The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, February 11, 2005


Benfield Land stones called "ceremonial structures"

With the goal line in sight, the Benfield Task Force plunged forward with Super Bowl fervor at their February 1 meeting to complete their site plan cost estimates and traffic analysis in time for Carlisle's Annual Town Meeting. (See story on page 5.) Then, just when victory was within their grasp, they encountered an Indian Stone defense that forced the equivalent of a loose ball and sent the team scrambling to recover.

Doug Harris, Deputy Tribal Preservation Officer of the Narragansett Tribe, stepped forward to claim that Indian ceremonial sites exist on the property. "The Benfield site contains many manifestations of the culture of the original people who lived here," said Harris. "Over 60 ceremonial structures have been identified. At a minimum, they deserve the consideration and care we feel appropriate to the shrines and churches of European-American culture." Harris says that Carlisle is fortunate to have such an area that is considered a significant cultural resource for the Indian community. He believes that the ancient places of ritual associated with what historically became known as Nashoba Village included the Benfield Parcel A property. "We recommend that the Town of Carlisle take steps to ensure that it remains intact."

Harris, with help from Tim Fohl of South Street and others, submitted a Survey Report of Indian Ceremonial Structures on Benfield Parcel "A" Property in Carlisle, Massachusetts to the Board of Selectmen. In it, he identifies in great detail dozens of stone structures and other features that were found on the Benfield site. Harris displayed a map with an area in roughly the shape of a pentagon to encompass this "ceremonial landscape". What would he recommend with regards to this sacred area? His requests are clear and simple. (1) Any construction should not disturb the existing features as defined in the survey report. (2) Certain important sight lines should not be interrupted. (3) Runoff debris should not be allowed to impinge on the vicinity of the features. (4) Sewage pipes from sewage systems including leach fields should not run through the areas defined in the study report. And where is this pentagonal ceremonial landscape located with respect to the proposed building site? It falls exactly on top of it — it encompasses the area identified for affordable housing!

Chair John Ballantine pointed out the irony of the situation to everyone in the Clark Room. Under ordinary circumstances, a private developer would be able proceed ahead with construction, ignoring Native American resistance if it had no legal backing. Carlisle, however, is seeking matching funds from the state and must abide by any General Laws pertaining thereto. The Massachusetts Historical Commission, in a letter to Task Force member Phyllis Zinicola, states that before any proposed construction is begun, any historical or archeological resource must undergo an intensive survey under a permit from the State Archaeologist. Such construction includes buildings, athletic fields, access roads, parking areas, septic systems, utilities, and/or drainage impoundments, all of which are planned for the Benfield Parcel A.

Seeing no alternative, the Task Force voted to authorize funding to hire an archaeologist to determine the authenticity of the claims made by Harris and his colleagues. Even if such an authority can be hired, the next problem is that the Benfield land is covered with snow and won't be visible until March, and the results won't be known for some weeks later.

Ballantine ended the meeting by requesting that Harris and John Winslow get together with the remote hope that some compromise can be negotiated to reduce the severe restrictions being placed upon the town project.

Reached this week, Ballantine said that the task force plans to meet with the Massachusetts Historical Commission to review the evidence and to clarify whether an archeological study will be needed.

2005 The Carlisle Mosquito