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After 3 years of Pequot War research, it's time to dig

Mashantucket - More than 350 years after hundreds of Pequot Indians were killed by the colonial and Indian forces who attacked their fort on the Mystic River, the tribe's history remains strong in southeastern Connecticut, where roads and rivers, streams and schools share tribal names.

And now, work by researchers trying to designate the region as a historic battlefield is unearthing new details about Indian and colonial life that would otherwise be lost to history.

"Before I started this project, I thought I was an expert in this field," said Kevin McBride, a professor of archaeology at the University of Connecticut and director of research at the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center. "Not anymore."

McBride and his team of researchers are working with a grant from the National Park Service's American Battlefield Protection Program, which seeks to document and preserve battlefields from early American history. They are also using funding from the tribe, which is hoping to use the endeavor as an opportunity to learn about colonial and Native American life at the time of the Pequot War, which lasted from 1636 to 1638.

"The Pequot War is a very interesting window into that period," McBride said. "There's more known about that period than any other part of tribal and early colonial history and that's because of the war and all the documentation that went with it."

Since its research began in 2007, McBride's team had been focusing largely on what historians call primary sources, firsthand accounts of the Pequot War and the events that led to and followed the conflict.

"Right now, we're trying to put together the larger archaeological history at the time of contact," said Jackie Veninger, a researcher focusing on culture.

Though work has focused largely on records like journals, letters and maps, the amount of content is nowhere near that in later conflicts, like the Revolutionary and Civil wars.

After about three years of focusing largely on documents and records, the project is shifting this summer to fieldwork at sites in and around Groton.

"This summer, things will all change," McBride said. "Everything will be focused on archaeology."

In April, the crew will begin searching for relics, using metal detectors to help locate bits of metal left over from conflicts. While much of what the team finds will likely be debris from centuries of life in the region, they hope to find signs of the attack on Pequot Hill, which was once marked by a statue of colonial commander John Mason on Pequot Avenue in Mystic.

"The positions are marked, in theory, by patterns of brass arrowheads and musketballs," McBride said.

In 1990, the site of the battle was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, but the boundaries were never clearly delineated, McBride said. His team hopes to accurately document the site, which occupies much of what is now Groton, and several other spots in Connecticut and Rhode Island.

On Tuesday, McBride's team is meeting privately with landowners whose property sits on sites that could hold information about the Pequot War.

Ultimately, the Park Service's goal is to create plans for communities to preserve the sites for future generations, though individual property owners can opt out of the designation and the restrictions it entails.

"Our goal is much broader, though: education, preservation, research," McBride said. "We're really finding out a lot about the colonial period through this."

If you go:

WHAT: Pequot Battlefield Information session in which researchers will discuss the project.

WHEN: 6:30 p.m. March 15

WHERE: Groton Town Hall Annex, 134 Groton Long Point Road, Groton.


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