City to protect former Native American quarry at Mattapan


Boston and its neighborhoods are historic for sure, but the city rarely has the opportunity to place landmark status on a site that pre-dates the Egyptian Pyramids or Stonehenge in England.

This is exactly what is currently being considered by the Boston Monuments Board for the Mattapan Rhyolite Quarry of the Massachusetts Tribe – a curious site in a busy urban area behind St. Angela’s Church along Babson and Cookson Streets. dating back 7,500 years. The quarry is the source of an ancient volcanic stone prized for its striped burgundy color and its qualities ideal for making stone tools.

At the Nov. 9 Monuments meeting, the commissioners voted unanimously to make the quarry a stand-by monument in the city of Boston and enthusiastically designated it for further study.

Town archaeologist Joe Bagley appeared at the meeting as the Massachusetts Tribe’s designated spokesperson in a joint tribe and town petition to protect this unique and ancient cultural asset.

“What we found is that a large majority of the quarry has survived intact for thousands of years and represents a remarkable feature of the unspoiled Massachusetts native landscape at Mattapan,” Bagley told Landmarks. “Mattapan’s rhyolite quarry has been a significant cultural asset for over 7,500 years. Here and nowhere else, we can extract this beautiful material. The place is of greater importance than the region, as it was a unique stone source marketed for thousands of years as far as Rhode Island. Massachusetts Mattapan Quarry deserves a place on Boston’s list of most important cultural and historical places as a Boston Landmark.

Above, an aerial view of the “Babson-Cookson” area which includes the rhyolite quarry is shown in a slide from a presentation given to the city’s Monuments Commission.

Bagley explained that the material is a single stone formed over 600 million years ago. He said Boston and Mattapan were once part of an ancient volcanic chain of islands known as Avalonia, forming below the equator. About 400 million years ago, these islands collided with North America and formed eastern New England and northern Europe. This once-active chain of volcanic islands is easily evident today, he said, in the Blue Hills, Lynn Hills and Mattapan Hills. Rhyolite stone is a type of lava that cooled rapidly on the surface during the eruptions of these now extinct volcanoes. Like glass-like black obsidian, rhyolite is hard and became popular with Native Americans for making tools.

Mattapan rhyolite was particularly sought after because it was very distinctive, coming out of the quarry as a brown color, but weathering as a striped, cream-colored brown material, perfect for making tools such as than spearheads, arrowheads and knives.

Members of the Massachusetts tribe established a village along Mattapan / Dorchester and Milton and named it Neponset – also the name of the nearby river. In doing so, they deliberately researched the Mattapan rhyolite quarry for toolmaking materials and there is still great evidence of their ancient work at the site today – as it has been incredibly remained relatively intact for at least the past few decades. 1930s, if not more. Another quarry in Hyde Park called Crane’s Ledge shares a similar story for the tribe, Bagley said. The Mattapan area of ​​Boston was carefully guarded by the tribe in ancient times, as it was one of the few places to find such quarries and was repeatedly defended against attacking enemies in order to gain control of this asset, read a quote from the Massachusetts Tribe website.

Descendants of the Sachem Chickataubut band from Massachusetts to Neponset have teamed up with Bagley and the city’s Department of Neighborhood Development (DND), who want to make the site a wild urban space with landmark protections. If approved as a landmark and designated as an urban wilderness, the town and tribe will execute a memorandum of understanding whereby the tribe will help maintain the site and seek to educate the public about it, and also organize tribal activities. private at times. .

The quarry was given the status of pending benchmarks and the study of benchmarks was initiated.

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