Roundabout project triggers big dig at site dating back 8,000-plus years

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  • Stephanie Scialo, with Archaeological and Historical Services Inc., keeps notes on a dig site near North King Street in Northampton on Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2019. Behind her is a mound of soil already sifted from the site. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • David Leslie, a senior archaeologist with Archaeological and Historical Services Inc., based in Connecticut, talks about the work at a dig site near North King Street in Northampton on Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2019. The AHS crew includes, from left, Quin Harper, Emma Wink, James Poetzinger and Jordan Tabolt. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Quin Harper, with Archaeological and Historical Services Inc., uses a Munsell Soil Color Book to evaluate a soil sample at the dig site near North King Street in Northampton on Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2019. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • David Leslie, a senior archaeologist with Archaeological and Historical Services, Inc., based in Connecticut, talks about the work at a dig site near North King Street in Northampton on Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2019. The dig is part of a cultural resource survey prior to the construction of a planned roundabout. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Stephanie Scialo, with Archaeological and Historical Services Inc., screens soil from a dig site near North King Street in Northampton on Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2019. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Will Sikorski, with Archaeological and Historical Services Inc., removes soil, one scoop at a time, down to a depth of 60 centimeters at a dig site near North King Street in Northampton on Oct. 2. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Quin Harper, with Archaeological and Historical Services Inc., uses a screener to examine a sample of dirt from a dig site near North King Street in Northampton on Oct. 2. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • A crew from Archaeological and Historical Services Inc. works at one of two dig sites near North King Street in Northampton on Oct. 2. In foreground, from left, are Emma Wink, Quin Harper, James Poetzinger and Jordan Tabolt. In background, using a screener, is David Leslie. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Stephanie Scialo, left, and Will Sikorski, with Archeological and Historical Services, Inc., dig to a depth of 60 centimeters at one of two sites near North King Street in Northampton on Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2019. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 11/4/2019 9:16:47 PM

NORTHAMPTON — On the side of Hatfield Road near North King Street last month, a group of archaeologists were sifting dirt through a screen and carefully dusting off artifacts. They excavated two square pits and found spear points and knives, sharp edges of stone and other objects that lead archaeologists to believe the site dates back to the early archaic period, 8,000 to 10,000 years ago. 

Sites from that period are “incredibly rare,” said David Leslie, a senior archaeologist at Archaeological and Historical Services Inc., the Connecticut-based company contracting with the Massachusetts Department of Transportation on the project. 

“This is a site of regional importance to understand that time period,” Leslie said, standing next to the excavation. 

The dig was triggered by a construction project in the area. A roundabout is set to be built in 2020 at the intersection of North King Street and Hatfield Street and will cost an estimated $3.8 million to construct, according to Wayne Feiden, the Northampton director of planning and sustainability, who is managing the project. 

Because the roundabout project is government-funded, Leslie said, a study of its impacts will need to be completed. The transportation elements of the project will be federally and state-funded, 80 percent and 20 percent, respectively. 

The city already paid for the entire design cost of $110,000, said Feiden: “Of that, $100,000 came from traffic mitigation provided by the River Valley Market when they were first approved and $10,000 from Walmart and other King Street projects.” In addition, the city will also be responsible for costs such as upgrades to water and sewer lines that will be made while the ground is open and the road is being repaved, Feiden said.

Leslie and his team worked at the excavation site for two years on and off and wrapped up in late October. After the archaeologists found evidence that people had lived there thousands of years ago, they did a more intensive dig. During that time, archaeologists found several fire pits, which Leslie said are often associated with living spaces, indoors or outdoors. They also found raspberries and acorn seeds, preserved because they had been charred, which suggests people were there for at least two seasons, Leslie said. Spear points used for hunting during the early archaic period were also found. 

The researchers will spend another year analyzing the artifacts; among other methods, they plan to use radiocarbon dating to determine more precisely how old the objects are.

As the archaeologists dug and dusted off artifacts one day last month, Mark Andrews, tribal cultural resources monitor for the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head, stood by. He goes out on digs to make sure they are in compliance with the law and reports the findings to his tribe’s historic preservation officer. 

The Wampanoags are located mostly on the Cape and Islands, Andrews said, but because there are only two federally recognized tribes in the state, they speak for many other native groups. Groups like the Nonotuck are indigenous to Northampton. 

“There’s less of this stuff to be found because places have been taken and impacted,” Andrews said. “The cultural resources are disappearing rapidly due to land development and land use.” Because the cultural resources are disappearing, archaeology projects like this one are important, he said.

Modern development tends to be in areas that were settled previously by indigenous people, he added. “Some of the best places that were native villages are now towns.” As they say in real estate, it’s “location, location, location,” he said.

Northampton resident John Skibiski recently wrote a letter to the editor calling for the city to not pave over the historic site because he wants it preserved. 

Leslie disagrees. “The site is no longer there, we excavated it. It’s not going to be paved over — it’s gone.”

He added that the state funded the analysis that made the uncovering of the artifacts possible. “We wouldn’t have been able to learn anything about the site if we hadn’t excavated it,” he said.

Greta Jochem can be reached at gjochem@gazettenet.com.




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