Re: Article titled “Archaic treasure: Burrillville woman finds milleniums-old bannerstone on Sweet’s Hill

I read your above-referenced article, and write to express concerns
regarding some of its content.

To provide background, your article’s informant, Roberta Murphy, indeed showed me the artifact in question, and we exchanged many ideas. She sent me a follow-up email on July 7 explaining “There will be a short article coming out in or [sic] local news” and that she “would like to mention that I have showed it to you. Hoping that is ok.” I replied “Sure. That’s fine. Thanks for asking.” Her request did not mention paraphrasing information that I provided, nor did it mention attempting to provide any
direct quotations. The resulting disconnect has proven problematic.

Your article states that “no tribe can lay claim to the artifact because it’s so old,” which seems to come across as a judgement that I made. Stating that no tribe can lay claim the artifact is not anything that someone in my position would state, and would beg clarification of what type of ‘claim’ is being addressed (ie. cultural patrimony, personal property, tribal property, etc.). I did, however, explain that due to the object’s great antiquity, being likely thousands of years old, archaeologists lack the capacity to trace it back to any particular tribal group, and noted that there are several contemporary tribes in the region including the Narragansett Indian Tribe.

Stating that I “never found something so significant” is not accurate. As an archaeologist, I carefully reserve the word ‘significant’ to describe finds that have the capacity to shed new light on the ancient past. I do not qualify isolated artifact finds as such. I did, however, explain that I never found a bannerstone during my career as a field archaeologist, and that such finds are rare.

Stating that I ‘agreed’ to give a talk about the bannerstone is a modest stretch. I indeed discussed the possibility of giving a public presentation on the bannerstone, seeing an opportunity to expand discussion of the local archaeological record. I also clarified that waiting for the COVID-19 crisis to abate and learning substantive information about the site from which the artifact originated would be necessary preconditions.

John Brown III, the Medicine Man and Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the Narragansett Indian Tribe, contacted me on July 17 regarding your article. Understandably, he seemed troubled that a state official was credited with a claim that no tribe can lay claim to the artifact. We agreed that this statement, in its current form, has political implications, seeing that it could easily be misinterpreted as a state policy position.

Timothy Ives

Timothy Ives is the principal archeologist for the Rhode Island Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission

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