Pratt Hill, Upton MA.
I am upset and I am angry. I was going to write up a detailed summary of what I have been able to find out about how and why the site was bulldozed but I run the risk of expressing my anger; so I am going to keep it simple and give you a quick run down. I have spoken to or emailed several members of the NEARA board about this, I have spoken with people who accompanied the Narragansetts on their first and also later visits to the site. I have spoken with the man who bulldozed the place. Now I want to put it behind me. None of this is going to bring the site back.
However, I do want to mention that this rape, this murder within our community, needs to be mourned properly. We should be gnashing our teeth, pulling out our hair, wearing sack cloth, singing funeral songs, blaming ourselves and asking what we could have done differently. Later we can try to learn something from the experience and let the happy talk resume. That is why I find it all the more strange that this crime against the past happened so quietly and went so unmentioned. There were a number of bystanders but the rest of us never heard about the events.
Somewhere before 1989, Mavor and Dix surveyed the site on top of Pratt Hill in Upton MA. It consisted of several large mounds of stone, sited along the summit outcrops. The mounds were irregularly shaped. Surrounding them were numerous smaller rock piles in a standard format that I call "marker piles" - often found as satellite piles to larger, centrally located mounds. Mavor and Dix believed the Pratt Hill site was related to the Upton chamber and wrote extensively about it in Chapter 2 of Manitou "A Pleiades and Sun Sanctuary at the Source of Waters". NEARA people helped survey the place and it sat their quietly over the years. No doubt a few snuck up there - on private property - to have a look.
Then, more recently after ~2000 the place got a lot more traffic. NEARA field trips were taken to the site; at least one person got arrested for trespassing and at least one other (who was visiting there with the Narragansett Indians) got kicked off the private property and threatened with arrest. A strong component of archeoastronomy runs through the story and through the site, and its connection with the Upton chamber must have been mentioned in connection with (then ongoing) efforts to preserve the Upton chamber. There was a lot of interest. From what I can gather, the land owner Mark D. Uhlman, was not happy about the trespassing and may have had trouble taking Native American spirituality seriously.
Then comes the money and the real trouble starts. A cellphone company wanted to place a tower on top of Pratt Hill. This would usually require surveys and permissions from the Native Americans as it involves the FCC, a federal agency. I don't know if this was before or after Indians had been up on the hill looking around. But the landowner sure was not going to have an easy time selling or leasing the land. [He said "If I had known what I was getting into, I never would have bought that property"]. After that, around summer of 2008, the main mounds at the site were bulldozed. Still later, the Narragansetts finally did purchase the land and the astronomical surveying resumed.
So a quick review of possible reasons why the site was bulldozed:
- greed and pride, a way to facilitate selling/leasing the land;
- anger at all the unwelcome trespassing (and possibly unwelcome news stories, of which I am guilty since I blogged the field trip before being told I had to take my photos off the web);
- religious intolerance, denying the existence of Indians and their ceremonies by eliminating the physical representation of those beliefs.
Take your pick, I think it probably is a bit of all three. I feel pretty bad about it. Apparently when a group of Indians arrived on the hilltop, just before they purchased it, they found it bulldozed. Imagine their grief.
A few last words. NEARA should publish some information about Pratt Hill. They have maps and photos. They should re-enforce a (long since established) bylaw of not condoning field trips without landowner permission. There are enough parallels here with what happened at Bare Hill, in Heath MA, that it should be cause for reflection. We should probably work towards some means of ensuring that land transfers include ceremonial site descriptions along with other site/resource survey information. So potential purchasers will not be caught by surprise. Also it was NOT the written publication of this site that caused it to be destroyed.
There are lots of other stray thoughts on the subject. For instance, those might have been horizon piles, as described by M&D. But they could also be burial mounds - the site, as a whole, is not so unique and there are many others on nearby hills where the collapsed inner chambers are plain enough. NAGPRA anyone?