Edward L. Bell


Professional archaeologists assist in the preservation of historical cemeteries that may be impacted by private or public projects. While historical cememtery preservation efforts in Massachusetts are strong, current laws are not effective in compelling archaeological intervention in all cases. Despite the problematic legal situation, the Massachusetts Historical Commission (MHC) has successfully advocated for preservation standards. In the case of the Harwich United Methodist Church (HUMC) Expansion Project, however, the proponents were unable and unwilling to comply fully with MHC's recommendations to mitigate unavoidable impacts to graves through systematic archaeological data recovery. Archaeological survey identified both marked and unmarked graves in the impact area. Unmarked graves were avoided and preserved in situ by reducing the originally proposed construction impact area, but 17 graves with associated grave markers were fully impacted during exhumation efforts by a funeral director with no attendant archaeological observation. Despite the loss of significant historical and archaeological information from the marked graves, preservation of the unmarked graves must be regarded as an accomplishment given the circumstances. As a case study, MHC's review of the HUMC Expansion Project instructs preservationists to be sensitive to the implications of case-by-case decisions that can adversely affect the viability of preservation programs.