Interviewer: Michael N. Kline
Place of Interview: Concord Free Public Library
Transcriptionist: Carrie N. Kline
Michael N. Kline: Today's April [correction: May] 24th and we are Michael and Carrie Kline. And we are at the Concord Free Public Library, the Board Room. It's a beautiful day outside. It's 2:00 o'clock in the afternoon. And would you say, "My name is," please.
Shirley Blanke: Yeah.
MK: Tell us your name.
SB: My name is Shirley Blanke. And--.
MK: One more time.
SB: Shirley Blanke.
MK: Okay. And we never ask people their birthday, but maybe you'd give us your--. Or, we never ask people their age--.
SB: Age. [Laughs]
MK: If you could give us your date of birth so we can put this in a historical perspective.
SB: All right. The second of December, 1934.
MK: '34. Okay. And if you would, please start off, tell us a little bit about your people and where you were raised.
SB: All right. Well, I grew up in England, where I stayed until I was 24 years old. And well, do you want to know about my education background, or just general--?
MK: Whatever you want to tell me.
SB: All right!
MK: Yeah, your educational background . . . .
SB: Okay. Yeah. Well--. Now I grew up on a farm. And but my father was a lawyer in London. So we were out of London during the Second World War because of the bombing. And so I really grew up in Bedfordshire, about twenty miles from where Peter Bulkeley, who was one of the founders of Concord came from. So I feel a certain connection with, and --.
MK: What sort of a place was that, on the farm? What sort of community? What sort of place was it?
SB: Well, there was a village nearby, but we were about a couple of miles away. So we were relatively isolated on the farm. And there was a local, there were two local churches that dated from the—oh about the 14th century. And the one that was nearest to us was rebuilt in the 14th century! And it had some old bronzses and things. And then about a couple of miles in the other direction there were some earthworks, which covered, were extensive. They covered several acres and there was one manmade hill about 50 feet high, from which you could see the whole area all around. And nobody really knew what these things were. And my parents being interested in history, brought me up with that. And I, from childhood, wanted to know what these things were. And that was kind of what steered me towards archeology originally. So I ended up going to Cambridge University and specializing in archeology and anthropology there. And I didn't get back to this earthwork or at least knowing what it was until probably just a few years ago. And I talked to the local archeologist in the local town, Bedford, asked him if they knew what it was. And he said, "Oh, we think it's Medieval." [laughs] So, there were fish ponds, and there were what looked like bases of ramparts over wide areas. But it, you know, just growing up surrounded by that kind of thing gives you an interest if you have that kind of bent at all, so. So anyway, then having finished up at Cambridge and got my degree, I didn't really know what to do next. It wasn't easy to go on with archeology unless you were really at the top of the heap academically, which I wasn't. And there were very few jobs in archeology apart from that.
And then I got the chance to go to the Harvard Business School. So this was through the Cambridge placement office. So I said, "Okay. If they'll take me, I'll try anything once! So I came over here, and at that time women weren't allowed to take the MBA. And so I was in a one year program, which was at Radcliffe, combined with the Business School. And my fellow classmates and I from that just had our fiftieth anniversary. And we really didn't realize at the time to what extent we were making waves for the Harvard Business School, because the year afterwards they took, started to take women. And we could've gone. But we'd made other plans mostly by then. So. But as far as I'm concerned, I met my husband at the end of that time. I came back to England for a while. But we got engaged. And then a year later I was, we were married. And I came back. And we were in the New York environs, and New Jersey. And I had the chance to work as a volunteer at the American Museum of Natural History. And after about a year there they gave me a job, which was very nice. And I was involved in making new exhibits for the Hall of Man in Africa at that Museum. So I spent several years doing that.
MK: Doing the research, or building the exhibits, or--?
SB: Doing the research and working with the designer who built them. Yeah. So I was doing part of the design aspect, but not actually building the things. Yeah. So then after a few years my husband changed jobs. We came up here and I worked for about a year as a research assistant at Harvard. And then I decided--. That was for William Howells, who was a physical anthropologist, very charming man. But I decided I really wanted to see if I could get back into archeology. And at that time Harvard didn't take part time students, so I went to Boston University, and I got my Ph.D there. And I needed to work part time, because I had two small children, and I couldn't see working full time on a doctorate at Harvard. So. So that was that. And then--. That took me ten years, to get through that. And then, well, I actually was--. Before that I had walked into the library here. I was looking for a research topic for my Ph.D. And I saw the library in the front hall there had a little artifact exhibit. So I said, "Where does this come from, this material?" And they said, "Oh, we've got barrels full of it down in the basement." So I said, "Well could I take a look?" And they said, "Yes." And I opened one of the barrels, and I stuck my had in like this. And there were a lot of little, what archeologists call projectile points--Other people call them arrowheads.—Mixed together with small pieces of styrofoam. But anyway, what I pulled out in my hand was a Paleo-Indian point, one of the very earliest kinds of points, goes back to the Ice Age, or just after the Ice Age.
So I thought to myself, "Hmm. I bet that's the only one in the whole collection. But now I have to look to find out!" So they allowed me to work on this material, and that was what I did for my Ph.D. So that really got me into the local archeology here, and I've been doing that really ever since.
MK: They--. I guess they hadn't a clue what was in this barrel.
SB: No, they didn't have a clue. Well, they had somewhat of a clue, but I asked people generally, "How old, how long do you think it was that the Native Americans were here before the founders of the town?" And the typical answer was, "Oh, about two hundred years." And I said, "How about 10,000 or more." [Laughs] So it was just, also at that time that the Massachusetts Historical Commission was beginning to worry about collections that had been made by local people and what was going to happen to them, because the original collectors were dying off. The families often didn't know what to do with them, didn't know how valuable they were. And they wanted the Concord Museum to take this material. And so they asked me if I would talk to the Concord Museum and see if they would take it. And at that time, the curator really wasn't inclined to do so. He had the viewpoint that this was a museum about the settlers and the English culture and that didn't mix with the Algonquins. And I thought to myself, "This is kind of ironic that here I ma with my English accent and I'm taking the point of view of the Algonquins." Anyway, over time the viewpoint changed and eventually the museum curator Dennis Fiori, who was very supportive and invited me and someone else to do the, an exhibit for the 350th Anniversary of the Town. And after that they started to accept these collections. So I've really been working on them ever since. The interesting thing about them, compared with many collections, is that the men who did this took it very seriously. It was started actually by Henry David Thoreau. But the men who followed him were even more serious than he was, because he did not record where he found his artifacts, which is a shame. But these other collectors wrote numbers on every single artifact and kept notebooks with where they found all these things. So it's loaded with information. But you need a computer to figure out really what you've got. And so that's what I'm doing. I'm identifying stuff and putting it on the computer so it can be sorted and figured out. So!
MK: In the course of your life here, have you done any fieldwork, which is to say excavation of your own, or walking through plowed fields, or whatever people do around here?
SB: Do. Yes. I've done a little bit of fieldwork, but really not since my Ph.D days. I dug three large fire pits, two of which may be hearths. But the third one we're not quite sure what it is, and I published a preliminary report. And this is back in 1978. And we're only--. And I've been waiting ever since for a friend of mine to look at the bones and the seeds and to see what else was in the dirt there. And she's finally got to it. So we will be, I hope, publishing a final report on that. But I got some radio carbon dates, which one was about 300 A.D., and the other two were 1,000 A.D. So and it's sort of unusual. It has got some pot shards and so forth in it.
MK: It has got--? I'm sorry.
SB: Pot shards, some pieces of pot. And so they're unusual items. And the other thing I did was a survey--. Let me see, I suppose this is in the '90s. And it was for the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. They were expanding in to an area next door. And they got a professional archeological firm to do a survey, and they found some traces of features. Features are where the soil has been disturbed by human activity. And they found traces of that beneath the plow zone. And but it wasn't enough for the town committees to be able to decide if they should preserve it or not. And I had been told by one of the collectors, Ben Smith, that that was a good area for collecting artifacts. And so I volunteered to do a more extended survey if I could get people to help me, which I did I the end. And we spent about three summers digging test pits in there and ended up finding a number of features. But the two most interesting was, one was a fire place dating to four thousand five hundred [4,500] years ago, which had a little trace of bone in there, so I think it was a cooking fire.
And the other one looks like it was probably a wigwam floor. Or it may have been an open living floor that dated from anywhere between 1450 and 1500 A.D. So and that actually--. My report on that has just come out in this. This has just come out this week.
MK: Oh, congratulations.
SB: It's called Nantucket and Other Native Places. And it has a piece in here about the Indian planting fields at Concord. So.
Carrie N. Kline: In?
SB: The Indian planting fields at Concord. All right? Because this was an area that traditionally was where the planting fields were when the settlers came. So.
MK: So the settlers who came here found agriculture, or traces of it?
SB: Yes, well they met a collection of Native people who kind of handed the land over to them. And they seemed to be leaders who came from different areas. So one wasn't quite sure what was going on there. But some of them certainly lived in the immediate area. And in fact they wanted to share the land with the settlers, who didn't want them. So eventually they got kind of pushed further out in the direction of Littleton. So it's a question of trying to recover all of this history that's on the ground, or out of the ground, as distinct from the English writers of the 17th century who talked about it. So it gives you a different perspective on the whole thing. But interestingly, there's not very much from about the last 1,000 years of Native settlement, up to 1635. So these little bits that I'm kind of digging into are of interest to archeologists and hopefully other people, if people can understand what's, what it's about, which is another problem, you know, the archeological language and so on. So. Anyway, I'm trying to do my little bit to extend Concord history backwards in time.
SB: Yeah. There was one thing actually that Leslie Wilson asked me to say something about. Right? So, I might do that. She asked me how recent changes to the built and natural landscape affect, have affected archeological exploration. And I would say that really in the, probably in the last fifty years not too much that's really bad has happened, because of the environmental laws and the fact that at least if you're using public money you have to have an environmental impact statement, which also includes archeology. So that if there is something found, then a proper excavation has to be done. If it can't be saved, then at least it has to be investigated, which wasn't the case before that. And sadly, I would say most of the damage to our Concord sites happened in the first half of the 20th century, before there are any laws of that kind. And in particular there was a very interesting site at, which is, was under what is now the Emerson Hospital parking lot. It was a huge shell heap of freshwater mussels. And it has an interesting history, because a number of people collected there, including Jeffries Wyman, who founded the Peabody Museum at Harvard. And I found that the first collection that he made came from that shell heap site. Right? Henry David Thoreau collected there and made a description of the profile which provides important information, because he could see pot shards, pieces of broken pottery, falling out of the profile, and described it in detail. And if it hadn't been for that we wouldn't have known for sure that there was any pottery there, that there was a woodland component to it.
So anyway, what I did--. Well I should mention Ben Smith, who is a local collector. Benjamin L. Smith. His family's still here. And he also excavated a little bit there and made a collection which very importantly included shell, and bone, and turtle shell. So I got together with three associates at Harvard and they looked at the formal material and I looked at the archeology. So we all wrote papers. And we were able to get a radio carbon date, one at least, for the shell heap, which goes back 5,000 years. But the, actually what the archeology tells you, the points, arrowheads, projectile points, spearheads really, is that it goes back probably to eight--. At least people were there back to 8,000 years. Right? They may not necessarily have been creating shell heap, but they were camping there over that period of time. And so we--. The Massachusetts Archeological Society publishes a bulletin regularly. So anyway we got a whole volume to ourselves with that. This was in 1995. So.
MK: Including? Can you read the headings?
MK: Especially the ones you wrote.
SB: All right. Well, the overall topic is Clamshell Bluff, Concord, Massachusetts, which is the name of the general area. Then it got--.This is written by me. Concord Shell Heap and Field at Clamshell Bluff: Introduction and History. And then there's Clamshell Bluff Artifact Analyses. And then I, along with the others who studied the shells, we did Clamshell Bluff Summary Notes. So there's pretty good coverage of what's left of that. But, if the Environmental Impact laws had been there, somebody could've done a real excavation of the whole thing before it disappeared. So! But at least we've got something. You can say that.
CK: What do you mean disappeared?
SB: Well, the parking lot is there. And from what I can determine, the level of the ground was low, it's, by several feet. And the shell heap was on the top of the bluff by the river. So I think anything that's still, was still there effectively got removed by the earth removal to put in the parking lot. And it has been tested out since then by professional archeologists who couldn't find anything around. So I think it's gone.
MK: What year was the parking lot constructed?
SB: Well, it seems to me it was shortly before I moved here. I moved here in 1966. So I think it was shortly before that, when I first heard about it. Yeah.
MK: So that's certainly a tragic example of the impact of the built environment on the--
SB: Yes. Yeah.
MK: --archeological resources.
SB: Resource. Yeah. And another one is that there was an important site I think where the filter beds are. And people collected in that area. And this is overlooking the Great Meadows, which certainly would've been a prime area and is--.I will say it still is a prime area, and I'm glad that the Bemus Farm is protected, because that's on the other side of the river. And again, that whole area was covered with Native American finds. And there's a lot of material in the collections. And the farmer who is working the land is still finding things, and he said to me, "Should I pick them up?" And I was kind of, didn't quite know what to say, because the Massachusetts Historical Commission tries to discourage people from doing this, from separating the artifacts from the land. But on the other hand he's running into it on a daily basis. So I said, "Well, maybe if you really plot where you find things with something like a GIS system this'll provide additional information to what we have." So I think he's doing that. So. And he has found some interesting things, including half of a slate, something that looks like a slate bayonet, which, the other half of which was found probably forty years ago and is in a collection of the Massachusetts Archeological Society in Middleboro. So.
MK: Have they put the two halves together?
SB: Yeah, they put the two halves together and they fit. [Laughs] So. All right. And I guess as far as--. Well she asked me too about natural affects to the landscape. I think probably the main one would be plowing, because that affects the sites down to about two feet. But you can still find things underneath that, maybe not a whole lot, but some. And if it hadn't been plowed, people wouldn't have known that those sites were there at all, because they were picked up from the plowed land. The artifacts were picked up from the plowed land. So it's--. But in some ways it's a race against time, because the building continues and there's no protection on private land. One hopes--. I mean I think that people are now much more aware of the importance of what they might have on their land and are more inclined to preserve it, but--.
MK: One can't always be sure though.
SB: You can't always be sure. No. So. But I think this town really has been unusual in that, in the number of collectors that it has had. And I would say that the two main--. Well there are three main collections that the Museum has. It's Benjamin L Smith's, Adams Tolman and Alfred Hosmer. And there are other smaller collections there. And then there's Charlie Dee, who has a collection that he made as a young boy. I don't know if he--. I think he has contributed an oral history. I don't know if you did that one. But anyway he has been involved in that. And as I say, these men, they put a lot of work into identifying where they found the things and numbering them.
MK: Hmm. So they had some, at least minimal training in plotting and—
MK: --and measuring?
SB: No, I don't think they had any training at all.
MK: Uh huh.
SB: But they were--.
MK: They had sense enough to do it anyway.
SB: Sense enough to do it. And one of the frustrating things is that some of the collections, which are maybe older than say the late 19th century or early 20th century I can't trace. I've got the numbers on there, and I can't find out anything about who the collectors were. And it did happen that people exchanged material with each other. So. But I've got one collection I haven't really worked on which has a box of stuff that says, "from a field near Thoreau's farm." So I'm assuming this is Victoria Road. And as far as I know, nobody else knows what kind of material came from that farm. Right? So you keep running into things like this that make it exciting—
SB: --at least if you have my kind of interest. Yeah.
MK: So what pictures can be painted from a barrel of points—
MK: --shards of pottery, old fire pits?
What sense do you get of early life in the Concord area?
SB: Okay, well I have just in general kind of plotted where some of these different materials came from. The first thing I should say though is to explain that the projectile points, which are mostly spearheads, or dart points, or the very end of it, arrowheads, give you a kind of a rough chronology. The shape and the way that they were made changed through time. So even if you don't have any organic materials that allow you to make a radio carbon date, you can get a rule of thumb idea of what the chronology was. Okay? And so then if the sites have been recorded as they have been in these notebooks, you can set out where these things were found in the landscape and start to get a picture of who was living where and when and what they were doing. And what you have is sort of at the end of the Ice Age there's a very little bit of material. It looks like you have a few conscious sort of coming through and not spending very much time and then going on. But one of the interesting things about that period is that they carried or exchanged--.
MK: [sound of sirens] Let's wait until this--.
CK: This is wonderful.
CK: And it doesn't need a siren.
MK: One of the interesting things--?
SB: --about the Paleo-Indian Period is that they used very fine materials. And in a way, their technology, stone technology was better than anything that came later. And those materials they carried or exchanged over very wide areas like northern Maine and the New York State area, cherts, which are very fine grained stone. And you find these very characteristic kinds of stone all over the place, all over southern New England. And there's--. So one of the things that has been fun for me is to kind of pinpoint some of this stuff and then show it to people who are really specialists in the Period, which I'm not. And they say, "Oh!" You know. So some of it has been published already. Then a bit later--.
MK: So this tells you that people were moving around, that there was trade? What does it tell you?
SB: Yes. Yes. They were moving over long distances, presumably, well in a north-south direction by water makes the most sense. But they were going east-west too, which, presumably on foot. So yes, they were--. Of course the stone is the only thing that survives. And one can assume that they were exchanging other things besides stone. So you go--. You do have trade going on. And you don't find very many big settlement sites. So it looks like they were really traveling a lot, maybe sort of foraging from the land. And also the environment then was entirely different from what it is now. You've got a, more like a tundra environment, you know, a few trees and so on, but not--. You know, very, very different. So. But the picture for that very early period is still quite hazy. And it's still being worked on. So it gets a little bit clearer when you get sort of later on, say around 9,000, 8,000 years ago, and you have people who really were settling here. And again, it's not very easy to tell, were people moving in? To some extent I think they were. Or were the traditions developing out of what came earlier? All right. And it isn't until you get to what we call the Late Archaic Period, which is 6,000, 5,000 years ago, that you get different traditions showing up at the same time, which rather looks like different sets of people were coming in from different areas and staying here, or settling here, or moving through it. Or, another possibility is, were the people who were here exchanging things with tribal peoples further away, which included their stone tools? And that kind of thing is very hard to pin down. But I'm still in the process of really identifying what the points are, what the other stone tools are. I mean some of them are big woodworking tools like axes and adzes and gouges. There are all kinds of knives. And there's something called an atlatl weight, which we think was attached to a spear thrower to make it more accurate; stone ones of that were found.
MK: To make it—a stone attached to an atlatl?
MK: To make it more accurate?
SB: To make it more accurate and possibly to make the throw go further too. But then some people say, "Well, some of these things look like they're ceremonial." And they could've been ceremonial items too. So there's a problem always of interpretation, exactly what these things really are. And well I'm--. I'm still the point of doing basic data recording of physically sorting out the collections, which usually have been in a terrible state, well not always. But the Adams Tolman one was. And just sorting things out according to what site the artifacts came from and then identifying what the artifacts are, and then putting it on the computer [laughs], so. That, I have felt, was more worthwhile my spending my time on than doing fieldwork, because there's--. Typically you spend a lot of time in the field and don't come up with a whole lot of material. And this is thousands or artifacts. And I think archeologists are beginning to realize now how valuable these things are, because you don't find that much from the ground any more.
And so they're looking at these kinds of old collections and realizing, "Well, this tells us things that we otherwise wouldn't know."
MK: Our only clue.
SB: Our only clue. Yeah. But it's a little sad to realize, if this realization had come sooner that more could've been recovered than it's now possible to do. But I think that for the professional firms that do archeological surveys before building happens, they're finding interesting stuff too, so at least that part of it is in place.
MK: Umm hmm.
SB: I don't know. Have I answered your question about what was happening--. Well people--. No, I sort of stopped in the middle. You have the settlers coming in, in the middle, what we call the Middle Archaic Period, sort of 8,000, 7,000. Then you get a diversity of cultures a little bit later than that. That was when I was talking about, did people come in from elsewhere. And then--.
MK: Do these cultures have names?
SB: Well, they have archeological names. And--.
MK: Such as?
SB: It's not going to mean anything much. It'll mean something to other archeologists. But like say the Brewertontypes, which is--. Brewerton is a name in New York State.
SB: The Susquehanna River is another area where things seem to have come from. And then there's the small point tradition, which seems to have developed here. Right? Lot of the--.
CK: Brewertonis spelled?
CK: Brewertonis spelled?
MK: Brewerton. . . .
SB: Brewerton, yes. And--.
CK: Small point was here though.
SB: The small point was here. A lot of little quartz points, white quartz, which is very different from some of the other material. And then a little bit later you get stone bowls, things this size made out of soap stone.
CK: What size?
SB: What size?
SB: Yes, I'm doing it with my hands. Well, they might be eighteen inches across, something like that.
MK: Like a big salad bowl?
SB: Yes! [Laughs]
MK: Out of soap stone?
SB: Out of soap stone.
MK: Was that indigenous material?
SB: Yes. And there are different places where it can be mined, or I guess found from outcroppings. All right? And so that's another thing that people have done is to plot where that material can be found, as with the other materials I was talking about, particularly with the Paleo-Indian. You know, where do all of these things come from? So that's a whole study in itself. And--. All right, so then a little bit, sort of in the first millennium B.C. or Before the Common Era, B.C.E., this is when you get the first introduction of pottery, at least in the New York area. And it might have been a bit later here. But this is still what we're trying to figure out. And people also have been working on corn. When was corn introduced? And it's generally been thought about 1,000 A.D., 1,000 years in the Common Era. Actually this book I was showing you, the Nantucket and Other Native Places, this has several papers in it on corn and the dating of corn. And I think the earliest they think now is the 12th century. So there's just a lot of research going on about these different things, and I feel like I'm still at a very basic level of recording what was here.
CK: So you describe it as Before the Common Era an, is there an equivalent term for the A.D.?
SB: Yes. Common Era.
CK: The Common Era.
SB: Common Era and Before the Common Era. Yeah.
SB: And actually there's going to be an exhibit on the Concord Shell Heap here at the Library this summer which I've helped put together and in conjunction with an artist's rendering of shells. Christina Joyce is doing that. And she has drawn some shells from the area. So I'm glad to have the opportunity to show something from the shell heap. And it's not--. I don't mean to disparage the Concord Museum, because we got a permanent exhibit there of sort of 17th century material and a little bit earlier, the people who would've met the Pilgrims when they came over. But I'm still hoping that at some point we can get an exhibit, a permanent exhibit of earlier material, which is not there. We've had some temporary exhibits of that. So. Yeah.
MK: Sounds like there could almost be an archeological museum.
SB: Yeah. Yes, could probably.
MK: Place this rich in--.
CK: Probably what? I'm sorry.
SB: He said there could probably be an archeological museum. I think--. Yeah. It's difficult to actually to display archeological materials, because people are not used to looking at stone tools. They don't recognize what they're seeing. And so you really have to kind of point it out to people that these things have a shape, and they have flakes that have taken, been taken off them in a certain manner, you know that things have a, kind of a basic template. They've been made the same way over and over again. And unless you develop an eye for seeing that, you think, "Well this is just another rock." So [Laughs]. So I think one of the keys to showing it is to put several things together that are the same so people can look from one to the next and say, "This is--. I can see that that looks the same."
MK: Umm hmm. Umm hmm.
SB: Yeah. So yeah, I think--. Let's see. Well all right. One other thing I haven't touched on, and this had to do with when I was doing the survey for the cemetery, that one of the things that the town was concerned about was whether they might be disturbing Indian burials. So I was trying to look--. You know, it's ironic, again. We're looking for Indian burials where a cemetery's going to go, to make sure they don't get disturbed. Actually I didn't find any. But in the various collector's notebooks, there are--. They do say where Indian skeletons were found. And in one case there was a house built on top of them. And I still have to identify just which house it is. I think I know. But there seems to have been an odd habit, and it wasn't just here. I've heard of this elsewhere, that people who would give these bones they dug up to the library. And when I first moved here I knew about this in the '60s. And I asked Marcia Moss, who was the archivist here. And she didn't know anything about this. So the note came from the 1930s. So I don't know whether I can find any library notes that might say about disposing of human bones, but so far I--. Nobody knows what happens to those, so. But all these things take time to chase up. You're on a trail through a lot of different places and people, so.
MK: Those poor librarians must have really had their hands full.
MK: Those poor librarians, back in that time--.
MK: --must've really had their hands full.
SB: They had their hands full. Yes, I think so.
MK: From human bones to--. [Laughs]
SB: Anything anybody wanted to collect.
MK: . . .
CK: But you were saying it's really a race against time to try to—
CK: --track it all down yourself.
SB: Yes. Yes. So the feeling I have is that I need to concentrate on getting these collections on the computer, because I have a lot of information in my head that nobody else knows at this point, so if something happens to me, which it could, easily, at the age that I am, that, it would be hard for somebody to pick that up again, although they could. But at this point I have thirty years of experience dealing with this in my head. So that's my primary goal. So some of these other things, like where are the bones, are not quite so high on the list of priorities. But that, at the present time, the Drinking Gourd project is about to move what was I think an African-American house to the parking lot near the old North Bridge, and behind that area was where some burials were found. So that does need to be tested out, and it will be tested out too. So--.
CK: Before they can move that house?
SB: Yes. Yeah. And the lady who's the director of that got in touch with me, and they wanted me to do the excavation. And I said, "Well really at this point I'm not doing that kind of active digging." So they need to get somebody from one of the professional companies that does this to undertake it. I said, "I'll provide information, but I'm not going to do the work for that." So. Yeah.
CK: Is there a difference in the findings that a professional firm would come up with, rather than an independent archeologist?
SB: Probably not. It depends on how much time they spend. And of course money is always a factor there. But they would get in touch with me, and I will tell them what I know about it. So they will have that as a background. Yeah.
CK: So who are the collectors of this era? Are--? Has anyone picked up the torch?
SB: Yes, although as I say, we're trying to discourage it. And but one of them is the man that I mentioned who is working the Bemus Farm land. So I don't think I want to identify who it is. But he has promised that he will give his collection to the Museum. And I have really asked him to make sure that he records where these things come from.
MK: This farmer you were talking about?
SB: The farmer. Yeah. There are other people, but mostly I think what people are doing at this point, and I applaud it, is to look at features in the woods. Nobody really knows what they are, and there are things like stone piles. There are long, sort of dry stone alignments. I don't know if one can call them walls. In some cases they are walls. There are also ditches in the marsh, which align with the walls. And in the past there was a real division between professional archeologists and a certain group of amateurs who looked at all these things in the woods and said--. Well they came up with various wild ideas about what the origins were, and I think, "Well, perhaps it was Europeans coming over somehow, or monks from Europe," like the Mystery Hill, that kind of thing. And then later it was suggested, "Well maybe they were made by Native Americans." And I think that's where people are at now, that they could've been made by Native Americans. But it's very difficult to pin down the evidence for that, of who actually made them.
But at least people are recording where these things are now in the woods and of course the fields. And there seems to be sometimes an alignment with Solstice, Summer Solstice, Winter Solstice, either sunrise or sunset, and in some cases the Northern constellations. And some interesting ethno-historical material about that is coming up, you know, that, yes, there were—
MK: Calendrical kinds of
SB: --calendrical things. And but also stories to do with, that have to do with, really with death and where do people go when they die, you know, the Milky Way is a path across the sky, not necessarily a path. It can be a river too. And there's also the--. One we call the Dipper was in Native American thought to be a bear. And that has importance for Algonquin culture. So some of that is beginning to come out now. And I'm wondering--. I mean the cemetery site that I know about is facing North, which is unusual for a living site. So I don't think it's a living site. And maybe it's connected with the North star, which the Polar Star and the Bear. So. But these are just ideas that are kind of surfacing at this point.
CK: The whole--. The stone piles and stone walls, what kind of ideas--? Those are the ideas you're referring to, that they're constellation-based, or--?
SB: Yes. Yes. And this--. Certainly it's known from Central America. You know the Mayas were very much oriented that way. And of course we're a long way from there, but you can--. Yeah, you can kind of trace at least some connections all the way across by looking at the ethno-history, which is the stories, the myths and that have been recorded in different places. But it's a little bit sensitive, because one doesn't want to ask a whole lot of questions to the Native Americans about this, because it's their sacred traditions. And but they are becoming more active themselves now in trying to identify sacred sites and seeing that they're protected. So that's good that they are doing that. And archeologists are trying to be sensitive about it, perhaps not always succeeding, but at least they're trying, which they haven't done in the past very often.
SB: [Laughs] So, I'm glad to have the opportunity to say this, because I don't know who's going to listen to it. But at least it says something about what I've been doing, or where somebody else might be able to pick up the pieces for this. Though something else I perhaps I should say is that the Massachusetts Historical Commission has a whole series of maps that show the sites, archeological sites, in different places. And so it's contributing to that information. And usually it's kept a little bit under wraps because they don't want to encourage people to go to these sites and remove the material. So it's a difficult thing, because you want people to know about it, but you don't want people to destroy what's there. So it's--.
MK: Tricky balance, isn't it?
SB: It's tricky. Yeah.
CK: Does it relate to the mound culture at all, these piles of stones, or not?
SB: Well, yes. I think there's information from the 17th century from the Cape that they did. And I think, yes, they say that they do still make piles of stones for—if they feel there's something special about a particular area. They will mark it in that way.
SB: Today. Yes, even.
CK: I thought the mound cultures were burying in mounds. Not so? Burying?
SB: Burying. Yes, well again this is a question mark. Were these marking burials? But I don't think that the archeologists have found that, have found any burials associated with them. But it could be that the bones have disappeared in the meantime also.
MK: They do eventually, don't they?
MK: Umm hmm.
SB: And another thing that has just come out here is that it looks like it's possible that the soil has become more acidic here as a result of European-style farming and that it used to be more alkaline. So if that's the case, then the bones would disappear faster than they did in the past. [Laughs]
MK: I never thought about that.
SB: Yeah. So, a lot of this, these things are still question marks. And what really are they? But it's kind of a race against time to preserve something like that when you don't quite know what it is. And so a developer wants to develop, and you don't have any good reason for saying, "Well, this pile of stones might be worth saving."
MK: That's not going to impress a lot of people.
SB: People. No. So I think it's useful that people are plotting these things in the woods so you're not just dealing with one pile of stones or a few piles of stones. You've got--. There seems to be a connection between this and other features in the woods.
CK: That sounds so frustrating to have suspicions that there are [things of] important cultural significance under the soil, and yet someone's ready with the backhoe.
SB: That's right. Yeah.
MK: Well where public money is in the mix, there's a chance of doing surveys and evaluations that could postpone it—
MK: --at least, huh?
SB: And of course time is money with that kind of digging too. And--. Well construction. But then sometimes you--. Occasionally it looks like there's willful destruction. And that's very sad I think. People go in with a backhoe before it's identified, because they think there's something there that's going to get in the way. So that's another problem.
SB: Not here in Concord, but I've heard of a site down on the Cape where this was the case.
SB: So. Anyway. Yeah, it's difficult when you don't have anything on the surface that you can point to and say, "This is something." Or even if you do have something on the surface, but you're not sure what it really is. So it's not like having a 17th century house that's, it's obvious that it's worth doing something with it.
CK: So there's a--? Say that again. So if there's a 17th century house--?
SB: --house. Well it's obvious to people that that's what it is and that it might be worth saving. But if you're looking at an open field, and somebody tells you that there's something underneath it, you have to be able to say something about what that is that's under the ground, and that it might be worth saving. Now I should say that with this Sleepy Hollow extension area, that they did put--. The Town did put aluminum pins in the ground where the wigwam was and the fire pit, so that hopefully those won't get a burial put on top of them at some point.
SB: [Laughs] They should be preserve--. I mean it should be visible that there's something there. But then, time goes by, and people might find, not realize what these pins are for. But then at the same time, if you put a--. Another idea was to put up a sign there saying there were Native American finds. But then that can lead to vandalism too. So it's really very tricky how to preserve these things.
And I was thinking about--. A few years a go I went back to my home village where I grew up. And I remembered that there was a very interesting tombstone which I wanted to go take another look at. And I went, and I could not find this. And I walked all around the church. And I finally realized there was a whole bunch of old tombstones stacked in a pile behind the church. And I suddenly realized that what they're doing now is re—is burying people, putting fresh burials in on top of where the old burials were. So you've got burials now layered in one place.
SB: [Laughs] At least in this country they don't have to worry about shortage of space to the same extent, although I'm in favor of cremations and not taking up a lot of room.
MK: Well I bet that really made you scratch your head, to not find that tombstone—
MK: --where you were sure that it was.
SB: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I think this is the lady who had twenty-three children and died at about the age of forty, you know. And her name was Patience. [Laughs]
CK: And who's going to remember her story?
SB: That's right. Yeah. Yeah.
CK: You seem halfway calm about it all.
SB: [burst of laughter]
MK: It's either be calm or tear all your hair out.
SB: Yes. Yeah.
MK: Thank you very much. Is there anything that we should've asked you that we haven't? Is there anything else you want to cover?
SB: I think I've said everything I had in mind. So, no, I think we're fine.
MK: Well we're going to send you a CD copy of this interview. And we're going to attach a song to the end of it.
MK: And we won't tell you anymore than that.
SB: Okay. [Laughs]
CK: Means you have to remember to do it.
[Recorder is turned off and then back on.]
MK: Here we are with an addendum to the anthropology story.
SB: Well, Ben Smith identified between 80 and 100 archeological sites in Concord. And this is I think more than any other town in Massachusetts. A good part of the reason for it is probably to do with the geography, that there are three rivers who, that have their confluence here. There's the Concord River and the Sudbury and the Assabet. And usually you find archeological sites near good sources of water. So that is really, I think, the reason that Concord is as interesting archeologically as it is.
MK: Thank you.