Innovative Archaeology Project Focuses on Mohican Tribal Heritage

Small, rectangular dugout archaeological tract within large town green. Person stands to left of tract with archaeological materials under tent; another person passes by to the right. Large stone tower and trees in background.
The archaeological study at the Stockbridge 1736 Meetinghouse site, well on its way this month.

Courtesy of Bonney Hartley/ Stockbridge-Munsee Community Williamstown THPO

At Upper Housatonic Valley National Heritage Area in western Massachusetts, the Stockbridge-Munsee Community Band of Mohicans is undertaking two major archaeology projects to locate and identify two culturally important historical sites using innovative archaeological technology in their homeland of the Upper Housatonic River Valley.

The projects take place at two different eighteenth-century sites in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. The first is the 1739 Stockbridge Meetinghouse a National Register Update Project. This initiative is attempting to uncover the original footprint of the building and develop materials based on the data that will help with the interpretation at this site, which is critical to understanding the cultural heritage of the Stockbridge-Munsee Community Band of Mohicans.
Closeup of hand, palm open and face up, with three small, rusted metal objects, including one broken metal nail. Another hand carrying small hand shovel in background.
Initial small-object findings at the Meetinghouse site!

Courtesy of Bonney Hartley/ Stockbridge-Munsee Community Williamstown THPO

The project is supported by a $40,000 grant from the Under-Represented Communities grant program from the Historic Preservation Fund of the National Park Service.

The second of the tribe’s archaeological undertakings is the 1783 Mohican Ox Roast/King Solomon Homesite Community Archaeology Project, funded by the Town of Stockbridge through the Massachusetts Community Preservation Act. This project seeks to uncover the site of a historic feast sponsored by George Washington to thank Mohican warriors for service in the Revolutionary War.

The two archaeological sites represent places that ‘bookend’ a unique 50-year period of dual governance in Stockbridge among the Mohican people and white English settlers. This occurred before the English disenfranchised and stole the Mohicans’ land.

Both archaeology projects, taking place this month and next, employ innovative, non-ground disturbing technology. Bonney Hartley, Tribal Historic Preservation Manager of the Stockbridge-Munsee Community Band of Mohicans, is working with contractors who specialize in ground penetrating radar and magnetometer equipment to uncover material without any digging.
Two people stand smiling in neon safety vests outside on town green, in front of table with various materials, maps, and snacks. A small banner on the table reads "Mohican Nation Historic Preservation" around tribal insignia.

Courtesy of Bonney Hartley/ Stockbridge-Munsee Community Williamstown THPO

The history of the Meetinghouse dates back to 1736, when Mohican leaders led an initiative to establish a meetinghouse and school. It served as both a religious and secular space for key public meetings. Its history is also emblematic of the displacement, by white settlers, of the Mohican peoples who had long called the region (known as Wnahktukook, or the “Great Meadow”) home.

According to the Stockbridge Munsee Community, “English missionaries and settlers arrived in ‘Indiantown,’ living alongside Mohicans in a Christian community centered around the Meetinghouse” in the mid-eighteenth century. “However, by the end of the century settlers had taken over lands and the governance of the town, ultimately forcing the Mohican community from their traditional homelands. The tribe relocated first to New York and then to Wisconsin, where many members now reside.” In fact, the 1785 demolition of the Meetinghouse was done to make way for a bigger space, to fit the influx of white settlers.
Three young people stand, one with shovel in hand, in front of small dug-out archaeological tract revealing a rectangle of dirt within green grass. They appear attentive, listening to seated man with various archeological tools. Large dirt pile at right.
The project allows youth to get involved in Mohican heritage work & archeological study.

Courtesy of Housatonic Heritage

“Uncovering the footprint of the Meetinghouse makes things more meaningful across ancestral ties,” says Bonney Hartley. “It makes everything more palpable and tangible, to stand in the exact place where your ancestors were struggling with these issues—to honor what they went through, and to put those truths into the National Historic Register,” which currently lacks information in Stockbridge about Mohican cultural sites. This includes the important political significance of the Meetinghouse, where tribal leaders issued petitions on local governance, some of which have been digitized by Harvard University.

Upper Housatonic NHA Executive Director Dan Bolognani echoed the need for greater public education and interpretive resources for these histories, which has led to the development of the Native American Heritage Trail program and the Mohican History Walking Tour of Main Street, Stockbridge—a virtual tour that anyone enjoy by going to the website—through a partnership with the Community that began in 2015. The walking tour is featured in a new public exhibit that opened this summer at the Trustees of Reservations’ Mission House in Stockbridge.
Woman stands in yellow raincoat and boots under angled tarp and project materials in wooded area

Courtesy of Bonney Hartley/ Stockbridge-Munsee Community Williamstown THPO

“Housatonic Heritage has been supportive and flexible, showing up with direct support, resourcefulness, and flexibility on collaborations like the walking tour,” says Hartley.

“The Stockbridge-Munsee Community remains the most important voice in this program, and we are grateful for their support, input and feedback,” adds Bolognani. You can learn more about the 1736 Meetinghouse and the 1783 Ox Roast/ King Solomon Home on the Community’s fact sheet. For more background on the Stockbridge Munsee Band of Mohicans’ history and cultural affairs, visit their newly published Resource Guide.
Older man and young woman stand in front of camera crew in open green space surrounded by woods. They wear traditional Mohican clothing.
Filming the Mohican History Walking Tour of Main Street, Stockbridge—a virtual tour that anyone can take part in online.

Courtesy of Housatonic Heritage

Four people stand on town green amidst archeological project materials. Large rock with plaque in foreground, and white historic town sign in back.
Site of Stockbridge Meetinghouse project in the center of town.

Courtesy of Bonney Hartley/ Stockbridge-Munsee Community Williamstown THPO


Last updated: July 26, 2021