Archeological Site Protection within WRP Easements
By David Skinas, Archeologist, NRCS Vermont
Photo: NRCS and US Fish & Wildlife staff excavating a shovel test pit in a planned wetland depression
Vermont's archeological sites are irreplaceable cultural resources that are in danger of being lost forever. Housing and industrial development are the primary threats, but other human activities and natural forces can also destroy sites. Once an archeological site has been destroyed it can never be recreated again. The information contained within a site reveals how ancient Native Americans lived and interacted within the natural environment. When the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) acquires a Wetland Reserve Program (WRP) easement, any archeological site(s) contained within that parcel is protected by conditions set in place within the easement. Language prohibits ground disturbance and other activities that could harm our vanishing archeological heritage.
In 2003, NRCS acquired a conservation easement on 354 acres along the Otter Creek in Pittsford, known as the Pomainville WRP site. This easement also protected four archeological sites that were identified by NRCS. Three of the four sites are precontact Native American sites, two small encampments and a quarry site. The fourth site is thought to be the remains of the early historic period Fort Mott located along the shore of Otter Creek. Before the property rights were transferred to the Vermont Fish and Wildlife department, special protective language was written in the Management Plan to ensure there would be no inadvertent damage to those archeological sites when ground disturbing activities were planned by the State of Vermont. Since the closing of the Pomainville easement several of the abutting properties have also been enrolled in the WRP program. There is no doubt that additional significant archeological sites were protected in those easements as well.
In May of 2013, four ancient Native American sites were discovered on the Lamoureux Farm in Leicester along the Otter Creek during the planning of a wetland restoration project. Many artifacts were recovered on the surface on the access road, including a spear point, arrowheads, and various scraping tools (see photos below). The arrowheads and spear point were primarily used for hunting, but the spear point could have also been used as a knife for butchering or other cutting activities. The scraping tools that were probably hafted on short wooden handles were mostly used for curing hides for clothing or to cover shelters. These artifacts represent some of the domestic activities that occurred at these sites. Based on the stylistic attributes of the specimens, these sites were occupied several to multiple times anywhere from 2,000 to 500 years ago. Shovel test pits were also excavated where ground disturbing practices, such as a wetland depression, were planned.
All artifacts recovered during the planning of WRP projects, as well as all other NRCS program projects, are the property of the landowners. Once artifacts have been cataloged, drawn, photographed, analyzed and information gleaned from them they are then returned to the respective landowner. When NRCS protects wetlands through the WRP program, it is also protecting valuable and irreplaceable ancient Native American and historic period archeological sites. This information helps us better understand Vermont’s rich but disappearing archeological heritage. The success of the WRP program is demonstrated through the protection of multiple resources in perpetuity under one program that has long term benefits for future generations to appreciate.
Chert spear point or knife used for hunting and/or butchering
(Left to right) Teardrop scraper, large end scraper and medium sized end scraper used for curing hides
Quartzite arrowheads used for hunting with tips missing due to impact
NRCS and USF&W staff conducting a systematic surface survey along the access road where artifacts were recovered