Taunton River Wild & Scenic Study

Archeology Experts Meeting

5-14 -03


Principles and Concepts of Protecting and Managing Cultural Resources:  Tom Mahlstedt


I. Description

In 22 mile upper Taunton River section proposed for Wild and Scenic River designation, a preliminary investigation showed at least 40 known sites.   Cultural Resources includes the bits and pieces of evidence we have that provide what we know for the collective memory of the cultures that lived here.  Collective memory includes the morals, laws, tools, art and equipment that people developed as they lived here.  There are four principle types of Cultural Resources:  archeological, historical, cultural landscapes and historical records and archives.  The presentation tonight focuses on archeological resources.


Archeology is a subfield of Anthropology and as such is concerned with human behavior, in this case past human behavior.  Archaeologists study past behavior by analyzing the association and relationship – the patterning – of tools and implements and other aspects of material cultural that former peoples left behind.  Archaeological resources are extremely subtle and fragile and easily disturbed by anything that modifies the ground surface.


In the Upper Taunton River watershed the three principal subfields of archaeology are well represented:  prehistoric, historic and industrial.


Prehistoric Archeology

Prehistoric Archaeology covers the period from 12,000 – 500 years ago: it focuses on peoples who had not developed writing and had no written records.  The beginning of this era was shortly after the glaciers had left the Upper Taunton River.  The first colonists, Paleo Indian hunters and gatherers entered a tundra-like landscape shortly after the last glaciers receded from the region. One of southern New England’s best known Paleo sites occurs at Lake Assawompsett in Middleboro, a short distance from the Taunton River. Interestingly, as the climate changed over the next millennia and new flora and fauna established itself, instead of leaving the area, the Native Americans adapted to the new resource base by simply developing new tool types. Archaeologists believe there was something special about the Taunton River area during early prehistoric times because there is an unusually high frequency of Early Archaic sites (ca 10,000 – 8,000 years ago). The abundant natural resources of the Taunton River itself, together with its many tributaries and the close proximity of  the well-watered coastal plain must have been particularly important at this time, and remained so throughout prehistory since successive Native American occupation occurred until the first Europeans entered the region. 


No fewer that 40 prehistoric sites document the existence of Native Americans on the Upper Taunton River for nearly 12,000 years. Significantly, because many of these sites were excavated and published by members of the Massachusetts Archaeological Society we have much more detailed information about their age and function than in other portions of the state.


Historical Archeology

Historical Archaeology focuses on the physical remains of activities from the time when Europeans first made contact with the local Native Americans about 500 years ago and runs almost to the present. Historical archaeology, as its name implies, deals with literate societies whose documentary sources can themselves provide a data base for identification of artifacts and features, as well as for the interpretation of the behavior patterns that created them.  Thorough archival research (probate records, deeds, title historic maps and Atlases) can often be nearly as important as the actual process of excavation at historic sites.


Historic archaeological sites, like their prehistoric counterparts, are not easily generalized.  Their form, size and manner in which they were created differs greatly: they may have resulted from domestic personal, or household activities, or from commercial, industrial, agricultural, or military activities and they may be in, or were in, urban or rural settings.


Industrial Archaeology

Industrial Archaeology is a specialized sub-field of historical archaeology, which focuses on the remains of American industry.  Industrial archaeologists study the remains of buildings which housed commercial and manufacturing activities, or related structures and features such as canals, bridges and roadways.  Machinery, which represent both the mechanisms by which products were made, as well as the by-product of the technological process itself, as well as the lives of the workers who used them, are among the artifacts and topics studied by Industrial Archaeologists.. 


In the face of increasing development there is an incentive to preserve a representative selection of obsolete industrial activities, since industry is of itself a significant part of this country's heritage.  Industrial archaeologists provide technical information on specific aspects of obsolete processes which can be obtained from no other sources.


II. Threats

In the last 25 years, archeological resources have been threatened as never before.  They are destroyed by construction, residential development, strip malls, industrial parks, utilities, buildings, boat houses, roads and even small projects such as fences and signage.    The small pockets of open space that we are able to set aside have become the sanctuary for our cultural resources, just as they are for natural resources.  Only with proper foresight and planning can we preserve significant areas.


III. Protection Strategies

On the books, there has been legislation for preservation of historic resources for years.  However, agencies—both state and federal—have a checkered record of preservation.  Not only do we have a legal responsibility, we have a moral and ethical responsibility to protect our heritage.  These sites are our communal heritage, our Common  Wealth. Once these sites are destroyed, we cannot get them back.


The mission of Cultural resource Protection and Management should be included in the Wild & Scenic management strategies.  A properly designed resource management plan will let us know what to preserve.  It should be based on research and inform us what to preserve, by indicating where it is located, what its condition is, what its size and function was, and how important it is.  This information is critical to determining what should be preserved, and help to prioritize sites for protection.


At DEM and MDC, we have found that good natural resource protection goes hand in hand with archaeology protection. Many of the important historic areas are close to water bodies and are protected by the wetlands act, the rivers act as well as by open space protection. 


The principle strategies that communities have include:   This section reports on both Tom’s comments and those of the participants:

(1) Massachusetts Historical Commission (MHC):   should any project entail disturbance of soil, the MHC should review the project.  If you suspect that a project will impact a significant cultural resource, call the MHC.  MHC can require filing a Public Notification Form  (PNF) to determine if a project is significant.  MHC has 30 statutory days to review permits and they have the ability to require additional information and get an additional 30 days.  MHC can require mitigation.


(2) Where ever federal or state money is involved, or a Corps of Engineers permit is required, a PNF must be filed with the MHC (Note because it is a federal program and Army Corps permits are required for work adjacent the river it is automatically a Section 106 Review process).  For us s. 106 is an ally because of the higher degree of scrutiny that is involved.


(3) Because even visitor uses and small projects can harm archeological sites (fence posts, benches, tree planting) we need to have alternative uses for significant areas.  For example we can have benches placed on the ground (and not dug into the soil) and signs on trees and not on posts inserted in the ground.  At one point in time, Native Americans buried the dead in the fetal positions, planting a tree or signpost with cement could destroy the site.


In assessing the potential impacts of proposed projects to archaeological resources we can develop a model of sensitivity using site location criteria:  statistically we know that sites are likely to be within 1000 feet of fresh water, on slopes less than 5%, and on well drained soils.  When you put the three factors together, you can identify areas of high archeological significance.  When work in done in these areas we need to use the gentlest, softest and kindest means possible.  Regardless of how large or small the proposed project is, until proven otherwise, we need to consider that the project will cause damage.  Often by testing and researching the site ahead of time, the proponent saves both time and money.   Examples given included the Bunker Hill restoration by the National Park Service where preliminary work was not done and the project had to be stopped until the unexpected findings were protected; the Wellfleet Harbor Ossuary that was discovered during an upgrade of a sewage system. 


(4) There are some communities that have instituted proactive planning.   For example Somerset has a “Cultural Resource Management Plan” in place.  This plan identifies areas of significant and moderate sensitivity and build and no build areas which are mapped out.  Bill Napolitano has worked with this plan.  If the project is in a no build area, than either due diligence is expected or the developer must reconsider the project. 


(5)Middleborough Planning Director has mapped the significant areas.


Tom reiterated that at the basis of archeological work is the understanding that once a site it is gone is gone forever.  Archaeological sites are unique records of past behavior, once destroyed they are ruined.  As we move ahead, we should develop resource plans, conservation restrictions, tools of environmental projection and work on strategies to implement the program.  Tom offered to work with us to develop language for our plan and to work to find unique opportunities for protection.


Upper Taunton River Archeology:  Bill Taylor

Bill said that excellent sites in Massachusetts include the Taunton, Connecticut, Ipswich, North and Merrimack Rivers, the places where the estuaries connect to fresh water.  Often sites are found at the junctions of rivers, such as where the Mat field and Town Rivers join to become the Taunton River.  We can also find sites where there were fishing stations:  spawning runs, rapids and ponding areas.  


Major findings in the Upper Taunton River watershed include:     


This 1 ˝  mile stretch probably served as a base camp for outlying areas.  Bill has collected 10,000 pieces over the past 60 years.  Ralph Nickerson had a collection of 2000 pieces from the Titicut area.


Plymouth Street  Site (Bridgewater):  this is an early archaic site (9000-8000 year old). They may have commuted here for the fall and spring to hunt and fish and then back to base at Titicut.


Raynham: Small sites along the river and southwest of Lake Nippenicket. 


Taunton:  Frank Hammond has a collection of 600+ pieces.


Taunton- Lake Sabbatia:   several sites around the lake.


Somerset: Warren Goff has a collection of 9000 pieces from the Lower Taunton River.


Fall River, Assonet, Freetown: Roy Athearn had a collection of 13,000 pieces.


The upper Taunton has yielded an unusually high concentration of Early Archaic Bifurcate Points:  Bill Taylor himself has 88 specimens from here and other collects have reported 30 specimens (totaling 118).


Good natural resources drew the early Native Americans here.  Bill has found the following today and extrapolating back, assumes that the resources were here then in similar or larger abundances:


  • 360 species of plants found in area used.
  • 7 types of mussel (no shellheaps found in upper).
  • Rich oyster beds in Berkley, Dighton, Freetown, Somerset and Fall River.
  • 29 species of native and diadromous fish in upper Taunton.
  • Juvenile sturgeon found in the Nemasket and Forge River up near the dam.
  • Seals have been seen in the Nemasket (32 miles upstream) and Satucket (45 miles upstream).  As the water becomes cleaner, the seals are returning.
  • 9-10 cold water (trout) streams.
    • Raynham 5.
    • North Middleborough 3.
    • Bridgewater 2.


Good surveys by Camp Dresser McKee on the upper river when they were researching the Upper River Diversion.  Brian Reed provided especially good information from Route 104 to Route 24.



9000-8000 BP (Before Present).  Bill found bifurcated points, early archaic Dalton Points, Parallel Stem Points, which are very rare in New England.  The bifurcated points are found on terraces of rivers.


8000-6000 BP.  Bill found many Neville and Stark Points.


6000-3700 BP:  Bill said that Merrimack points were also found showing that people had really settled in.  Also Brewerton and Atlantic Points and Squibnocket Triangles have been found.


4300 BP.   The presence of small stem was very strong at Titicut


3700 - 2700 BP.  Evidence of the Susquannna tradition. Bill found a cremation burial at the Seaver Farm as well as axes, pestles, celts.  Bones were put in secondary burials near creation.  They found also points from NY state made of chert or flints.  There were also some Ohio points and Pennsylvania types.


2000-1000 BP.  Bill found a variety of points—Meadowood, Jack’s Reef, Greene, Fox Creek.


1000-400 BP.  Bill found many Levanna and Madison Triangles.


400-150 BP.  Bill found copper items, bone points embedded in charcoal, sharks teeth, gunflints (mostly English, some French), musket balls.  One of the graves had glass beads.  Iron tools appear probably obtained from the colonists through trade or land sales.


Overall, the Upper Taunton is one of the largest areas of early archaic artifacts in the State of Massachusetts and New England.


Important sites were also found along the

Town River

Nemasket River

Matfield & Hockomock Rivers

Tributaries including Snows Brook in Bridgewater


Bill feels that the major sites in the upper Taunton River  include Seaver Farm, Titicut, Fort Hill Bluff site and Taylor Farm. DEM recently bought the Fort Hill Field site.  Seaver and Titicut are protected by the town of Bridgewater.  And the Taylor Farm has a 61A on it.



Questions and Answers


1) In your opinion, is the archeology an outstandingly remarkable value in the Upper Taunton?

(Tom) There is an unusually high site density of archeology findings.  Something was going on here in the mainstem basin and in the tributary streams.  There was obviously an enormous natural resource base here.  Even though flora and fauna changed over time, instead of leaving, Native Americans adapted their tools kits and stayed.  The food sources must have been excellent.  They didn’t have to travel for food.  Something was special here.  The Native Americans stayed from 9000 to historic times. 


(Bill) The variety of points are unheard of.  There is something significant here.  It is a very important part of the landscape that is important for us today.


2) Is this a place where farming took hold in Native American Life? 

There are signs in late Woodland and Contact Periods. We don’t think that horticulture altered the hunting and gathering cultures.  Native Americans couldn’t rely on hunting and gathering because of climate.  Fishing was obviously very important. Horticulture could well have supplemented these people.


3) How can we protect the sites through education. 

Many new people are moving in and they have no connection to the land and to our history.

Education can be one way.  The Wild and Scenic management plan could recommend bylaws similar to Somerset, sites could be identified by Planning boards, Conservation Commissions, Zoning Boards of Appeals.  We could use tools that we use for protecting our natural resources:  conservation restrictions, purchase, transfer of development rights. 


4) What do we do when we know that developers destroy sites rather than go through paper work?

Model bylaws on earth removal could include a trigger for depths which could help with archeology.


We all agreed that all our outstanding remarkable values come together affecting each other.  The river resources-- biodiversity, herring and fisheries-- brought people to our rivers leaving behind archeology and history and today provide great recreational opportunities. 


Notes by Joan Kimball

Reviewed by Tom Mahlstedt and Bill Taylor