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Archeologists will have to report findings

SOUTH DEERFIELD — Archaeologists digging in Deerfield will now have to notify the Deerfield Historical Commission before they break ground and afterward give the town a report of their findings.

On Tuesday, the Board of Selectmen endorsed the policy proposed by the Deerfield Historical Commission, who approved the proposal in June.

The “archaeological accountability policy” is not meant to inhibit research and digs, the commission members said. Rather, the commission created it to increase awareness of state permitted archaeological surveys taking place in Deerfield and to enhance the town’s knowledge of its historic past and to improve public access to town records of historical significance.

The proposal is to prevent excavation of artifacts by archaeologists who do not provide site reports or an inventory of objects removed.

“There is no enforcement built into the policy. We’re just asking people to be good stewards,” said commission Chairman John Nove.

Under the policy, the archaeologists would have to present a state permit, research design and scope of proposed work, the contract agreement with the landowner, and a plot plan showing boundary pins and a site preservation plan. Once the survey was completed, the archaeologist would have to bring a site report and artifact list and a preservation, display and/or accessibility plan to the local commission.

“We just want to know what they are digging so we have some record of our Native American past that was here,” said commission member David Driver. “With the removal of artifacts, we have no record.”

The policy is an effort by the historical commission to prevent state-affiliated archaeologists with state permits from the Massachusetts Historical Commission from removing artifacts from Deerfield property and not informing the landowners what was found.

Recently, some Deerfield landowners have welcomed state-affiliated archaeologists on their land, but have struggled to get site reports, Driver said. The concern is that the artifacts are private property that contribute to the history of the land and have a high value.

Under state General Law Chapter 9, Section 27C, a state body is required to get a state permit from the Massachusetts Historical Commission to work on public land.

Artifacts found on public land by a state body with a state permit belong to the state, according to the law.

The law, however, does not address artifacts found on private property.

Federal law states if the land is privately owned, the artifacts belong to the private landowner. The artifacts remain the property of the landowner unless a contract specifies otherwise.

Getting the policy approved in town has been a long haul for the commission. Driver, the commission’s founder, originally proposed the policy in 2007, when town meeting endorsed it, but the policy never became official due to administrative delays.

This summer, Driver pushed again to adopt the policy.

The effectiveness of such a policy remains to be seen. Gregory Farmer, a historical preservationist for Agricola Corp. of Chicopee, recently advised the commission that chances are slim the state and other archeologists would comply because they aren’t required to by state law, which trumps a local policy.

The town plans to send a copy of the policy to the Massachusetts Historical Commission asking it to notify the town of any future digs.

You can reach Kathleen McKiernan at: kmckiernan@recorder.com or 413-772-0261 ext. 268.

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