State hid the discovery of a Native American artifact near Walk Bridge, according to the Norwalk Historical Commission

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NORWALK – State Department of Transportation has no knowledge of a ‘highly sensitive cultural artifact’ found during an archaeological dig in East Norwalk and has failed to provide the status of more than 20,000 others objects, says the Norwalk Historical Commission.

The site was explored in 2018 as part of a deal between Norwalk and the DOT to compensate the city for the disruption caused by the Walk Bridge replacement, said David Westmoreland, former chairman of the Historical Commission and current board member. Directors of the Norwalk Historical Society at the special committee meeting. Tuesday.

“We agreed on a number of things: They would restore the fence around the Lockwood-Mathews mansion, they would do interpretive signs, and by the way, we have an old map that’s printed on the inside cover. of the Norwalk book, “Westmoreland mentioned. “X marks the spot and says there is a strong Indian side right next to the railroad tracks.”

The excavations produced more than expected by the commission – more than 20,000 artefacts – and are mentioned in an act of 1689 describing “the point of common land where the Indian fort once stood”.

“I was expecting a few arrowheads or points, none of the major discovery they found,” Westmoreland said. “Since they have found a major discovery, we obviously want to do something.”

Among the artifacts unearthed at the site of the 17th-century Native American fort, Westmoreland said a particularly sensitive cultural artifact had not been brought to the attention of the commission.

Westmoreland said when he heard about the artifact and asked about the object, DOT did not respond.

“It’s a very sensitive cultural artefact, which could be a sacred sacred object for rituals, human remains, any number of things,” Westmoreland said. “We should have been informed of this. We don’t need to know all the details, but we should have been informed that something was found.

DOT communications director Kafi Rouse said on Thursday that the thousands of items recovered were mostly fish seeds and scales. There was also a find that the indigenous tribes identified as having religious and cultural value to them, but Rouse did not say whether the city had been made aware of the find.

She noted, however, that the state agency followed the law regarding the excavation.

“At CTDOT, we must abide by federal and state laws, as well as the provisions of the archaeological permit that was issued to allow any excavation,” Rouse said. “All artifacts recovered from state-owned land would be transferred to the state archaeologist’s office for preservation. The entire site of the fort is in the grip of the State.

The commission also expressed its dissatisfaction with the status of the other 20,000 artefacts found.

The DOT provides the city and the commission with semi-annual updates on the status of the project, the most recent of which, from October, includes a note that the date for the completion of the analysis of the artifacts has been moved. from December to an indefinite timeframe, Westmoreland said.

The unearthed artifacts were to be cleaned up, photographed, cataloged and analyzed to help the city and state learn more about the history of Norwalk and the Native American peoples of the area. Three years later, the Historical Commission does not know the condition of the artifacts or the results of the analysis, Westmoreland said.

Rouse said on Thursday that analysis of the artifacts is underway and should be completed by February.

In the meantime, the artifacts are stored at the Archaeological and Historical Services of Storrs.

In addition to archaeological excavations and restored fences, the agreement called for placing information boards at the fort site, with the history of the Native Americans at Norwalk, Westmoreland said.

As part of the deal, the state is legally obligated to involve the Historical Commission as well as the tribes in the area, said Tod Bryant, chairman of the Norwalk Preservation Trust and preservation consultant.

“The reason all of this is happening is there is a federal law which is section 106 of the National Historical Preservation Act of 1966. What it says is that whenever there is a federal enterprise involving money or licenses, its effect on properties listed or eligible for the National Register of Historic Places must be considered, ”said Bryant.

The Walk Bridge is considered a historic place, which requires the involvement of the Historical Commission in the project.

“This should include the state’s historic preservation office, affected tribes, and anyone else who wishes to be a consultative group with the Historical Commission,” said Bryant.

In the DOT’s October memo, the state offered alternative signs on the city’s industrial history rather than the Native American past, which raised the issue of poor communication between historical advisers and the DOT. , said Bryant.

The decision on what the panels should discuss had to be shared with all consultative parties, not just interested tribes, Bryant said.

“Some tribes, I understand, see this as a sort of golden opportunity to start telling their stories better,” he said. “We think the signage would help this effort, but somehow there seems to be a one-sided decision to remove this signage.”

Rouse acknowledged that the idea of ​​interpretive panels focusing on the town’s Native American history arose last year, but “due to the impacts of COVID, federally recognized tribes have not were available for consultation, and out of respect, CTDOT did not want to pursue this suggestion. until the tribal contribution is possible.

The agency, she said, “in consultation with tribal, federal and community partners, has agreed to provide signs related to the history of the Walk Bridge, railroad, railway engineering and the history of transportation in Connecticut “.

The DOT has given the city a Dec. 10 deadline to approve the recommendations regarding the sign subject.

To call for better communication between the city and the DOT, the commission approved a motion that the chairman of the historical commission, Dana Laird, send a letter to the DOT transportation planner, Kevin Fleming, informing him of the position of commission on the signs in question and to send a letter to the Federal Transit Administration raised concerns about the DOT’s alleged lack of compliance with Section 106.

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