Friday, October 28, 2005
Archaeology in Carlisle focuses on education about native sites
Carlisle residents celebrated archaeology month in October by listening to speakers, attending a walk, and considering the past lives of local Native American people. The Gleason Library and the Carlisle Historical Society jointly hosted a presentation on Native American ceremonial sites, featuring three speakers, on October 17. South Street resident Tim Fohl, a long-time hobbyist and researcher of local Native American sites, presented slides of various stone structures in the area. Curtiss Hoffmann, chairman of the Department of Anthropology at Bridgewater State College, spoke about various archaeological projects in New England. Doug Harris, Deputy Tribal Preservation Officer of the Narragansett Tribe, conveyed information about his efforts to protect Native American sites in Massachusetts. On October 22, Fohl led a walk for Carlisle residents on the Conant Land, a site with possible Native American artifacts such as a turtle effigy. Educating town residents about Native American archaeological remains, he believes, will enable them to understand the reasons for investigating possible Indian ceremonial sites on the Benfield Parcel A land.
Stone tools and stone structures
"There are thousands of sites in Massachusetts," said Hoffman, "if you know what you are looking for." Due to the passage of time, the only real artifacts left by Native Americans in the area consist of stone tools and stone structures. Hoffman discussed the various theories relating to the creation of structures, commonly referred to as piles of rocks. He dismissed the idea that glacial activity could have caused the structures, and explained why it would have been impractical for colonial farmers to have piled stones in this manner. He disputed the concept that religious settlers from Ireland may have built the stone structures in Concord, New Hampshire, now being marketed as "America's Stonehenge." He presented the possibility that Native Americans could have formed the structures. The configuration of various sites relating to the summer and winter solstices has helped bolster this concept. Although the research conducted at the Benfield parcel over the summer has not shown conclusive evidence of Native American ceremonial structures, there are indications of native activity. Some town residents are committed to trying to preserve the land. Hoffman concluded, "Carlisle is a test case. Benfield A is a test case. Somebody's got to be first."
Prior to the vote at the May, 2004 Town Meeting by the Town of Carlisle to acquire of the Benfield A parcel, the Narragansett Tribe already raised the possibility to the town that these lands might have Native American structures on them in a letter to the Mosquito dated March 22, 2004. This is in accordance with a resolution filed with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts on October 31, 2002 by the United South and Eastern Tribes (USET), to which the Narragansett Tribe belongs, to ascertain the existence of "sacred landscape" in the towns of Acton, Carlisle, Concord, Lincoln, Littleton, Stow, Boxborough, and Westford. The resolution recognizes that "encroachments of imminent development" threaten these lands, and that the USET Tribes "wish to partner with the towns which have stewardship of these properties." It calls upon "the towns to join the Tribes in preservation of this unique and irreplaceable Indian resource."
Subsequently, the Town of Carlisle authorized $11,000 to cover the research and preparation of a report to review the possibility of Native American ceremonial sites on the land, according to Selectman John Ballantine. This report has been submitted to the Massachusetts Historical Society. Any recommendations and formal acknowledgment of the site will come late this fall.
The USET has "no standing in court versus a developer unless it is a registered site," explained Ballantine. That type of recognition is very difficult to obtain from the state unless a site has significant evidence of Native American ceremonial remains. However, the USET organization does enjoy greater leeway when dealing directly with a town and its population. The townspeople may deem some of the Benfield A parcel worthy of protection whether or not the Massachusetts Historical Society registers the land.
"It would seem that there is a workable compromise," acknowledged Ballantine when discussing the tribal issue. According to the former selectman, the portion with possible Native American artifacts amounts to only 10 of the 46 acres in question. Nonetheless, he acknowledged that there may be some individuals in town that "want to preserve it all."
© 2005 The Carlisle Mosquito