Archaeological school benefits tribe, students

Glastonbury - Archaeological study should be about more than digging up artifacts.

In fact, it ought to give back as much as it takes.

So says Stephen Silliman, a UMass Boston professor whose Eastern Pequot Archaeological Field School has been proving the point for a decade.

The project, which aims to unearth the history of the Easterns' 330-year-old reservation in North Stonington, has trained more than a hundred students, inspired more than a dozen master's theses and benefited from the insights of tribal members who've been paid for their contributions to the study.

One of the Easterns who participated in the project is now working as an archaeologist for the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center.

Silliman described the collaboration here Saturday at Smith Middle School, delivering the keynote address at the 17th annual meeting of the Friends of the Office of State Archaeology. His talk was titled, "Change, Continuity, and Collaboration: Studying Eastern Pequot History in Southeastern Connecticut."

State archaeologist Nicholas Bellantoni, who introduced Silliman, noted that Connecticut tribes have been at the forefront of the movement to develop relationships between Native Americans and the archaeological community.

He said that in addition to the Easterns, the Mashantucket Pequots, the Mohegans and the Schaghticokes of Kent have worked closely with archaeologists seeking to study their histories.

While securing federal recognition enabled the Mashantuckets to do a considerable amount of archaeological work on their reservation, the Easterns, lacking such status, had done almost no such research as the 21st century began, according to Silliman.

The Easterns' 225-acre reservation, rocky and difficult to farm, nevertheless provided "pristine" archaeological sites. The field school project provided undergraduate and graduate students with a laboratory in which to help the tribe preserve its history and culture at minimal cost to the community.

"Not a penny comes out of the Eastern Pequots' budget to make this happen," Silliman said of the project.

Students involved in the project make it a point to meet and engage with tribal members, a process that some in the archaeological community argue compromises the science, Silliman said.

"I disagree fundamentally with that," he added.

The field school has closely examined seven sites on the North Stonington reservation, all of them dating to between 1750 and 1850. Among the artifacts that have been discovered are ceramics, glass beads, ox and horse shoes, straight pins, shells and the remains of cattle, pigs, chickens, dogs and fish.

So far, little has been discovered that dates to the reservation's earliest period, from about 1680 to 1750.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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