Take Action Now to Save a 10,000-Year-Old Ancient Village Site
The Massachusetts Department of Transportation is planning to destroy an “extraordinarily rare” undisturbed ancient village site that was recently discovered in Northampton, Massachusetts for a traffic roundabout.
The state’s archeological site report which details findings from two years of work there has been unlawfully withheld from the public – but we have obtained a copy from the MA Attorney General which you can download below.
FOR THE MOST RECENT INFO: scroll down to the UPDATES section
Photo: Discovery of an undisturbed village in Northampton from approximately 5,000 years before the Egyptians built the pyramids.
Noted archeologist Dr. Richard Gramly (PhD Archeology, Harvard) reviewed the state’s report, which has still not been made available to the public by the Massachusetts Historical Commission:
“Lands along New England’s Connecticut River harbor important vestiges of early settlements dating from the Glacial epoch. This earliest cultural phase is characterized by hunters who hunted caribou as well as gathered plants, fish, and small game. Their lifestyle came to an end 10,000-11,000 calendar years ago when essentially modern environmental conditions prevailed.
Archaeological sites documenting a transition to modern flora and fauna are rare in northeastern North America. 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.
Therefore, it is shocking to learn that a partially-explored village site of this ancient era in Northampton, Hampshire County, Massachusetts, currently known as the Skibiski Site by MassDOT, is threatened with total destruction by non-essential highway construction.
Expanded study of such a remarkable site, as well as its continuing preservation for future generations of New Englanders, command our attention and must be allowed to proceed without any interference.”
The state’s unreleased 164-page archeological report called the site an "incredibly rare archeological discovery" that is "eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places". The formal recommendation was to preserve the site.
Two federally recognized Native American tribes, the Narragansett and the Wampanoag Aquinnah, have requested full preservation of the site.
According to Dr. Gramly who reviewed the
report, approximately 20-25% of the known site was excavated. 75-80% remains to
be uncovered. Significantly, the state’s report says it is “highly likely”
there are at least two hearths underground waiting to be revealed and
It is also nearly certain that there are further features which have not yet been discovered as the testing interval for the site was too wide to reveal all prehistoric habitation loci.
What can I do to prevent the destruction of this ancient village site?
2. Write Governor Baker, his office is aware and soliciting public comment: https://www.mass.gov/forms/email-the-governors-office
3. Forward that letter to Jose Delgado, Governor Baker’s Director of Western Mass Jose.email@example.com
4. Share this with interested parties, especially the petition on Facebook
For more information contact: John Skibiski 413-586-1827 firstname.lastname@example.org
November 18, 2021: We have formed a new organization to fight the only-for-show Massachusetts Historical Commission and make sure this never happens again: www.nayyag.org
June 16: Detailed summary of recent events from River Valley Co-Op’s newsletter.
June 2: Long article in The Reminder about what has happened so far, from beginning to end, containing many important quotes from the various parties involved. Also, new info from Wayne Feiden, City of Northampton.
May 27th: We have confirmed with the Federal Highway Administration that the project is still on. They are also waiting to hear from MassDOT what “re-evaluate the project” means. Nobody we know has received any further information beyond the MassDOT press release.
May 26th: Northampton Historical Commission votes unanimously that the site should be preserved. The Republican. This is great, but, only the City Council and Mayor have the power to make that vote mean something and they are still pro-roundabout-as-planned.
May 21st: Front page stories about MassDOT’s decision to “re-evaluate the project design” in The Republican and the Daily Hampshire Gazette. CommonWealth Magazine. TV news segments on WGGB TV 40 and WWLP TV 22.
May 19th: Senator Jo Comerford wrote to constituents, “MassDOT will be terminating the proposed roundabout project”. To be clear, this is not our understanding. MassDOT only terminated the active construction contract as the contractors have been sitting idle - for “re-evaluation of the design”. The project has not been terminated.
May 18th: MassDOT issued a press release stating that they will “undertake a re-evaluation of the project design, taking public opposition into account”. The Skibiskis, the Aquinnah Wampanoag, and the Narragansett have not received any direct communication from MassDOT yet, which would have much more legal significance than a press release. Nowhere was it stated that the project has been cancelled, though it appears that all the public attention has saved it from imminent, unlawful, reckless destruction without due process.
February 17th: MassDOT held a public meeting. There was plenty of opposition, including from Mark Andrews of the Aquinnah Wampanoag. MassDOT stated they are continuing with the roundabout project as originally planned. Unbelievably, after discovery of the Native site they did not seek or do analysis of alternatives which may preserve the site. Full 3 hours video, Top 10 Takeaways document, and transcript of key points. Daily Hampshire Gazette article. Next we await the updated MEPA filing from MassDOT for public comment – round II.
February 1st: MassDOT released 578 letters of opposition to destruction of the Native site, which were received by the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act Office (MEPA) prior to MassDOT withdrawing their application.
January 18th: Detailed update letter sent to petition signers. We are demanding major changes at the Massachusetts Historical Commission. This 17-person Commission does not have a single Native American representative on it. Also, a very thorough FAQ document by River Valley Co-op.
January 5-7, 2021: Springfield Republican front page print edition: State backs off Northampton roundabout project at 10,000-year-old native site, WWLP TV22: Northampton rotary construction put on hold after petition gets 55,000 signatures, Daily Hampshire Gazette: State Halts Comment on Controversial Roundabout
December 31st: Letter sent to Governor Baker et al, specifically highlighting unlawful activities by the Massachusetts Historical Commission and MassDOT.
October 10th: Front page article, Daily Hampshire Gazette: Narragansett Indian Tribe Calls to Preserve Indigenous Site as Holiday Looms
October 7th: The Oct 5th press release with the addition of artifact photos, graphics, and maps: Why is Northampton Permitting Destruction of a 10,000-Year-Old Native American Site on Indigenous Peoples Day?
October 5th: The following press release was issued today, in consultation with John Brown, Historic Preservation Officer of the Narragansett Indian Tribe, and Mark Andrews, tribal cultural resource monitor for the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head: Northampton Celebrates Indigenous Peoples Day Permitting Destruction of 10,000-Year-Old Native American Site Eligible for National Register of Historic Places.
September 27th: In advance of Indigenous Peoples Day on October 12th, John Skibiski’s Letter to the Editor in The Daily Hampshire Gazette: Why Does the City Remain Silent About Discovery of Artifacts? And Northampton’s 2016 City Council Resolution establishing Indigenous Peoples Day.
July 13th: The Skibiski injunction hearing originally scheduled for today has been postponed, pending release of Section 106 documents which include formal site assessments by Native American tribes. Also, Daily Hampshire Gazette letters: Diane L. Kleber: Why has roundabout project been ‘secretly managed’ and Rodney K. Kunath: Ditch the roundabout. MassLive article: Native artifacts delay Northampton roundabout construction until at least August.
July 7th: MassLive article: Wampanoag official favors applying brakes to Northampton rotary project for additional archaeological examination.
July 6th: Native American history of the site, written by Nohham Cachat-Schilling, a published researcher on regional Native culture and archaeology, and Chair, Massachusetts Ethical Archaeology Society.
July 3rd: Update email sent to petition signers regarding recent progress and attempts to speak with the Nipmuc Nation. Also, another detailed update post written by River Valley Co-Op. And, an old photo taken near the site.
July 1st: Article in CommonWealth. This article quotes Hartman Deetz, of the Mashpee Wampanoag. The Daily Hampshire Gazette quoted Mark Andrews from the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head, on June 26th. These are the only two federally recognized Native American tribes in Massachusetts. This enables them to participate in the Section 106 process, which will determine the fate of the archeological site.
June 30th: For clarification: The Skibiski family’s #1 desired outcome would be that the site be left undisturbed.
June 30th: Letter of apology to the Nipmuc Nation of Massachusetts. The Skibiski family regrets implying on the petition that we represent them or speak on their behalf in any way. We have been working directly with other Native Americans on this matter and are in contact with federally recognized tribes. We have tried a number of times to contact the Nipmuc with no success.
June 28th: The “Skibiski Site” as named by MassDOT should have an appropriate Native American name.
June 28th: If the Skibiski family wins an injunction on July 13th in Hampshire County Superior Court permitting re-examination the site, thanks to a very generous pro-bono offer from Dr. Mike Prentice, PhD of Geoscy LLC, the greater site area will be scanned with non-invasive Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) to potentially reveal additional features. All new site information will be shared with the public.
June 26th: **IMPORTANT** The Skibiski family received permission from the Attorney General to share the state’s archeological site report with the public. The State Archeologist has still not released it. Download here. Note the summaries on pages 38 & 42. Yellow highlighting ours.
June 26th: Daily Hampshire Gazette: Digging for the truth: Roundabout project stirs archaeological hunt, lawsuit and public outcry (major article)
June 26th: The Attorney General’s office informed the Skibiski’s attorney that there will be “no boots on ground” at the Skibiski site before July 20th. Also, here is the link to the city’s website which states “Project awarded to Ludlow Construction”. And, River Valley Co-Op wrote another detailed post.
June 24th, 2020: River Valley Co-Op wrote a detailed blog post about the recent events and how we got here.
Note on article: The state’s unreleased archeological site report contradicts the public statement above (and others) that “the site is no longer there”.
This website was constructed by Greg Skibiski in an effort to preserve North American history and return the artifacts to Native Americans. The Skibiski family, former owners of the site before it was taken by eminent domain, have been working closely with the Aquinnah Wampanoag and Narragansett tribes in these efforts.