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Posted 9/6/2016

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By Ann Marie R. Harvie
USACE, New England District


A team of New England District archeologists and assistants traveled to Jamaica State Park, downstream of Ball Mountain Lake in Vermont, to conduct an archeological survey at a site that is part of a potential District project.

The survey took place on June 27-30 and again on July 19-22.  “There is a proposed project to widen certain sections of the West River Trail which was originally an old railroad bed,” said archeologist Kate Atwood.  “The District wants to get heavy equipment to the foot of the dam in case they have to do any major maintenance in case of a failure.

According to Atwood, the team looked at areas of archeological sensitivity along the trail since it goes right along the entire length of the West River.  The survey was performed in compliance with Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act.  “We have to take into account cultural resources as part of any federal undertaking,” explained Atwood.  “In this case we knew there were archaeologically sensitive areas and known sites.  We had to identify if there were any other sites or extensions of the existing sites in the area before we could determine if there were going to be any issues to take into account.

The team dug test pits in areas where the District planned proposed truck pull-offs to compensate for the narrow trail.  The pull-offs would allow trucks to pull over to make way for trucks coming from the opposite direction.  Those areas were previously determined to be archeologically sensitive.  The team laid out linear transects and then dug a line of test pits in certain areas that were known to be archeologically sensitive.  The size of the transects varied, with one about 240 feet long.  “There are just certain flat areas that would be sensitive for sites to have Native American archeological sites,” said Atwood.  “These are the areas we tested.

One might assume in this day and age that there would be high tech devices to scan the soil for arrowheads and ancient tools.  The reality is much different.  “We have shovels and we have a tool that we call a screen,” said Atwood.  “It’s on feet and has handles and there is a screen with one quarter inch squares.

Atwood explained the archeologists place soil onto the screen and shake.  The dirt falls through the tiny openings leaving rocks and any artifacts behind.  The work is labor-intensive – the archeologists dig test pits 2’x2’ deep.  “You dig down to what we call the glacial till or approximately three feet, whichever comes first,” said Atwood.

Still, this type of work isn’t all bad.  “It’s a lot of fun,” said Atwood.  “You get to play in the dirt.

In addition to Atwood, New England District’s other archeologist Marc Paiva worked on the survey.  Assisting were Mike Kaminski, Grace Moses and Ken Levitt.  One assistant would record findings while the others helped dig and sift through the soil looking for artifacts.  In the end, the team found a few stone flakes that were a by-product of Native stone tool making along with modern items such as glass, charcoal, shotgun shells, a portion of a railroad spike, and a marble.  “The flakes that we found were across the trail from a known, very large, very significant archeological site, so it’s probably just an extension of that site,” said Atwood.

Had the team found anything, the process would have been a lot lengthier and more detailed.  “Anything we find we record it, wash it and bag it up,” said Atwood.  “We send any artifacts to the Vermont Heritage Center where they curate items indefinitely for scholarly research.

Additionally, Atwood said that more test pits would have been dug around any positive test pit (with artifacts).  “Test pits are usually 24 feet apart, but we would dig 12 feet away in the cardinal directions – north, south, east and west – to define the limits if there’s a site.  If those are negative, then it’s what we call an isolated find.  That is what we found at Jamaica State Park.

The New England District archeologists look at every District project to see if a survey is warranted, but according to Atwood, many times there has already been disturbance.  “We look at some maintenance dredging that the work has already disturbed what may have already been there,” she said.  “But we do coordinate everything with the state historical preservation officer as well as the tribes to determine if they have any concerns.  Most of the time, I would say that 90-percent or more of our projects are mostly just letters that indicate a negative no effect on historic properties.

Atwood will be creating an end of field work letter and soon after a final report.  Although no other surveys are planned for this fiscal year, you never know what next year’s projects will dig up for the archeologists.

A team of New England District archeologists and assistants traveled to Jamaica State Park, downstream of Ball Mountain Lake in Vermont, to conduct an archeological survey at a site that is part of a potential District project.

The survey took place on June 27-30 and again on July 19-22.  “There is a proposed project to widen certain sections of the West River Trail which was originally an old railroad bed,” said archeologist Kate Atwood.  “The District wants to get heavy equipment to the foot of the dam in case they have to do any major maintenance in case of a failure.

According to Atwood, the team looked at areas of archeological sensitivity along the trail since it goes right along the entire length of the West River.  The survey was performed in compliance with Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act.  “We have to take into account cultural resources as part of any federal undertaking,” explained Atwood.  “In this case we knew there were archaeologically sensitive areas and known sites.  We had to identify if there were any other sites or extensions of the existing sites in the area before we could determine if there were going to be any issues to take into account.

The team dug test pits in areas where the District planned proposed truck pull-offs to compensate for the narrow trail.  The pull-offs would allow trucks to pull over to make way for trucks coming from the opposite direction.  Those areas were previously determined to be archeologically sensitive.  The team laid out linear transects and then dug a line of test pits in certain areas that were known to be archeologically sensitive.  The size of the transects varied, with one about 240 feet long.  “There are just certain flat areas that would be sensitive for sites to have Native American archeological sites,” said Atwood.  “These are the areas we tested.

One might assume in this day and age that there would be high tech devices to scan the soil for arrowheads and ancient tools.  The reality is much different.  “We have shovels and we have a tool that we call a screen,” said Atwood.  “It’s on feet and has handles and there is a screen with one quarter inch squares.

Atwood explained the archeologists place soil onto the screen and shake.  The dirt falls through the tiny openings leaving rocks and any artifacts behind.  The work is labor-intensive – the archeologists dig test pits 2’x2’ deep.  “You dig down to what we call the glacial till or approximately three feet, whichever comes first,” said Atwood.

Still, this type of work isn’t all bad.  “It’s a lot of fun,” said Atwood.  “You get to play in the dirt.

In addition to Atwood, New England District’s other archeologist Marc Paiva worked on the survey.  Assisting were Mike Kaminski, Grace Moses and Ken Levitt.  One assistant would record findings while the others helped dig and sift through the soil looking for artifacts.  In the end, the team found a few stone flakes that were a by-product of Native stone tool making along with modern items such as glass, charcoal, shotgun shells, a portion of a railroad spike, and a marble.  “The flakes that we found were across the trail from a known, very large, very significant archeological site, so it’s probably just an extension of that site,” said Atwood.

Had the team found anything, the process would have been a lot lengthier and more detailed.  “Anything we find we record it, wash it and bag it up,” said Atwood.  “We send any artifacts to the Vermont Heritage Center where they curate items indefinitely for scholarly research.

Additionally, Atwood said that more test pits would have been dug around any positive test pit (with artifacts).  “Test pits are usually 24 feet apart, but we would dig 12 feet away in the cardinal directions – north, south, east and west – to define the limits if there’s a site.  If those are negative, then it’s what we call an isolated find.  That is what we found at Jamaica State Park.

The New England District archeologists look at every District project to see if a survey is warranted, but according to Atwood, many times there has already been disturbance.  “We look at some maintenance dredging that the work has already disturbed what may have already been there,” she said.  “But we do coordinate everything with the state historical preservation officer as well as the tribes to determine if they have any concerns.  Most of the time, I would say that 90-percent or more of our projects are mostly just letters that indicate a negative no effect on historic properties.

Atwood will be creating an end of field work letter and soon after a final report.  Although no other surveys are planned for this fiscal year, you never know what next year’s projects will dig up for the archeologists.