Northampton and Mass DOT Still Plan to Destroy Unique 10 Thousand Year Old Native Site
The City of Northampton and Mass Dept. of Transportation still plan to proceed with demolition of a unique "once in a lifetime" ancient Native heritage site - for a traffic circle. Declared unique and recommended for National Registry of Historic Places status by the archaeologist who first investigated, yet another Nayyag heritage treasure is to be destroyed. Nayyag is an area dense with Indigenous heritage, but this is being erased year after year. Just a year ago, another ancient site, about 8,000 years old, was demolished for another traffic circle.
The archaeologist for this site states in their report in regard to the two main loci of retrieval: "both loci were likely occupied during the Early Archaic. A total of 566 pre-colonial Native American artifacts were recovered, as well as 209 historical-period artifacts. The Early Archaic site is eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places . . . ." The problem is, that same person then signs off on a process that ignores recommendations and almost always ends up in erasure of the site. While outsiders may be content with data, descendants of those who lived there need a place where they can visit their heritage. Colonial heritage is preserved across the state with physical places to visit, held intact, paid for with taxpayer monies, and to which projects are deferred. Many towns protect their Colonial spaces with "historic district" designation that attaches many restrictions and prioritizes preservation. The same cannot be said for Indigenous places of heritage.
There is no overall plan to assess and prioritize Native sites for preservation. Meanwhile, the state and municipalities have together preserved most Colonial historic sites. Massachusetts equal preservation says that there must not be discrimination based on race, yet there is a completely opposing situation
regarding historic and archaeological preservation that runs strictly along racial lines.
Because Western Massachusetts in undergoing intensive growth and development, Native sites are being destroyed one after another all up and down the river and along the main tributaries. None of the destroyed sites contain interpretative signage, nor is there public interpretation of any detail available to
educators, nor does Massachusetts protect these sites.
As it stands, a person of Norwottuck descent would wander the city of Northampton finding almost no mention of their people and no physical trace of their legacy. They would find almost nothing on the internet to learn about their past. They would have no representation and no rights as Norwottuck to their legacy. They would have no voice in the disposition of their sites and artifacts. And with the serial demolition of sites in recent history, they would be hard-pressed to find a heritage site that is unviolated and open to them to visit and even offer a bit of tobacco for the Ancestors.
Sadly, Massachusetts has not preserved any sites along the Valley so far that we can document. The only sites that have been preserved have been by private efforts and private funds. There are a few cases where towns chose to preserve a particular Native site, including sacred sites.
Ancient Context of Nayyag and Its Archaeology:
Some 12,000 years ago, the last glaciation of Northeast America came to an end. Mishemachepog, the
"great badwater lake" had filled the Kwenitekwuk (Kwenitekw - Long River +uk, CT Valley) since before
memory. For the next several thousand years, Kwenitekwuk was tundra-like, moving toward seasonally dry
savannah. During this time, the People hunted megafauna, which quickly evolved to the caribou, moose
and beaver of today.
There are a surprising number of ancient Native villages along the Kwenitekw dating back 10,000 -12,000
years. The lower Hudson, some of the near-shore islands, and this valley are the focus of the earliest
people we know in our region. Most of these sites have been badly compromised and none of them are
protected by the state. Today, their disappearance has greatly accelerated.
From 10,000 years ago to 8,000 years ago, this land underwent and uneven but rapid transition from
savannah to early pine forest. This is the time during which the People began to diversify greatly in their
tools and ways of living. The Northeast has a rich local diversification of its People. Many Native people
seem to have relied mostly on caribou that migrated twice yearly through their lands, beaver, and fish. We
know this from the few food remains found.
Ancient Native clans kept close to river valleys where they could rely on the passage of caribou herds in
season, while accessing wetlands for beaver and fish at other times. Most very ancient sites are found in
such places where there is a nearby vantage to observe movements of both game and people along the river.
Also necessary is a freshwater spring, since the presence of beaver contaminates surface water with a
devastating parasite. This same template occurs at most other known ancient sites in Massachusetts and
nearby states, like Amiskwunoag (South Deerfield), Agawam, Wampanucket, Bull Run, etc.
There is a distinct preference in all periods from this point to the Contact period for Native peoples of this
region to locate villages and camps at bends in rivers, usually on the lee side of the current (opposite the cut bank). During caribou-hunting times, grazing is better on the bank where silt deposits. Later, the same
deposition areas became preferred planting lands. Landing misoolesh/mishoonash, dug out canoes, is easier on the lee side of the current, and a bend always provides an associated eddy, so better landings are here also. Being near an eddy makes it safe to bathe and swim, a good place to fish, and so on.
Nayyag holds the complete set of typical features found at Paleo-to-Archaic sites across near-coastal
Northeast. Nayyag also holds the set of features typical of early, middle, and late Woodland periods. So, it
should be no surprise to find out that the site in question is surrounded by an abundance of known
archaeological sites from all periods, as well as those many sites not yet known. There are habitation,
burial, and seasonal "elaithatink" ("hunting-stay-place-at") sites that have already been investigated all
within a day's walk of this site.
There is also a spiritual motivation for siting living space at bends in the flow of water; there is medicine,
energy, in places where the flow of water changes. For all these and other reasons, the same areas tend to
be layered with archaeology through the ages. Places where ancestors stayed also carry powerful medicine.
Nayyag is typical of both ancient and recent Native village sites. Non-Natives often misinterpret recent
sites of concentrated housing as a "village" and all else as camps and outlying "wilderness". Really, the
village extends to all the camps and areas of interaction that lie between one spread of wikwamak and
another. Nayyag associates with Norwottuck and means "Point Land" for the two bends in the river.
Nayyag has several excellent fishing sites for migratory fish. Just south is a place on the east side called
Willimantic - weli+ aman+ ik = good fish place (Wullamanik, and versions of that appear nearby on
Quaboag and other fishing places). Like the South Deerfield site (now under a propane company), this site
has a good overlook, a high bank on which to escape floods and bugs, abundant surrounding natural
wetlands (for beaver, and later, also for waterfowl, eggs, stillwater fish, as well as many plant food staples and home materials - like cattails for food and mats).