Frequently Asked Questions

Where is the site located?

The Parsons House is located at 58 Bridge Street in Northampton.

On what days is the site open?

We will be excavating from May 19 through June 6, Tuesday through Saturday.  You are welcome to stop by any afternoon we are on-site (1-3 p.m.).  We’ll have special Public Days on May 23, May 30, and June 6 where there will be guided site tours and other activities for families.  The site will be open on those days from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m.

Can I stop by?

Yes!  Feel free to come by between 1 and 3 p.m. Tuesday through Friday or on any of our Saturday Public Days.

What will you do with the artifacts?  Do you get to keep them?

Everything we excavate will be identified, cataloged, and stored in accordance with professional curation standards.  All artifacts will be housed at Historic Northampton to be used for future researchers.

What if you find a body?

While it is very unlikely we will find a human burial, the Massachusetts Historical Commission has a procedure in place should one be found.  First, we will stop excavating in that area immediately and call the police and medical examiner.  If the medical examiner determines that the person died less than 100 years ago, a criminal investigation may be started.  If they died more than 100 years ago, the State Archaeologist will be called to determine how long the body has been buried and whether the person is Native American.  If they are Native American, the Commission on Indian Affairs will be consulted with to make sure that the person is treated respectfully.  Regardless of whose skeletal remains are found, the preferred resolution is to leave them in place.  The places people choose to bury their loved ones are very meaningful and those decisions made with care.  It is our responsibility to make sure their wishes are respected.

Can I bring children with me?

Yes!  Our Public Saturdays will have activities specifically for children.  They can try “excavating” a play site or play games the Parsons children would have played in the 1700s.

What if it rains?

We will be out, rain or shine.  Fortunately, much of our excavation area is inside of the house so we’ll work there when it is raining.

Why do we need to do archaeology?  Don’t we know everything we need to know from the written record?

Historical archaeologists use written documents as one source of data in our interpretations of the past.  However, we realize that there can be a wide gulf between what people said they did and how they really lived their lives.  Just imagine if people in the future studied the traffic codes to understand how people in 2015 drove.  They would imagine that everyone drove the speed limit all the time!  We know — and all of the speeding tickets prove — that people do drive faster or slower than what is legal.  It is into that space, between the practices people say they have (or others should have) and what people really do, that archaeology steps in.  Through studying excavated materials, the landscape, and the documentary record, archaeologists can work to gain a better sense of life in the past.

The Parsons House looks fine!  Why are you excavating there?  Is the archaeology necessary?

Yes, the archaeology is very necessary.  The Parsons House might look fine from the outside, but it has serious structural issues that – if not addressed soon – will compromise the integrity of the house.  Historic Northampton has been awarded Community Preservation Act funds to rehabilitate the house, which will include expanding the basement.  There is an historic preservation restriction on the house, which is intended to protect it from unnecessary alterations that will affect its historical character.  To comply with this, and simply because it is the right thing to do, Historic Northampton has contracted with archaeologists to identify and collect any historical artifacts in the areas that will be disturbed.

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