WARWICK – On Sunday, Oct. 30, Alan Leveillee, senior archaeologist, principal investigator and co-founder of the Public Archaeology Lab [PAL, Inc.], came to speak at a place very familiar to him – the Warwick Public Library. A Warwick resident and frequent WPL visitor, he credited his early interest in archaeology to a book he found on the subject in a public library he visited as a child.
“I became an archaeologist somewhat by accident,” he said of his career, which included stints in the field of social work and military service in the air force, studying weather. Before taking advantage of the GI Bill, he had never thought he would have the opportunity to go to college. He considers himself lucky to have studied at Rhode Island College, where he found “the best group of archaeologists at the time.”
He received both undergraduate and graduate degrees from RIC, and is an adjunct faculty member at Roger Williams University. As co-founder of PAL, he frequently consults for the Warwick Cemetery Commission, the Warwick Sewer Authority, and other local groups.
During his talk at the library (entitled “Archaeology and History in Warwick: Native American and Early Settlement”), he described several historic and pre-historic sites, and the range of artifacts found in each found in Warwick, which was settled around 1640.
“Archaeologists are interested in the things, the stuff, but are also interested in the people, the culture, the languages,” he said, holding up one of several artifacts he brought with him. “Culture moves at the rate of technology (holding up an iPhone, as an example of our modern technology) – each culture through time generated its own artifacts.”
“Warwick has many archaeology sites, thousands of them in various states of preservation,” he said. He showed a slide of the new Apponaug circulator project. “Ten years ago I was out doing archaeology for that project,” he said of consulting for the RI DOT.
Thanks to the passage of National Preservation laws in the 1960s [National Historic Preservation Act of 1966], federally funded sites with potentially important artifacts have been investigated and preserved.
Leveillee described working at a site during sewer work in the Governor Francis area, which had been filled in, dubbed the “Cove Terrace” site. Others sites that have been investigated include those at Lambert Farm, Cedar Tree Beach, Spinnaker Lane in Cowesett, and in Warwick Neck.
He described physical changes to the land area around Narragansett Bay, when “sea levels stabilized, mud flats developed, people were settling along the coast in large numbers.”
“Maize was found in Governor Francis, Cedar Tree and most recently Warwick Neck,” he said of finding signs of tribal territories.
On another slide, he showed earlier research conducted in the area, including a 1949 article published by the Massachusetts Archaeological Society called “An Indian Burial at Warwick, R. I.” by Maurice Robbins.
Part two of Leveillee’s presentation described the period during and after European contact and settlement – after about 1638, and the role Roger Williams played in the State, and the role Samuel Gorton played in Warwick.
Conducting sewer work in the area of Horse Neck, many “contact period” artifacts were found. He showed a few examples of these, including an English spoon, English copper and trade beads.
In investigations of a property adjacent to the Tri-City Elks on West Shore Road, destined to become condos, he found Native American as well as historic artifacts.
The Bayside and Longmeadow areas, in which 12 miles of sewers are destined were also investigated, delaying the project. Dubbed the Mill Cove site, Leveillee says residents probably aren’t too happy with him lately. “We opened up Tidewater Drive, and found a hundred or so Native American features,” he said, evidence of several Native American villages. Calling the site one of the most significant in New England, it is only one of two in the State. A Warwick Sewer Authority reports that the site “was the location of a major battle in July 1676 between the Colonists and the Narragansett Indian Tribe.” The report says that the Mill Cove Site was deemed eligible for the National Register of Historic Places in 2012.
“The villages are under roads and houses. We peeled the road back just like a quilt. It’s the second verified village found in Rhode Island,” he said, noting the other was found in Jamestown.
The investigative work continues. “The wheels of progress are moving very slowly. We have a real Native American village, with a neighborhood on it – anyone living in the area is going to see more of me,” he said, hoping to convince residents of its importance. “We’re still waiting to put the sewers in,” he added.
“Here in Warwick, I’ve been really able to do what I’ve wanted to do,” he said of his continued passion for his work. He praised the City for its efforts, as well, noting that the former Rocky Point property is now protected.
Several members of the audience had brought artifacts they had found locally, and showed them to Leveillee, who later answered questions. One pre-teen budding archaeologist brought some pieces of ceramic he and his mother found on a beach, which were likely to have served as old sewer pipes from a local home to the bay, some still visible at low tide.
The apparent interest of the young audience member was reminiscent of “the little boy who lived inside of me in the late 1940s and early 1950s,” said Leveillee.
Photo: Local archaeologist Alan Leveillee chats with a budding archeologist (and his mom) who brought along some of his finds to show at a talk at the Warwick Public Library on Sunday, Oct. 30. Photo by Beth Hurd.