The Mohegans: Fort Shantok State Park at Mohegan

    There is a growing awareness of the conflict between Native American tribes and the scientific community regarding the goals and efforts of archaeology. While archaeological research attempts to reconstruct past cultural behavior through the analysis of material remains, Native American traditionalists widely hold that knowledge of the past comes from the body of lore which is transferred from generation to generation within a tribe.

An 1860 map of the reduced land holdings of the Mohegans (red arrow shows project location). 

    Native American groups also view the landscape as sacred, particularly with respect to burial grounds, while archaeologists tend to view burial sites as rich resources offering a wealth and variety of information not easily attained from other site types. Despite these fundamental discrepancies in goals and priorities, there are increasing efforts on the part of both communities to find common ground on which to promote the conservation of sites deemed valuable in either world view.

    ACS was approached by the Mohegan Tribe of Uncasville, Connecticut, in order to conduct an archaeological survey of a portion of Fort Shantok State Park. As part of the original territory of the Mohegans and a recent land settlement between the Mohegans and the federal government, the park was transferred to the tribe. During the Phase I survey, ACS confirmed the presence of two historic sites which had been identified during a previous field school. The sites included traces of a 19th Century barn, as well as a fieldstone foundation dating to the late 18th and early 19th Century. Materials from tests in the vicinity of the barn were limited to a kaolin clay pipe stem and several cut nail fragments, while those of the cellar-hole included hand- wrought nails, household ceramics, and domestic mammal bone suggesting a residential occupation about 200 years ago. Occupation and use of the property occurred during a time of considerable change for the tribe, as Euroamerican encroachments on tribal lands and the subsequent illegal sale of land by tribal overseers resulted in the drastic reduction of tribal territory and the ability for individuals to maintain aboriginal lifeways.

    The Mohegans ultimately decided to not develop the land in deference to the historic sites which may offer significant new information regarding past changes in cultural and historic processes. While ACS offered a recommendation to limit preservation to the eight-acre core area containing the two sites, the tribe opted to preserve the entire property. ACS welcomed the monitoring of the survey by the Narragansett Tribal Historic Preservation Office which acted as review agency for the project. This project serves to reinforce the notion that there lies a balance between Native American tribal and archaeological concerns which can be adequately realized through coordinated efforts and a recognition of common ground in practice if not principle.

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