New Indigenous history explored in documentary series

  • A legal dispute regarding a Native American religious site at the Turners Falls Municipal Airport is explored in the “Hidden Landscapes” documentary series. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Doug Harris, an expert in the use of ceremonial stone structures among Northeastern American Indigenous groups, will participate in question and answer sessions following each screening in the “Hidden Landscapes” documentary series. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 2/11/2021 10:45:46 PM

New views on the ancient history of Indigenous American civilizations — based partly on evidence from local archaeological sites — will be discussed in a series of online film screenings and panel discussions over the next two months.

Starting this weekend, the “Hidden Landscapes” documentary series explores evidence suggesting that humans may have arrived on the American continent about 10,000 years earlier than the commonly accepted date of about 13,000 BC.

Each screening is followed by a question and answer session with the director of the series, documentary filmmaker Ted Timreck, and Doug Harris, an expert in the use of ceremonial stone structures among Northeastern American Indigenous groups.

The screening series at is sponsored by the Nolumbeka Project, a Greenfield-based group that promotes research on local tribal history, the River Valley Co-op in Northampton and the Karuna Center for Peacebuilding, based in Amherst.

The first movie in the series, “The Great Falls: Discovery, Destruction and Preservation in a Massachusetts Town,” looks at a local controversy from 10 years ago over a ceremonial stone site that was discovered at the Turners Falls Municipal Airport. The issue developed into a legal dispute between the town of Montague and the tribal groups involved with the site, and ended up with a federal court finding that the site must be preserved.

The legal case itself is also historically significant, said David Brule, president of the Nolumbeka Project. It was one of the first times that federal laws governing such historical sites were invoked, and so it established some important legal precedents. The final ruling was the first time that the U.S. Department of the Interior marked a Native American religious site east of the Mississippi River for preservation, Brule said.

“It was key to the preservation of other sites, and kind of a case study of what can go wrong with the law process and what can go right,” Brule said. “That’s why we’re launching this as a kind of keystone to the other films.”

The following three movies in the series present a theory that the ancient civilizations of the Americas may have been far older than historians commonly believe, and that they may have been more technologically sophisticated than they are commonly portrayed to have been.

Timreck, director of the series, holds a research position at the National Museum of Natural History’s anthropology department, and has made historical documentaries for the Smithsonian Institution and PBS. He has said that the origin of the stone ruins of the Northeast remains one of the most controversial mysteries of American anthropology.

New archaeological evidence, Brule said, may support views that humans have been here much longer than is commonly believed. Traditionally, researchers have considered the earliest artifacts in the Northeast to be about 13,500 years old. But newer findings appear to be about 10,000 years older, and may indicate there were people crossing between America and Europe long before Christopher Columbus, Brule said.

“It’s very breaking news,” Brule said.

The movie screenings are Saturday and Sunday, and the first three Saturdays of March, all at 2 p.m. Each will be followed by a question and answer session. Registration is available at The programs are free, but donations are requested.

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