic institutions, along with state and local professionals, worked to identify and save sites within this threatened area. A prominent figure during this time was Dr. Herbert C. Kraft of Seton Hall University, who, after many years of excavation and research, compiled much of the information gathered from archaeologists, ethno-historians, and Native descendents into a comprehensive, fascinating and wonderfully detailed book entitled The Lenape or Delaware Heritage 10,000 BC to AD 2000. For collectors, amateur archaeologists, or those interested in our prehistoric past, this book is invaluable. (To order click here or call 973-691-2316.)

Lenape dig
In the 1960s, the proposed Tocks Island reservoir project initiated salvage excavations in the Upper Delaware Valley.

Today, the government protects most Indian sites, and archaeological surveys are required on public property prior to construction. Information gathered from these projects as well as ongoing research by members of the Archaeological Society of New Jersey and others continues to add to our knowledge of the region.

So what do we know? Because the prehistoric ancestors of the Lenape did not keep written records, we do not know what they called themselves. For this reason, archaeologists have created names such as Paleo-Indian, Archaic, and Woodland to identify the different prehistoric periods and cultures.

Paleo-Indians (10,000 - 8,000 BC)

The earliest ancestors of the Lenape came to the Skylands region about twelve thousand years ago. The climate was much colder, and there were no hardwood forests; only marshlands, tundra grasses and scattered evergreen trees. Back then, cold-adapted animals such as woolly mammoth, mastodon, musk ox, caribou, and moose-elk lived here. Some of their skeletal remains have survived as in the case of the Highland Lake mastodon found near Vernon and the Bojak mastodon discovered in Liberty Township, Warren County.

Lenape spear points
Paleo-Indian hunters who killed animals with thrusting spears or lances left behind skillfully made fluted spear points such as those found at the Zierdt Site in Montague and the Plenge Site located above the Musconetcong River in Warren County.

Human remains of these first Americans have not survived, although their distinctive stone tools and weapons have been recovered on occasion. Paleo-Indian hunters left behind skillfully made fluted spear points such as those found at the Zierdt Site in Montague and the Plenge Site located above the Musconetcong River in Warren County. Their knives, scrapers, drills and engraving tools were made using the finest, carefully chosen, stone. Indeed, the workmanship seen on many Paleo-Indian artifacts has seldom been equaled by the Indian flintknappers or stone toolmakers of later times. These nomadic people followed the herds, and the seasons, through the area in small bands. Not much of their temporary encampments has been left to discover.

Archaic Hunters, Fishers and Gatherers (ca. 8,000 - 1,000BC)

As the climate gradually became warmer, some descendants of the Paleo-Indians stayed and adjusted to the changing conditions. In the centuries that followed, other people with different tools and weapons came into the area from the south and west. The interaction of these various groups of hunting, fishing, and gathering people as they adapted to the changing environment created what archaeologists call the Archaic era.

Archaic sites have been found throughout the Skylands region, principally near major rivers like the Delaware, Raritan, Paulinskill, Pequest, Musconetcong, Walkill; and lakes like Swartswood, Culver, and Hopatcong. Other locations frequented by Archaic groups were near springs and swamp edges, rich in plant and animal resources, like the Great Meadows and the Great Swamp. On these sites, thousands of spearpoints have been found. Traps, deadfalls, snares, and bolas were other means of obtaining game. Fish were speared, caught in nets or trapped in fishweirs. Indeed, almost anything that moved—possibly even insects—was hunted and eaten. Although Archaic people gathered many kinds of vegetable foods, they did not know how to garden, and except for the dog, they had no domesticated animals. Archaic Indians probably used shelters similar to the small round or rectangular shelters found in other parts of the Northeast. And, like their predecessors, they also lived in caves and rockshelters like the Fairy Hole Shelter near Johnsonburg, the Bevans Rock Shelter in Sandyston and Moody's Rock Shelter near Newton.

Lenape tools
On Archaic sites, woodworking tools including heavy stone axes, gouges and adzes, were used to make structures, dugout canoes, wooden bowls, ladles and handles for tools and weapons.

After about 4,000 BC, chestnut, oak, and hickory trees became more plentiful. An abundance of game followed, as related mast foods (like acorns and other nuts, tender branches and bark) provided additional nourishment for deer, elk, bear, raccoon, turkey. On Archaic sites of this time period, woodworking tools including heavy stone axes, gouges and adzes, were used to make structures, dugout canoes, wooden bowls, ladles and handles for tools and weapons. Hammerstones and milling stones to crack nuts or grind seeds and nutmeats also first appear during this era. Fine-grained stones like argillite and flint that abound in the Skylands region were raw material for greater diversity of smaller tools. Flint quarries or workshops, like the Black Creek Site in Vernon, produced spearpoints, knives, scrapers and other tools. It is probable that many other implements made of perishable material like wood, bone, antler and shell, have long sinced crumbled into dust.

The Woodland Period (ca. 1,000BC - AD1600)

The Woodland period, a time of innovation and change, spans from about 1,000BC until the coming of the Europeans. The bow and arrow replaced the spear, and the use of clay pottery became widespread. Horticulture, or garden farming, became an important supplement to the traditional hunting, fishing, and gathering economy, Many Woodland sites were located near rich alluvial soils like the Pahaquarra, Miller Field, and Minisink sites in the upper Delaware valley, or the Dark Moon Site, in the Pequest drainage of Sussex County. The farming Indians needed to stay close to their lands, and built more enduring houses. Soils had to be tilled, seeds planted, and the growing plants tended, harvested, prepared and stored for use in the wintertime. Children and old people ate better, received more care and lived longer, and families increased in size. These self-sufficient people became the Lenape or Delaware Indians we recognize today.

Lenape woodland tools
Woodland period Indians stored weapons, tools, clay cooking vessels, baskets, furs, mortar and pestles, bowls, woven cattail mats and numerous other objects (above).

We now know that two related but distinct groups of Indians occupied the Skylands region. Those living in the northern half (above the Raritan River and the Delaware Water Gap) spoke a Munsee ("People From Minisink") dialect of the Eastern Algonquian Delaware language, while those communities to the south spoke an Unami ("Downriver People") dialect of the same language. The beliefs and cultures of these two groups also differed somewhat but for convenience, we will use the word "Lenape" to refer to all the Indian bands living in Northwest New Jersey.

When the first Europeans arrived, the land was still densely forested and rich in wildlife. Some Lenape lived in small groups of 50 to 100 people, others in larger groups of several hundred, in villages along the banks of rivers, usually in an area with good rich soil. The Lenape hunted, fished, farmed and gathered wild plants, seeds and nuts according to the seasons. The traditional Lenape house was a wigwam, built of saplings and covered with bark or cattail mats. Several families -- all related through the female line -- could occupy larger dwellings called longhouses.

Men cleared land for gardens, did the woodworking, built the houses and made canoes. They hunted, fished and traded with other groups. Women did the planting and harvesting, collected firewood, tanned animal hides and made clothes. They were responsible for gathering greens, berries and nuts, and for preparing the meals and caring for the children. There were strong ties between parents and children, who received love and attention, but were expected to do their share of the work.

The early explorers and settlers who first saw the Lenape Indians described them as tall, straight, well built people with broad shoulders and strong, smooth muscles. They were sure-footed, quick and able to endure long strenuous journeys.

Lenape clothing was simple. In fair weather, men wore only a breechcloth. In cold weather a fur cloak was added along with leggings and soft soled moccasins. Women and girls wore a rectangular wrap-around skirt and, in colder weather, a poncho-like top called a yoke. Beautiful, warm mantles and robes were also made from goose or turkey feathers carefully sewn to a kind of netting. Clothes may have been painted, fringed, or decorated with shell beads or porcupine quills. Ornaments were made from natural substances like stone, bone or antler, shell, or animal claws.

The Lenape believed in a single powerful creator called Kishelemukong or "He who creates with his thoughts". He created all good things including the Manetuwak, the spirit helpers who lived in and controlled the forces of nature, plants and animals. Mahtantu, an evil spirit, made the tormenting insects, useless plants and put thorns on berry bushes. All things had spirits: animals, insects, trees, air, even rocks. Therefore everything had to be respected and cherished, and every Indian endeavored to live in harmony with the environment, its plants and animals.

The Lenape took frequent steam baths in a "sweat lodge" to purify and cure themselves. Every family knew the medicinal value of plants to cure ordinary sickness or injuries, but for more serious problems they consulted two kinds of medical practitioners. The Nentpikes or herbalist applied natural remedies. However, the Meteinu or Medew also claimed to know how to deal with witchcraft and other occult practices.

Death was a great calamity. Friends and relatives gathered, and the body was prepared for burial, dressed in new clothes and interred in a shallow grave. The souls of the good made a journey to the afterlife where Kishelemukong dwelt.

The Historic Period (1600AD)

The coming of the Dutch, Swedes, and English explorers, settlers and traders changed the lives of the Indians. European glass beads and bottles, iron axes, knives, adzes and hoes, brass kettles and ornaments of metal, cloth and clothing were irresistible to the Indians and were traded for pelts of bear, beaver, otter and deer. As more Europeans settled, the condition of the Indians rapidly deteriorated. Disease, war, alcohol and simple misunderstandings quickly annihilated more than half of the native people. After a little more than a century following European colonization, only a few Indians remained to work on farms or in industry.

Arrowheads, stone axes, pottery and other objects left here long ago by the Lenape and their ancestors are still occasionally found in a farmer's field or along a riverbank. While holding an artifact in your hand, it is difficult to imagine who left it there or what life was like in the time we refer to as prehistoric. Only a rough sketch of a robust culture remains; we know nothing of the human deeds and dramas that occurred.


The Lenape Village at historic Waterloo Village was created to help visualize the past. Located in Allamuchy Mountain State Park, Sussex County, on an island in Waterloo Lake, the Lenape Village--called Winakung ("Place of Sassafras")--is surrounded by thousands of acres of wooded forests, stone cliffs, streams and marshes, home to beaver, osprey, and the occasional bear. It is a place of wonder and a land seemingly left alone by time. Here you can walk 400 years into the past and experience an ancient and gentler way of life. More...

An archaeologist and authority on the region's prehistory, John Kraft has over 30 years of public education and museum experience and decades long invovlement with the Lenape people. An author and illustrator, his books and engaging teaching manner have proven very popular with all audiences. John is currently director of Lenape Lifeways, Inc.
Stay in the Loop!

Get our newsletter, This Week in the NJ Skylands, with updates, special offers and good ideas!

Read current newsletter

Privacy Statement


Martin Scanlan
09 Feb 2017, 11:32
Near the intersection of Route 23 and I 287 there was a cave supposedly chiseled into the rock face using fire and water (by Washington's Army?). Use to find arrowheads there, but dynamiters blew the mountain up in 1992 making way for I 287...
02 Feb 2017, 14:01
A great article, thank you! Just wanted to add that Anna Maria Caldera authored a lovely little book called "Lenape Culture in Stone and Wood," which shows examples of Lenape manipulations of rocks and trees that served as signals and communications amongst tribal people.
John /Wingeohkwet- Raven
02 Feb 2017, 13:23
I was doing construction some 20 years ago and while digging in the ground I found one Woodland period Stone axes I still have it I am also a reenactor of the French and Indian war 1755 and I betray a Lenape Warrior from that time period. This summer I'm going to try to get out and visit the rock ledge shelters
15 Jan 2017, 13:42
Hi, I believe I have a heavy axe like the one in the center of the picture above that says Archaic stones. I don't know much about it and would like to know more. My late father was an Iron worker and found it on a job site in a pile of dirt , either in Pennsylvania or possibly in Delaware, maybe in the late 1950's or early 60'sm I could take a picture and send it to you. Thank you,
31 Oct 2016, 11:01




Myron Paine, Ph. D., Author Frozen Trail to Merica
Talerman and Walking to Meri
10 Dec 2014, 14:15
Many years ago while living in NJ, I located a brochure describing a flat rock found off the shore with strange writing on it. I've looked everwhere on the internet for this picture and/or brochure and I cannot find it. Can you help me?
01 Dec 2014, 17:05
How did Lenape life four hundred years ago diffrent from your life today
kathleen jaeger
14 Sep 2014, 09:11
Have always been told of native can see it in photos of my Mother Marie Boyce Hickey and her Dad Melvin Boyce especially. And me. Have pedigree on back to Civil War days and earlier Peekskill NY.Betrand and Cora Boyce.great grandparents...missing that one thread back to the Kitchawank...anyone with helpful link will be appreciated...just know link to native will be found ..may be in those who moved to WI
Marilyn Webb Atkinson
06 Aug 2012, 22:27
I believe I am a direct descendent of the lenopeondiansnamedpepper Indian Tribe that lives near Hpton, NJ in the early 1800's. My Great, Great Paternal grandfather was William Douglas Webb and his Mother was a full blooded Indian (believed to be Lenape). His father was a white settler and he married an Indian that carried the last name of "Pepper". He left his home in Hampton, NJ at the age of 16 because he was unhappy with the cruel treatment he received from his Mother. he never returned but left behind 4 brothers and some sisters. Can you help me by telling me how to glean more information about this lady, my great, great, great grandmother?
Evan Short
29 May 2012, 07:18
Jonathan, i live in eastern pa and there are a lot of pow wows around my area. real indians come with real artifacts. i don't know if that would help you but you should check one out\r\n
Evan Short
29 May 2012, 07:12
This was extrmly helpful gor me on a final social studies power point. Thanks for the great info.
22 Feb 2012, 07:50
Luz, I'm puzzled by your response. You could state, as others have, that the information didn't help you or was not interesting. The folks on here are sharing information about their ancestry -- do you butt into others' conversations in restaurants like this? Do you have better information, or a constructive comment or a more specific response? (In other words, you're welcome to try again, or I dunno...apologize, maybe.)
22 Feb 2012, 07:36
this is poop
Rachel Loren
22 Feb 2012, 07:34
this page helped me a lot on my essay I got an A + i give this page full credit
06 Dec 2011, 16:14
I learned in school that the Lenape people made all this stuff like wigwams and long houses to live in and have special meetings. they also hunted fish,deer,and other animals. they would have a gardens and plant corn and pupkin.
04 Dec 2011, 06:41
I like this kind of book because it teaches me alot thank you for haveing this in a web site.
04 Dec 2011, 06:39
i like this kind of book because it teaches me alot thank you for haveing this in a web site.
25 Nov 2011, 06:43
04 Nov 2011, 19:02
I'm interested in some of these sites -- tools and arrowheads and whatnot -- I've yet to see a moose in Maine or an arrowhead in a riverbank! But my grandmother's grandmother was a Lenape, as it is reported; where can I see a known village site or gathering place near Horsham, PA?
26 Oct 2011, 16:07
the lenape speak unami, maybe this will help. \r\n
Melanie B.
22 Oct 2011, 09:20
This was very informational, but I was looking to an answer to a question and didn't find it. I really need to know how the different types of people communicated with other people. Next time you update your website, maybe you could add that.\r\nThanks!
20 Sep 2011, 12:37
A friend of mine found an arrow in his back yard here in New Jersey.
Austin Felver
18 Sep 2011, 18:24
-John-\r\n\r\nI also am from Belvidere, New Jersey. I am very interested in hearing about your discoveries, as I am very fascinated in learning more about the local history. \r\n Thanks\r\n
07 Sep 2011, 02:14
I live in hopatcong,I participate in sweat cerimonies and honor the ancestors with prayers and offerings of tobbacco,Ive canoed to minnisink island to pray for them and let them know that they are not forgotten,I live on there land and am gratefull they share there blessings with me.The lenape are not only alive in the north east oklahoma and so many other places that there decendants were forced to move to,but the spirits of there elders are very much alive here right know,speak to them honor them acknowledge them and they in turn will respond.Wemi me gunda walkan (all my relations) walk in peace
19 Aug 2011, 19:26
Hi, \r\nI grew up in Belvidere, NJ.\r\nAs I get older and the time is growing closer that I will be leaving the states to retire in Thailand with my wife, I have a strong urge to share some knowledge of the location of a few Indian caves ( if I remember they were not so large but were full of arrow heads and the like) that we used to play in and explore as young boys.\r\nThese small caves are in the Belvidere area and I can give a fairly good approximate location (I think) its been 50 years or more. \r\nThey may have been found out years ago but then maybe not. \r\nIf you have desire to hear about them please contact me so that I can share what I know with someone rather than taking that knowledge with me to my grave. \r\nThanks
Andrea Proctor
23 Jun 2011, 14:22
Winakung, the recreated Lenape Village, and several other areas at Waterloo Village are open for group tours given by Winakung at Waterloo Inc staff and volunteers. Please visit for more information or contact Andrea Proctor at
Huritt Takoda
22 Jun 2011, 07:51
We are still around we never went away\r\nand we are in NJ PA Ect \r\nand we Use Lenape more then Delaware \r\nWe Are Proud Native Americans
Huritt Takoda
22 Jun 2011, 07:47
We are still around!!!!!!!
21 Mar 2011, 15:07
i don't think it helped
dave s
25 Jan 2011, 08:04
\r\n\r\nTo make my last entry clearer I should have editted the last sentence before sending. To clarify (I hope);\r\n\r\n"Or what would be a square were one corner not removed. Picture the whole 4 inch by 4 inch square made up of 4 equal 2 inch by 2 inch squares. Remove one of the 2 inch by 2 inch squares and you are left with an "L-shape"."\r\n\r\nThese are the same rocks I mentioned in my August 25, 2010 post that I called "inside corners". \r\n\r\nIt seems that 40 years ago it was easier to identify the many places the inhabitants of this chunk of land lived before the European occupation. It supports the reporting in this article that they lived in small groups. \r\n\r\nAs a child I had the privelage of seeing what I am now sure were two of these micro village sites in Eastern PA. that were within about 300 yards of one another. \r\n\r\nWere I not so ignorant at the time and explored a bit more, I am sure I could have identified more of these places near these two. \r\n\r\nConsulting some of my peers who grew up in the same area could result in them revealing some of these sites. \r\n\r\ndon cartwright. They continue to live.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n
24 Jan 2011, 13:13
Debbie,\r\n\r\nI have seen rocks like that in Eastern Pennsylvania too. As I recall they were about a 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch thick and about 3 or 4 inches square. Or what would be square if one a square one quarter of the whole size not removed making it this L shape.
25 Dec 2010, 13:14
dave s
25 Aug 2010, 06:36
I found a rock, approximately 8" by 10" and 2" thick along side a creek. It had a hole drilled in the center of it at approximately a 45 degree angle in the center of the large face. \r\n\r\nNear where I found this rock I found half of a stone hammer head and several rocks that had been formed naturally(?) or where manually shaped to make inside corners. One was 4" by 8" and 2" high and the other a bit smaller. \r\n\r\nDoes any one have any idea what any of these may be?
linda youngs klock
01 Aug 2010, 16:32
don cartwright
18 Jul 2010, 21:18
This is misleading because it leads to the thinking that Lenape people ceased to exist after this period of time when they were still living in Pennsylvania as late as the 1930's. I know this because my grandmother was one adopted into a white family in the very early 1900's
26 Dec 2009, 09:09
I believe that I am a direct descendent of the lenapi tribe via my great grandmother and her affiliation with the thorn or thorne tribe of NJ. Any one with information on this tribe would be very much appreciated.
Rich Weiss
22 Sep 2009, 17:03
I'm doing research on Lenape indians, circa about 1000 a.d. for a novel. I welcome information from anyone who is an expert with regards to this particular era.\r\n\r\nThanks,\r\nRich
29 Aug 2009, 13:55
this was not fully helpful to me. you need to get more pictures and more info.
11 May 2009, 16:35
i was doing a social studies paper and this was really helpful
Linda Mauser
07 Oct 2008, 16:22
Very informative.Thank You. I'd like to place a link to your site on my
05 Oct 2008, 17:02
this wasnt very helpful full for me
Notify me about new comments on this page
Hide my email
Powered by Scriptsmill Comments Script