You Asked, We Answered: Are There Secret Archaeological Sites In N.H.?

Aug 11, 2017

A fibreboard foundation at a site in Livermore Falls
Credit Via the NH Division of Historical Resources

As part of our continuing series Only in New Hampshire, we're answering questions posed by Granite Staters about their communities. Producer Molly Donahue tackled this one:

"Is it true the NH Division of Historic Resources has a secret list of archaeological site locations to protect them from looting and development?"

The short answer? Yes. (Sort of.)


Wait, what?

According to New Hampshire's Deputy State Historic Preservation Officer Richard Boisvert, there's a "confidential" list of sites, but he stopped short of calling it "secret."

"It’s available to people who have a reason to know and this would be the land owners and it would be professional archaeologists who are doing the necessary research in advance of construction so that they can know where sites are located before they even go into the field."

But are looters really a problem in New Hampshire?

"Yes," Boisvert says. "They’re motivated by a variety of things, sometimes it’s just the thrill of discovery, sometimes it’s to sell the artifacts, but there are an awful lot of unauthorized excavations that go on. Nearby our office here in Concord is a place at Garvins Falls where there were a total of 104 looter pits."

What are looters looking for?

It turns out the secrecy isn’t just a New Hampshire Division of Historic Resources decision, it’s federally mandated. The location of archaeological sites is actually exempted from Freedom of Information Act inquiries, as a result of the 1979 Archaeological Resources Protection Act.

But while out west, in the Great Plains for instance, you might get a site with beautifully preserved burial plots, our soil in New Hampshire is way too acidic for that. So what are looters hunting for?

According to Boisvert, it's all about prehistoric artifacts like arrowheads, spear points, and pottery fragments.

Uniquely New Hampshire

Tanya Kracjcik is Records Coordinator for the Division of Historical resources. She says there's a lot of history unique to New Hampshire that's of particular interest to archaeologists. She points to "post-contact" sites, a term referring to the historical period after Europeans began interacting with Native Americans.

"Those are more recognizable," she says, "So you’re looking at old house foundations, barn foundations, there’s a lot of older industries in New Hampshire like logging and lumbering so there’s a lot of saw mills around, so you’ll see that around the waterways in New Hampshire too."

So, what are the oldest artifacts found in New Hampshire? Richard Boisvert says those were found at a site called Tenant Swamp in Keene.

"They radio carbon date to about 12,500 years ago and that date was done on some charcoal found in the site and found with it were a large number of scrapers and two fragments of spear points."

Channeling your inner Indiana Jones

Was Indy a looter? Arguably.
Credit wifflegif.com

So yes, there are confidential (but not secret?) archaeology sites in New Hampshire, and they're kept confidential to prevent looters from looting.

But if you're harboring a dream to get your hands dirty, the New Hampshire Division of Historical Resources is offering a rare chance for budding archeologists. This summer, they've opened up a dig...to volunteers.

At the "Hollow," a site in Livermore Falls, there's a hunt underway for the remains of a 17th-19th century milling site that could include houses, a store, even a school. So for this site, at least, the secret's out. 

Click here to learn more about the Hollow project.

Do you have a question related to New Hampshire or your Granite State Community? Submit it here, at our #OnlyInNH project page.