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Sandwich archaeology: Family has found 10,000 artifacts in their backyard

Finding history near Shawme Lake, Cape Cod Life, April 2017 |

This arrowhead is one of the many artifacts found on Tom and Melissa Keyes’ property in Sandwich. Photograph by Charles Sternaimolo

As the importance and extent of the findings grew, Keyes began to see the potential of the site as a center for exploration and education; after all, he says, “this is the only intact second-quarter 17th-century homesite that we know of in New England.” In 2013, Keyes officially formed the North Atlantic Archaeological Collaborative as a nonprofit, and the dig site became known as the Tobey Site, named after the family that had owned the knoll. “I’m not an archaeologist myself, but a business coach,” Keyes says. “My job is to promote and create an entity that can get the archaeologists what they need so they can do their work.” While Wheelock continues to serve as the site’s lead field archaeologist, the team also includes J. Eric Deetz, principal; Dr. Luke Pecoraro, assistant investigator; Katie Wiggins, staff archaeologist; and Dr. Fred Dunford, who specializes in the analysis of “prehistoric” (before English settlement) or “Native” discoveries.

“There are a million reasons why the Tobey Site shouldn’t have ever been discovered,” says Keyes. “It wanted to be discovered, and now we are saving it in perpetuity for education.” According to Deetz, who specializes in English colonial archaeology, it is incredibly rare to find archeological sites so undisturbed in such heavily settled areas as New England. “How fortunate it is,” Keyes adds, “that the field was never plowed.” As the team began unearthing more and more Native artifacts, Dunford’s expertise became all the more critical. Keyes says that Dunford, who co-authored the 1997 book Secrets in the Sand: The Archaeology of Cape Cod, has helped to identify items on the site including a sharpening stone of coarse glacial cobble, a “plummet-like” stone that may have been used for fishing or for weaving, signatures in rock, amethyst which was likely used for healing or spiritual practices, and three atlatl counterweights from some 6,000 years ago, probably used for mammoth hunting.

Though professionals have completed the bulk of the excavation, Keyes says school groups have also contributed. For example, Keyes’ niece, Olivia Horman, was in 7th grade when she asked if her class could visit the Tobey Site for field research. Keyes consented, and put the students to work when they arrived. Soon the youngsters’ shovels hit what would prove integral to mapping out the original floor plan. “They came right down on the fireplace,” says Keyes. Then, in 2014, students on a field trip from The Winsor School in Boston dug into a rock pile, which led to the discovery of a root cellar—the site’s lower story.

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