Residents in Northampton, Massachusetts are mobilizing to try and prevent the city from turning the site of 10,000-year-old village into a $3.8 million traffic roundabout.
More than 500 artifacts have excavated from the site and Northampton resident Greg Skibiski is leading an effort to prevent the city from building over the site, which is currently planned to commence in July.
Skibiski has launched an online petition lobbying the Massachusetts Department of Transportation to preserve the site and seek ‘a less destructive and disruptive traffic solution for our community.’
The site of a planned traffic roundabout in Northampton, Massachusetts turned out to be filled with 10,000-year-old artifacts capturing a portrait of what life was like for early inhabitants of the region
The petition has so far attracted more than 50,000 signatures, almost double the number of Northampton residents (28,726).
Skibiski has also retained a local archeologist, Richard Gramly, who received a PhD in Anthropology from Harvard and has published extensively on paleo-indian life and culture.
Gramly described the site as ‘remarkable,’ and one that was still only partially explored, in a statement given in support of the petition.
‘Archaeological sites documenting a transition to modern flora and fauna are rare in northeastern North America,’ Gramly wrote. ‘Intact village sites of this early era that escaped later re-occupation are extraordinarily rare.’
‘Stone artifacts, hearths, dietary remains, and ritual features, which by good fortune survived 10,000 years of burial, are precious to scholars and all students of the human past.’
‘This evidence links New England inhabitants with distant North American peoples of the same period.’
The construction was halted for two years while an independent archeology firm excavated the site, finding spearheads, stone tools, fire pits, and acorn and raspberry seeds that had been preserved through charring
Skibiski also has a personal investment in the issue as he owns the land the village was originally found on.
Skibiski had initially agreed to accept a $57,600 payment from the DOT in exchange for being able to build over a portion of his land for the roundabout, but he estimates the value of the artifacts excavated so far are worth even more, between $80,000 and $120,000.
The artifacts were initially discovered by DOT workers preparing the area for construction, and the department suspended the project while an independent archeological firm was brought in to excavate the site.
The team found a range of artifacts, including spearheads, knives, stone tools, fire pits, and raspberry and acorn seeds that had been preserved by charring.
Before the land belonged to Skibiski, it was the territory of the Pocomtuc and Nonotuck, two groups who have lived in and around what is now Northampton since precolonial times.
Because neither is a federally recognized indigenous group, the excavation was overseen on their behalf by Mark Andrews from the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head.
In an interview with the Daily Hampshire Gazette, Andrews said the groups were reluctant to support the resumption of the roundabout construction.
‘We don’t feel entirely comfortable that all has been done to establish exactly what and where the impacts may or may not be going forward with the construction,’ Andrews said.
‘Whatever is going to provide the most preservation, the most protection for what is still lying underground, we would prefer.’
In addition to his petition, Skibiski has filed a lawsuit in Hampshire Superior Court asking the construction be suspended while he hires an independent archeologist to investigate the site’s ‘archeological and historical value.’
Northamption resident Greg Skibiski owns the land the excavation site was found on, and he has organized a petition to stop the Department of Transportation from resuming construction and also filed a lawsuit claiming there are still more artifacts on the site
According to Skibiski’s lawyer, John Connor of Stobierski & Connor, Skibiski does not believe the initial claim that the two-year excavation accounted for all of the artifacts to be found on the site.
‘We’re really trying to prevent the destruction of the site,” Connor told the Daily Hampshire Gazette.
‘We want to determine a few things: Is there more to be discovered there? What is the value of those discoveries — monetarily, scientifically, archaeologically?’
WHEN DID HUMANS ARRIVE IN NORTH AMERICA?
It is widely accepted that the earliest settlers crossed from what is now Russia into Alaska via an ancient land bridge spanning the Bering Strait which was submerged at the end of the last Ice Age.
Issues such as whether there was one founding group or several, when they arrived, and what happened next have been the subject of extensive debate.
The earliest evidence of human settlers on the continent dates to around 14,000 years ago, with the remains of an ancient village found ‘older than Egyptian pyramids’ found in April 2017.
A recent study using ancient DNA (six) suggests humans arrived to North America 25,000 years ago (two) before splitting into three Native American groups (three and four). The DNA came from a girl who belonged to a group called the ‘Ancient Beringians’
Artefacts uncovered at the settlement, found on Triquet Island 310 miles (500km) northwest of Victoria, Canada, include tools for creating fires and fishing hooks and spears dating from the Ice Age.
Other research has suggested that humans reached North America between 24,000 and 40,000 years ago.
A 24,000-year-old horse jaw bone found in January 2017 in a cave in Alaska had the marks of stone tools, suggesting it was hunted by humans.