The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, January 17, 2003


ConsCom cautiously endorses 'sacred sites' exploration

Acting in her capacity as a proposal developer and project director for cultural and open space organizations, Carlisle resident Sarah Brophy asked for and received conditional conservation commission permission to include the Towle Land in an exploration of possible Native American cultural sites. At the board's January 9 meeting she explained that she and a co-director of the Narragansett Tribal Historical Preservation Office are proposing to use Towle and other area tracts to test a hypothesis positing the existence of patterns that can help predict the location of sacred grounds.

The project, which is sponsored by the 24 tribes of the Eastern Council including the Narragansetts and Wampanoags, seeks to establish a methodology for "identifying and protecting sacred sites." They chose this test area because oral tradition and previous sitings suggest that lands in Carlisle, Concord, Acton, Lincoln, Westford, Littleton, Boxborough, Maynard and Stow are part of a "sacred corridor" that crosses the state of Massachusetts. The investigations will cover properties both public and private and will include suspected and neutral sites.

Brophy said that formal permission to explore Towle and the other locations is a requirement for submission of a $25,000 grant request to the National Park Service. The money will pay for the work of lead archeologist Curtiss Hoffman of Bridgewater State College and a tribal observer who is an expert in Native American culture. The team will study the terrain, take core samples and test the practicality of the proposed predictive methodology. If successful, the project will establish a baseline for future evaluation of over 1,000 possible sites.

Commissioner Tricia Smith, a former student of archeology, noted that a great deal of professional work has already been done on both the Conant Land and Great Brook State Farm Park, but that the reports are not necessarily available to the public. It was her hope that the Native American cultural agent from the tribe might be able to gain access to that information. To a question concerning the size of the "core samples," Brophy said that only hand tools would be employed.

Acting chairman Jonathan Beakley brought up an even more cautionary note, "What are the legal complications?" Brophy said she had been assured that the results would not change the legal status of the land. Not convinced, commissioner Peter Burn added, "What about that word 'protect' in the statement of objectives? Could we perhaps lose control if something important turned up?" Whereupon Brophy replied honestly, "I don't know that I can answer that," and promised to get a written reply from the Narragansett project leader.

Commissioners Roy Watson and John Lee expressed strong support for the project but indicated an equal sense of responsibility to protect the town's conservation properties. The upshot was a unanimous vote endorsing the activity, but clearly stating the commission's concern about any possible change in legal status.

2003 The Carlisle Mosquito