Archaeology Along the Housatonic Rail Line in Connecticut

The largest archaeological data recovery that the Connecticut Department of Transportation has conducted in at least a decade is about to start next week!  Today I am meeting with the archaeological consultants tasked with the work and the property owners of the parcel on which we will be building an access road to replace a rail bridge.  It is in the footprint of this access road (currently an agricultural field) that a pre-contact Native American site was identified in 2014.

1933 Timber Trestle Rail Bridge

1933 Timber Trestle Rail Bridge

Future Access Road Location

Future Access Road Location

Site 21-85 in Canaan, CT has yielded hundreds of pieces of lithic debitage, a couple projectile points, calcine bone, and one feature from the Phase I and II archaeological surveys.  There is evidence of occupation from the Middle Archaic to the Middle Woodland.  We anticipate that the data recovery will shed light on Native history in Northwest Connecticut, where very few large-scale excavations have been conducted.

Site 21-85 Feature

Site 21-85 Feature

At a second bridge replacement site, this one in New Milford, the remnants of a 19th century saw mill are located on the upstream side.  The site includes the mill, dam, and house foundation.  The wheel pit remains are composed of unmortared stone, and there was concern about heavy equipment vibrations causing them to collapse.  The plan is to limit the types of equipment used on site and avoid the mill site completely.

Saw Mill Wheel Pit

Saw Mill Wheel Pit

Saw Mill Dam

Saw Mill Dam

This transportation project is state funded, but subject to Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act because an Army Corps. permit is required.  The access road cannot be designed to avoid the archaeological site, thus resulting in an adverse effect to historic properties.  (The demolition of three rail bridges is also an adverse effect.)  I have worked closely with our State Historic Preservation Office to design a mitigation program that incorporates a significant amount of public outreach.  After completion of the excavation, an exhibit will be created, a couple articles will be published in professional and avocational archaeology newsletters, and several talks will be given.  Our goal is to share our findings as broadly as possible with the public.