The oral history of the Narragansett Indian Tribe and research being done by scientists at the University of Rhode Island have intersected in a project exploring a submerged ancient landscape in the area of Greenwich Bay, along routes that reach to the shores of the Ocean State and eventually into the Atlantic Ocean.
The project funded by the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is the first on submerged ancient landscapes that includes a partnership with tribal historic-preservation representatives, according to information from the federal agency.
“Usually the tribal historic-preservation office works with projects on land,” said Doug Harris, a preservationist for ceremonial landscapes for the Charlestown-based office of the Narragansett tribe. “But according to the tribal oral history, the ancient villages of the Narragansett tribe were out where the ocean is now. The oral history is that the waters began to rise and the people had to evacuate.”
The interest in landscapes on the submerged continental shelf has become more prominent because of the attention to offshore energy development, said URI oceanography professor John King. He is leading the scientific research on the project with David Robinson, a marine archaeologist at URI’s Graduate School of Oceanography, in collaboration with Harris and the Narragansett tribe.
“It raises issues about how to manage offshore development. There are significant impacts,” said King. “There are submerged cultural resources. There are important issues for the Narragansett tribe. Tribal oral history and science are starting to converge on what the truth is.”
The Rhode Island research, informally called the Submerged Paleo-Landscape Project, was awarded a $2 million contract from the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, King said at a June 20 meeting of stakeholders to discuss the Rhode Island ocean Special Area Management Plan.
A final report is due Sept. 30, according to information from BOEM.
New England states, especially in southern New England, “… are increasingly becoming the focus of proposed offshore wind-energy development to supplement or fulfill BOEM’s alternative energy objectives,” according to the agency background material on the project. “The absence of a scientifically proven, standardized, ‘best practices’ methodology for identifying submerged relict landscapes on the Atlantic OCS, (Outer Continental Shelf) and the ancient tribal archaeological resources these landscapes may potentially contain, has long been a concern among federal, state and tribal historic- preservation officers and has made environmental decision-making problematic for the BOEM.”