(Update) Deerfield Family Seeks Return of Artifacts Found on Their Land

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Yazwinski Farmland
Pine Hill rises above the North Meadows in Deerfield as Chet Yazwinski fertilizes his corn on Wednesday. Photo: Recorder/Paul Franz

Update July 10: Elizabeth Chilton, director of the UMass-Amherst Center for Heritage and Society, has recently submitted an article to the Daily Hampshire Gazette which aims to respond to several online articles regarding this news story, including an editorial in the Gazette. Chilton emphasizes that UMass’s role in this case is only that of a caretaker, and does not hold any interest in holding the artifacts acquired from the Pine Hill property. She also stresses that as a professional archaeologist, regarding the artifacts in any form of monetary value would be unethical – “their value”, she says, “lies in what they can tell us about the past.”

She is supportive of the town’s recent passing of the Deerfield Historical Commission Accountability Policy and applauds the town for such a strong interest in the management of its cultural and historical resources. Please read her full article here: Elizabeth S. Chilton: Public-minded archaeology, as practiced at UMass, thinks beyond monetary value


July 2 – After allowing the University of Massachusetts Archaeological Field School on its private farmland for years, a Deerfield family is asking for the return of Indian artifacts found on their property.

The owners of Yazwinski Farm are seeking the return of artifacts as well as site reports and inventory lists of the artifacts to help in future management of their land.

Chester “Chet” and Butch Yazwinski wrote a letter to their state Representative, Stephen Kulik asking for help with the return of the items they say were taken from their family.

Kulik has requested a meeting with the director of the UMass-Amherst Center for Heritage and Society, Elizabeth Chilton, to initiate discussions.

The Yazwinski’s are seeking the return of the artifacts so that many of them can be displayed at the Deerfield Town Hall and the Memorial Hall Museum at the Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association.

Chilton agreed to participate in the meeting, and requested that a representative on behalf of the Massachusetts Historical Commission be present because the objects were excavated under state permit.

In 1980, the UMass Archaeology Field School tested Pine Hill, excavating about 120 shovel test pits.  The field school continued excavation and test projects over several summers from 1989 – 1997.

The relocation of artifacts falls under the jurisdiction of the Mass. Historical Commission. They have declined to comment on this matter at this time.

Arthur Keene, who ran the field school in the 1980s was surprised to learn of this conflict between the Yazwinski family and UMass field school.

In the past, Keene said the “policy was that usually the property becomes the property of the state. If the landowner wants artifacts back, it is negotiated at the time permission is given to go on the land.”

Under state General Law Chapter 9, Section 27C, a state body — such as the UMass field school — is required to get a state permit from the Massachusetts Historical Commission to work on public land.

Artifacts found on public land by a state body with a state permit belong to the state, according to the law. The state law, however, does not address artifacts found on private property.

Federal law, on the other hand, states if the land is privately owned, the artifacts belong to the private landowner. The artifacts remain the property of the private landowner unless there is a contract specifying otherwise.

Read More: Deerfield farmer wants artifacts

2 COMMENTS

  1. It is unfortunate that the family is using the media and FB to try to address their concerns. UMass did conduct a field school on the property back in the 1980s and 1990s. UMass has not received a request for the return of the artifacts–I only found out about their interest second hand and only a couple weeks ago. There have been numerous publications (including my dissertation) and public presentations about the site and about Deerfield archaeology in general. I think an excellent starting point would be to meet face to face and have the family come to UMass, see the artifacts, and have a meaningful discussion; when I received the letter from Rep. Kulik, I wrote back immediately offering to do just that. I also hope that the Massachusetts Historical Commission will also be involved in the discussion about the disposition of the collection, since like all of our field schools in MA the site was excavated under permit.

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