Keene Middle School Project

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Project Description: The New Keene Middle School, 2009-2011

In November 2009, Monadnock Archaeological Consulting, LLC was hired by School Administrative Unit #29 in Keene, New Hampshire to conduct a Phase IA Archaeological Sensitivity Assessment for the proposed Middle School on Maple Avenue as a condition of receiving a wetlands permit from the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the lead federal agency for this project.

The Phase IA study determined that the project's location, on a high, level sandy terrace overlooking Tenant Swamp, a large area of wetlands northwest of downtown Keene, had potential for Native American archaeological sites. As this was a time-sensitive project, Phase IB Intensive Archaeological Investigation, including excavation of ninety-two shovel test pits, was quickly completed and resulted in the discovery of the Tenant Swamp site, an archaeological site dating to the Paleoindian period (c. 11,000-12,000 years before present). Sites from this time period represent the earliest human inhabitants of New Hampshire, who arrived in small bands at the end of the last ice age. Following consultation with the New Hampshire Division of Historical Resources (NHDHR) and SAU #29, an expedited Phase II Determination of Eligibility study was completed to determine the site's eligibility for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. The Phase II study, finished as snow was falling in mid-December of 2009, included additional shovel test pits and meter-square excavation units that produced additional Paleoindian artifacts and fragments of burned animal bone in two distinct concentrations or loci. Because of its exceptional age, only the second site of this time period to be discovered in Cheshire County, and because of its remarkably undisturbed nature, the site was determined to be eligible for listing on the National Register.

Following the Phase II study, consultations were held with SAU #29, NHDHR, and the Army Corps of Engineers, and a mitigation plan was developed that called for expansion of the original shovel test pit grid (resulting in the discovery of two additional Paleoindian loci), block excavation of each of the Paleoindian loci to recover 100% of the archaeological data, and development of a public education component to present the results of the study to a wider audience. Zooarchaeologist Tonya Largy, lithic use-wear analyst Heather Rockwell, geomorphologist Christopher Dorion, and geologist Stephen Pollock joined the research team for the final phase of work at the site. Beginning in May of 2010, archaeologists worked seven days a week to excavate the site, completing the fieldwork at the end of June. Their work revealed the traces of four structures, each with a diverse array of stone tools and evidence for activities related to the hunting and processing of caribou and other animals. The locations of tools within these structures show where particular activities took place and how households were organized. Microscopic wear on the tools revealed what they were used for, and small fragments of burned animal bone identified at least two species (caribou and otter) used by these earliest inhabitants of Keene. The high quality stone used at the site was found to come from sources in northern New Hampshire and northern Maine; reflecting social networks that extended for hundreds of miles across New England, and the geomorphological study showed that at the time of the site's occupation the Ashuelot River (now almost half a mile to the west) had flowed along the edge of the terrace.

Following the excavation of each of these four structures, most of the terrace was removed as part of the school construction, which was able to proceed without having to undergo redesign or significant delay. This archaeological study helped save information from a rare, important site, and as part of the public education effort archaeologists will help create a permanent exhibit in the new Middle School, highlighting the long span of human history in Keene for generations of area children. The project received extensive media coverage, including feature stories in the Manchester Union Leader and Keene Sentinel, and was an example of an unusually complex Section 106 project conducted under extreme time pressure that met the requirements of state and federal law, permitted the client to complete their development in a timely fashion, and provided a lasting benefit to the community.

Monadnock Archaeological Consulting, LLC
Robert Goodby Ph.D., Sole Member
144 Greenwood Road
Dublin, NH 03444
Phone (603) 563-8123