Federal law requires construction or development projects using federal funds or conducted under federal permits to take into account their effects on significant archaeological resources. The vast majority of archaeological sites are buried in the ground, necessitating subsurface testing to find them. If significant archaeological sites are found, federal law requires projects to avoid, minimize or mitigate their impacts to them. Avoidance and minimization involves alteration of a project’s plans, which is sometimes impossible. When that happens, then mitigation of impacts means removing part or all of an archaeological site.
In the Marshfield Airport project, a runway was extended into an area adjacent to the Green Harbor River, an area first called Missaucatucket by the Native Americans who had lived in this part of Massachusetts for over 10,000 years. An archaeological survey of the area discovered two significant ancient Native American sites, along with the c. 1638 buried house remains of a Plimoth colony settler. The Native American sites date as far back as 8000 years ago, and provide a wealth of evidence that show the refined use of natural resources to sustain their economic and cultural lives. The colonial house site marks the encroachment of English settlers into Missaucatucket; these colonists adapted some Native American ways but also brought their own traditions.
Large portions of the sites were removed in archaeological excavation, preserving their information. It is not the recovered artifacts per se that are significant it is the stories they tell about the past. The exhibit at the Marshfield Airport, and this website, summarize the stories.
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