Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin and Michael P. Lewis, director of the RI Department of Transportation (RIDOT), announced the closing on a deal for RIDOT's purchase of approximately 52 acres of archaeologically important land in Narragansett, effectively ending a contentious dispute in which Attorney General Peter Kilmartin and the Rhode Island Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission (HPHC) challenged the property developer's plan to develop the land after discovering evidence of a historically significant Narragansett Indian village on the site.
The Salt Pond Archaeological Site (Site RI 110), located at the head of Point Judith Pond in Narragansett, contains a large, complex and nationally significant Narragansett Indian coastal village from the Late Woodland period, between 1100 and 1300 A.D.
"As a state, we have made a commitment to protect our unique heritage," said Attorney General Kilmartin. "Through this acquisition, we have preserved one of the most important Narragansett Indian archaeological sites in our state, while also providing additional open space in this ecologically sensitive area of Rhode Island."
The site contains rare evidence of Narragansett Indian daily life before European settlement, including human burials and ceremonial places, as well as evidence of houses and other structures and cooking and food storage places, and a wide range of artifacts.
"Working with the Attorney General's Office, RIHPHC, and the Narragansett Indian Tribal Historic Preservation Office (NITHPO), we were able to successfully negotiate a settlement with the property owner and thus avoid the loss of what is considered to be one of the best preserved Native American villages on the east coast of the United States," said RIDOT Director Michael P. Lewis. "We are also able through this acquisition to move forward with the Providence Viaduct project in a more expeditious and cost effective manner."
Construction is underway for the replacement of the Providence Viaduct, a 1,290-foot bridge that carries I-95 through the heart of Providence. The Viaduct is a central artery in our state - and in our region. With over 220,000 daily vehicle crossings, the Viaduct is one of the most heavily trafficked stretches of interstate on the East Coast. The replacement of this structure has the potential to disturb deeply buried Narragansett Indian resources; as a result, federal law requires the state to either protect this site or compensate for the damage done when piles are driven throughout the area to support the new bridge. As recovery of artifacts at the Viaduct location was impractical, RIDOT, the Federal Highway Administration, RIHPHC, and NITHPO entered into an agreement to purchase the Narragansett land. According to HPHC Executive Director Edward Sanderson, "the diversity and complexity of the site is unmatched—no other Native American coastal village of this magnitude has ever been found in the Northeast." Further, the Narragansett Indian Tribe has identified Salt Pond as a place of cultural and spiritual importance to the Tribe. The Narragansett Indian Tribal Historic Preservation Office stated that this site "by appearance, feel and reported evidence is an ancient medicine compound of the Turtle Clan of the Narragansett Tribe . . . an ancient and important place of Narragansett history, tradition and spiritual practice."
The HPHC and Attorney General Kilmartin had been challenging the developer's ability to build 53 additional homes on this site since 2007, once it became clear through the developer's own archaeological study that the site was extremely rare and important.
The plan for the property includes stabilizing the site and its natural character, providing public interpretation and passive recreation.