Salt Marsh Indian Relics Are Protected

Hampton Union, July 5, 1978, Page 20

DURHAM -- About 3,800 years before the salt marshes of Seabrook were occupied by protesters and the Public Service Company, they were occupied by American Indians. The Indians were still there, fishing and digging for clams and oysters, when the white man arrived on the scene 3,500 years later in the mid-1600s.

Through all those years, those first residents left traces of their way of life, a sort of prehistoric litter that forms a record of the earliest American culture. Fortunately, these traces are saved from obliteration by law; before any construction project which involves federal funds or licensing can begin, a survey must be done of the site to see if significant archaeological resources exist there.

"If the survey concludes that important remains are in the area, there are two options: excavate and remove the artifacts or postpone or cancel the construction," reports Charles Bolian, director of Archaeological Research Services (ARS) at the University of New Hampshire.

At present, Bolian and other members of ARS are responsible for a number of archaeological survey in New Hampshire, mostly under contracts to satisfy federal or state historic preservation laws at construction sites. Acting in such a consulting capacity, Bolian headed the dig at Seabrook in `974 and 1975, and he is currently heading another one near Weirs Beach south of Laconia.

ARS is involved in more than fieldwork, however. "We are also working in cooperation with the state Historic Preservation Office, helping to compile a statewide survey of cultural resources," Bolian says. In addition, ARS offers public education programs in archaeology, including an annual summer field program; but the service's primary function, as part of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at UNH, is to a bring the benefits of archaeological research and education to the university.

"Our policy is that ARS staff who are supported by research grants or project contracts -- all of which come through the university -- will contribute to the anthropology program at UNH by teaching at least one course," Bolian explains. "This has a very positive effect, since people in the field rend to have a special insight which enhances their teaching."

Bolian came to UNH in 1971 after receiving a Ph.D. in archaeology from the University of Illinois, where he was particularly involved in the study of Amazonian prehistory. While working on his dissertation he spent about a year doing research in the Amazon basin in southeastern Columbia.

After he arrived at UNH, he realized that "there is a tremendous opportunity -- and a need -- for research in New England." That means digging, and he got his first major chance with the Seabrook project in '74.

"That was a situation where the options had been reduced: the project was not going to be cancelled or moved, so the job of the archaeologists was to salvage the artifacts and remove them from the site," Bolian explains.

"At the Seabrook site, we found a lot of bone and stone cutting points, pottery and the remains of four humans, as well as a lot of animal remains," he says. "There are probably a lot of sites that would represent roughly the same lifestyle that the Indians had at Seabrook, but each site is different and, therefore, important."

Bolian says that the Seabrook and Weirs digs have increasingly pointed to the strong contribution of American Indians to our lives. "We will be able to understand a good deal more about how cultures adapted to their environments and changed through time," he observes, "and we hope to gain some new insight into the environmental problems of our time."

The Weirs site is unique, Bolian believes, became of its undisturbed nature and the fact that it dates back some 9,600 years -- to a time, many archaeologists believe, when there were few humans in this region. The facts of the Weirs dig seem to indicate, however, that there may have been a large number of campsites in the Weirs area. The work there was only begun in 1976, Bolian points out, and "it's still too early to tell just how many camps there were or how big an area is involved.

"I suspect we'll be another three or four years at this one site, anyway," the archaeologist says. "Our survey of the area has shown another 30 or so possible sites, some of them under existing buildings. It's interesting to think of generations of people, from almost 10,000 years ago right up to the present day, living on the same spot," he comments.

The present dig site, which had been a favorite for artifact hunters since the 1890's was located under a parking lot. "We were pretty sure that it would be badly disturbed," Bolian recalls, "but the remains were undisturbed, probably because they were relatively deep for New England. At the present time, there is nothing like it, of an undisturbed nature, in New England, and that makes it especially good for research."

The artifacts discovered at the site have been carbon dated from 9,600 and 9,000 years ago "right up into historic times." They include blades, seeds, fire pits or hearths, cutting and scraping tools and waste materials. "We have also found some stone-ground tools, and this is a very early date for that kind of thing." Bolian comments. "We should also be finding projectile points -- most likely spear tips rather than arrowheads."

All of these artifacts will help researchers to piece together a few more fragments of the story of man. As Bolian observes: "All of what we find is part of a great historical continuum. The more of this we uncover," he states, "the clearer our understanding of where we've been and the better our idea of who we are."