Work continues on a massive house moving project on Chappaquiddick following the discovery of an archeological site of interest that turned out to be an old refuse pit probably used by Native Americans centuries ago.
A project to relocate Richard and Jennifer Schifter’s 8,300-square-foot house and surrounding buildings, which are threatened by rapid coastal erosion, hit a snag a few weeks ago when monitors with the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) found what was called a feature of interest.
Project engineer George Sourati said the tribe suspected there could be a significant archeological feature at one location. Archaeologists with the Public Archaeology Lab (PAL) came to the Vineyard last week to investigate the site. The archeologists were contracted by Mr. Schifter at the request of the tribe.
During their two days on the site, the feature was found to be “nothing significant,” Mr. Sourati said. The area flagged, which was in the path of the main house move, could not continue to be excavated during that time, though excavation continued in other areas on the project site.
“It’s being moved and it ended up being nothing significant,” Mr. Sourati said.
PAL senior archeologist Holly Herbster said that during a visit to the site, archeologists did scaled mapping and took pictures of three dark soil stains that were exposed when top soil was stripped. “Two of the soil stains are located in areas where no additional ground disturbance needs to occur, so they will be left in place, protected during the construction, and preserved in the long term,” Ms. Herbster wrote in an email, adding that they are most likely old storage or trash pits.
The remaining soil stain was located in an area where additional soil removal needs to take place, she said, and PAL archeologists excavated that entire area at the request of the Wampanoag tribe to make sure there were no human remains or ceremonial objects. Based on the size and shape, she said, the function of the area was unclear and could have been used for ceremonial purposes or for burials.
No human remains or ceremonial objects were found, she said. The contents of the pit included fish and animal bones, broken shellfish fragments and some chipped stone flakes which are the byproduct of stone tool making. Ms. Herbster said the refuse pit was used by Native Americans living on Chappaquiddick sometime in the last 500 to 1,000 years.
“The density of these materials was relatively low, so we would call it a storage or refuse pit rather than a shell midden,” she said. Shell middens have a higher density of shell, she said, and this pit did not contain that type of density.
“Tribal monitors were present for all of the excavation,” Ms. Herbster said. “Once we had completely excavated the feature the area was cleared for construction to continue.”
The large-scale project, which was the subject of intense debate in town hall and continues to excite interest around the Island, has transformed the tip of Wasque into a work site marked by towering piles of fill and huge holes that dwarf their surroundings. International Chimney Corporation, which is overseeing the house move along with its subcontractor Expert House Movers, has shored up the main house and completed excavation in the area where the house will be moved, Mr. Sourati said, and footings have been lowered for the main house as well.
The guest house and garage on the property have already been moved, as has a neighboring house that was purchased to make way for the main house move.
Mr. Sourati said the main house is still on track to be moved sometime in July. Once the main house has been moved, it will be 275 feet away from the eroding shoreline, which has come as close as 40 feet away from the guest house.