Friday, June 3, 2005
Archaeological findings on Benfield Land "not very significant"
John Ballantine of the Benfield Task Force says archaeologists have indicated evidence of Native American habitation found at the Benfield site is "not surprising, not very significant, and there's not a lot of it." He believes "There's not sufficient evidence to support counting this as a registered historical site." However, it will be up to the Massachusetts Historical Commission (MHC) to review the archaeologists' findings and make a determination.
Eighty-five to ninety test beds were dug to look for "cultural materials," according to Alan Leveillee of the Public Archaeology Laboratory. Asked what was found, Leveillee responds, "We're synthesizing the results and will present them to the town (at Town Meeting June 8)." He adds, "It would be premature to give results or interpretations."
Leveillee views the role of the archaeologists as "providing another perspective" rather than as making a determination what is and is not sacred. He says finding evidence of native life is not unusual, as native tribes occupied this region for ten thousand years or more. But while the archaeologists can determine what material evidence is on the site they do not make anthropological assessments. "The spiritual and cultural interpretation is provided by the current Native Americans," says Leveillee.
So far, the Native Americans have been unwilling to consider a compromise position on development at the site, says Ballantine. "We're trying to engage in dialog," he adds, "But when we ask what can be done within the sacred area the answer is 'nothing.' That whole polygon is the prime area we're trying to develop" and the only alternatives put housing "up against the lot lines."
Ballantine believes the town is in a good situation to go forward with Plan B. The task force has complied with the law in consulting with Native American representatives and hiring a state archaeologist. If the MHC rules that the Benfield site is not historical, there should be no legal barrier to development. However, the task force hopes to work with native representatives toward a solution that respects the spiritual and cultural importance of the site. "We'll continue to have conversations. It'll get resolved," says Ballantine. "It'll just take a little longer."
Leveillee says his discussions with the Narragansett tribe have led him to the conclusion that, "They are trying to work for a win-win, not stop this from happening. But [the project plan] is not a cookbook....Dialog and consideration [are needed] as this project moves forward," he says. Both sides "need to try to find a commonality."
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