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  • Crafting Collaborative Archaeologies:Two Case Studies from New England
  • Elizabeth S. Chilton (bio) and Siobhan M. Hart (bio)

Recently archaeologists in North America have sought to engage contemporary descendants and nondescendant local communities. In many cases this is a result of the longtime efforts of Indigenous communities (e.g., Atalay 2006; Kerber 2006; Nicholas 2006; Silliman 2008; Watkins 2003). Over the past twenty years many archaeologists have attempted to respond to community demands for transparency and have considered issues of relevance and consequences of scientific research through collaborative and community-based archaeology projects (for example, see the collections of essays in Kerber 2006 and Silliman 2008). At the same time, one of the greatest challenges facing archaeologists today is engaging the diverse individual and community stakeholders who make up pluralistic communities. Engaging multiple stakeholders means that there can be no "one size fits all" model of collaboration. This is certainly evident in New England, where the complexities of federal recognition, the diaspora of some Native communities, and the deep and conflicted colonial history present challenges to archaeologists in their attempts at—and in the possibilities for—collaboration.

In this article we consider two major projects with which we have been involved over the past twelve years in New England. Each developed as an archaeological field school. We initiated these projects because of the potential for engagement with contemporary Native peoples, and as such they are built on a collaborative foundation "from the [End Page 87] ground up" (Chilton 2006). We discuss each with a particular focus on the role of collaboration in directing a field school. The first study examines work with a federally recognized tribe, and the second describes collaboration with Native representatives and other stakeholders in an area lacking resident recognized tribes. We consider the varied levels of inclusion, collaboration, and engagement in each case. We compare the projects to clarify the challenges of working with a wide variety of stakeholders and of training students in collaboration in a field school context.

The Lucy Vincent Beach Site

The Lucy Vincent Beach site is located in the Town of Chilmark, on the western end of the island of Martha's Vineyard, and in the traditional homeland of the Wampanoag Tribe at Gay Head (Aquinnah). The site is on the top of a forty-foot cliff overlooking a town beach and is eroding at a rate of approximately two meters or six feet per year (Chilton and Doucette 2002). The site was discovered in the winter of 1995, when beachcombers found human remains on the town beach. Archaeologists from the Massachusetts Historical Commission (MHC) were called to the site to excavate the rest of the remains of the individual from an eroding cliff face. Additional human remains were discovered the following year, and again MHC archaeologists salvaged the burial. Because the MHC salvage excavations at the site were limited to recovering the two burials, little was known about the site at the time. Both the Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe and the MHC were concerned that there was almost no way to prevent people on the beach from picking up or disturbing artifacts or human remains. There was also the fear that once the location of the site became known, it would attract illegal digging.

The project was initiated by Elizabeth Chilton and Dianna Doucette at the suggestion of the state archaeologist at the MHC, Brona Simon. Early in 1997 we made inquiries with the Aquinnah Tribe to see if they would be supportive of an archaeological survey and, possibly, a future field school at the site. Because the Tribal Historic Preservation Office (THPO) had not yet been established, we dealt almost exclusively with Aquinnah's Natural Resources Department personnel. In early 1997 a full proposal was submitted to and approved by the Tribal Council as [End Page 88] well as the Board of Selectmen (the site is located on private land permanently leased to the Town of Chilmark), and the Massachusetts Historical Commission. This was an iterative process involving numerous meetings and exchanges of phone calls and faxes of draft proposals and explanations of field methods. Questions and concerns from the Tribe focused on access to the site during our excavations...


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