Deerfield commission creates new policy for archaeological digs

SOUTH DEERFIELD — A new proposed policy would give the Deerfield Historical Commission oversight over all town archaeological resources and enhance accountability among archaeologists surveying and digging land in town.

The policy, called the archaeological accountability policy with a site monitoring program, will be on the Board of Selectmen’s table at its Wednesday meeting to adopt or reject, David Driver, a historical commission member, said.

It would require archaeologists who come to Deerfield with a state permit from the Massa-chusetts Historical Commission to go before the Deerfield Historical Commission first. The policy would enable the local board to protect private lands and archeological resources in town, Driver said. The policy wouldn’t inhibit archaeologists from digging, Driver said. Rather it would help the town work with others and help the community have a better understanding of its past.

“The accountability policy is for Deerfield so we can know what (researchers) are doing in and out of our town and what they’re collecting. We would hold them accountable,” Driver said.

Before any archaeological survey is started, an archaeologist would have to meet with the Deerfield Historical Commission and present a state permit, research design and scope of proposed work, the contract agreement with the private landowner, and a property ownership plot plan showing boundary pins and a site preservation plan. No application fee would be required.

After the survey, the archaeologist would have to bring a site report and artifact list and a preservation, display and/or accessibility plan to the local commission.

According to the proposal, the benefits of the policy include increased awareness of all proposed state permitted archaeological surveys taking place in Deerfield, transparent relations between professional archaeologists and the town, public access to town records of historical significance for researchers and unimpeded archaeological work with full accountability to the Deerfield Historical Commission.

Mean-while, on the state level, a proposed bill by Rep. Peter Kocut of Northampton and Rep. Ellen Story of Amherst would create a commission to study the existing state laws governing archeological and geological resources and hold public hearings. The proposed commission would determine whether current laws regarding archaeological, geological and fossil resources found within the Connecticut River Valley are strong enough.

Currently, state law requires a state body to acquire a state permit from the Massachusetts Historical Commission to work on public land. If the body goes on public land with a permit, the artifacts belong to the state. But if the land is privately owned, the artifacts belong to the private land owner.

The House Bill 744, was proposed on Jan. 17 of this year. The bill is currently in the House Ways and Means Committee and has not been funded yet. Kocut and Story did not return calls for comment.

According to the bill, the commission would be made up of three members of the House of Representatives, appointed by the speaker, and three members of the Senate appointed by the senate president. For both House and Senate members, two of each have to be from districts along the Connecticut River. The commission would also include four members appointed by the governor, which would include one professor of archeology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, one professor on western Massachusetts geological formations from a state college or university, one environmental police officer and one Native American descendant from a tribe indigenous to the region. The last member appointed by the secretary of state would be knowledgeable on the valley’s resources.

The bill came to the attention of the Deerfield Historical Commission as it researched its own accountability policy. Much of the local historic commissioners are still determining what the impact of a state commission could be on the Pioneer Valley and the town’s own proposed accountability policy. Many of the Deerfield commissioners see the proposed bill as unclear and seek to research its origins.

“It’s hard to take a stand on something that isn’t well defined,” said John Nove, chairperson of the Deerfield Historical Commission. “We feel we don’t have all the information on it. We’re curious how it came to being. None of that information is available.”

Driver also said the local board doesn’t have an opinion yet on the bill because of the way it is written. Driver, who has monitored Deerfield sites since 1995, said “we’ve been creating and drafting an accountability and site monitoring policy for the town of Deerfield to hold archaeological entities who come to town to dig accountable for what they’re doing. That’s what we’re doing. We don’t know what the rest of the state is doing.”

Nove does believe the commission should have representation from the public on it through its historical commissions.

On Dec. 9, the historical commissions across the valley will meet for the first time. At that time, Nove said he will ask the various commissions to write letters to the state representatives requesting one historical commission member from the valley be on the study commission.

Any kind of visibility as to what is happening from an archaeological perspective is a good thing. I think it would be very interesting to see artifacts that are excavated on display somewhere. I also believe archaeology is somewhat misunderstood and needs a public relations facelift. The valley holds so much history right under our feet, it should not be hidden.

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