Deerfield farmer wants UMass to return 'several thousand' Indian relics archaeology students have dug up on his land since 1989
Pine Hill rises above the North Meadows in Deerfield as Chet Yazwinski fertilizes his corn on Wednesday. Recorder/Paul Franz Purchase photo reprints »
DEERFIELD — After allowing the University of Massachusetts Archaeological Field School on its private farmland for years, a Deerfield family is asking for the return of Indian artifacts found on their property.
The Yazwinskis of Yazwinski Farm say they are seeking site reports and inventory lists of artifacts found on their land during field school archaeology digs from the state university and are asking for the artifacts back.
Chester “Chet” and Butch Yazwinski are now asking for the return of personal property taken from his family’s Pine Hill property, in a letter to state Rep. Stephen Kulik
And now Kulik, a Worthington Democrat, is also requesting a meeting with the director of the UMass-Amherst Center for Heritage and Society, Elizabeth Chilton, on behalf of the Deerfield dairy farmers to initiate discussions on the return of the artifacts.
“It is my understanding that several thousand artifacts were unearthed from the site over the course of several summers, beginning in 1989, by field school students under your supervision,” Kulik wrote in a May 29 letter. “As owners of the property, the Yazwinski family would like the artifacts returned so that many of them can be displayed at the Deerfield Town Office.”
Chilton indicated that she is open to a conversation and is responding to Kulik’s letter. She said the discussion should include the Massachusetts Historical Commission because the objects were excavated under state permit.
A meeting or conversation will be held in the coming weeks, Kulik said this week after receiving Chilton’s response.
“I need to do more research in terms of who takes possession of the artifacts,” Kulik said. “It’s a new field for me to get into. I’m happy to help them dig through this situation and see if they can get back what they’re asking for.”
Chet and Butch Yazwinski are asking for the return of items taken, mainly Indian artifacts from the Pine Hill area of Old Deerfield.
In 1980, the UMass Archaeology Field School tested Pine Hill, excavating about 120 shovel test pits, the Yazwinskis said. In 1989, the field school tested on the highest terrace and on the lower terraces of Pine Hill. On the lower terraces, a total of 15 shovel test pits were excavated, the Yazwinskis say. And then, over several summers between 1989 and 1997, the field school reinvestigated Pine Hill.
On Oct. 28, 2013, Yazwinski sent Chilton a letter requesting a copy of “all archaeological site reports for our Pine Hill property” to help in future management of their land.
Yazwinkski learned the artifacts could be quite valuable or he could be eligible for a tax break. He said if any objects are returned, he would put them at the Memorial Hall Museum at the Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association or at the Deerfield Town Hall.
In a Nov. 13, letter, Chilton responded that excavations at the Pine Hill site were conducted by the UMass Archaeological students under the direction of Professor Arthur Keene, who retired last year. At the time, Chilton was a graduate student involved in the field schools from 1989 to 1995, Chilton said.
In the November letter, Chilton said that to her knowledge, no formal report was ever written or submitted to the Massachusetts Historical Commission. Chilton did a write a dissertation on the ceramic analysis from the site, and it does include some site maps. Chilton said she sent a copy to Frank Yazwinski in 1996 at the time that she completed the dissertation. She said she would send another copy of the 200-page document.
Many of the artifacts discovered were buried nut shells, flakes from stone tool makings and wood charcoal, Chilton said, which would be useful for the university in learning about Native American lifestyles.
“We care about the knowledge that’s obtained from the past,” Chilton said. “It’s against the ethics code for me to attribute a monetary value to buy or sell artifacts under any circumstances. I take that seriously.”
The artifacts would be stored at UMass, Chilton said.
After graduate school, Chilton went on to work at Harvard University. She returned to work at UMass in 2001 and did not have contact with the Yazwinski family until the October 2013 letter, she said.
Arthur Keene, who ran the field school in the 1980s, said the university surveyed many properties in Deerfield at the time.
He couldn’t recall whether the field school only surveyed Pine Hill or conducted a dig.
He said the department likely filed a report with the state archaeologist, a public record. Keene added that Chilton’s dissertation and other publications on Pine Hill would have all the information requested.
Keene was surprised there is a conflict between the Yazwinski and UMass field school.
“It seems like they just need to sit down,” Keene said. “Usually the department is extremely cordial and relationships with Deerfield are usually good.”
Whether UMass can return the artifacts to the Yazwinski family or not is not under UMass’ control, Chilton said.
Relocating artifacts falls under the jurisdiction of the Massachusetts Historical Commission, the agency from which Chilton receives permits to conduct all her research for the university.
Whether she is researching private or public land, Chilton applies for a state permit to make sure there is a record of her work for future generations. Part of the permit includes her research design — the soil testing methods, site location, kinds of analysis to be done and where the artifacts will be curated.
Because the state issues permits and regulates her work, Chilton said the Massachusetts Historical Commission should be a part of the conversation with the Yazwinski family.
However, the state Historical Commission declined to comment on this story through a spokesperson after several requests when asked whether the artifacts could be relocated and whose ownership they fall under.
State Archaeologist Brona Simon also did not return calls for comment.
In the past, Keene said the “policy was that usually the property becomes the property of the state. If the landowner wants artifacts back, it is negotiated at the time permission is given to go on the land.”
Tim Nourse, of Nourse Farms, an 800-acre fruit farm in Whately, also invited the university’s field school onto his land in 2002.
Seeing the study as a learning opportunity for himself and students, Nourse allowed the school to survey one acre of his property on Kellogg Hill by the Connecticut River for one month during the summer. Nourse said he often welcomes researchers onto his property.
Last year, he learned from the Deerfield Historical Commission that the artifacts should be considered his property. Nourse contacted the university in February of last year, requesting a site report on the 2002 study. Last October, the school provided him with a report, detailing findings of artifacts from 7,000 years ago.
“It adds to the history of the farm,” Nourse said. “It was good to learn and have this as a reference.”
Nourse said he has not decided yet whether he will ask to have the artifacts back.
These interactions between Deerfield landowners and UMass are part of the motivation behind a town policy, advocated by David Driver, a Deerfield Historical Commission member. The policy was pushed forward by the commission and adopted by the Board of Selectmen.
Called “the archaeological accountability policy with a site monitoring program,” it is meant to enhance transparency, according to the commission.
“It also was to protect the private landowner and his or her property which lies in or on their land,” Driver said. “It was to foster transparency between the affiliated archaeologist with the town of Deerfield.”
Much of the conflict, he explained, is a result of a contradiction in state laws regarding archaeology. The state has a different set of regulations for archaeology digs on private and public lands.
Under state General Law Chapter 9, Section 27C, a state body — such as the UMass field school — is required to get a state permit from the Massachusetts Historical Commission to work on public land.
Artifacts found on public land by a state body with a state permit belong to the state, according to the law. The state law, however, does not address artifacts found on private property.
Federal law, on the other hand, states if the land is privately owned, the artifacts belong to the private landowner. The artifacts remain the property of the private landowner unless there is a contract specifying otherwise.
When asked whether a state entity can go on private land with a state permit and keep the artifacts found, on private land, Brian McNiff, the spokesman for the state Historical Commission, simply referred to the state statute.