Contractors stumble onto archaeological finds


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Four feet beneath Hubbard Park lies the surface the first white settlers in Iowa City trod on in the 19th century.

A recent dig unearthed history from Iowa’s pioneers.

Workers found archaeological artifacts while excavating for chilled water lines in Hubbard Park, located along Madison Avenue last week. The findings included misplaced brick and parts of limestone walls that archaeologists believe were formed in the mid-19th century, with some projectile points — or arrowheads — dating back to 3,000 B.C.E.

State archaeologists could find additional historic value in the artifacts because they were unearthed in their original context, providing clues to how the Iowans of the era lived.

“[Archaeologists are] fairly excited about what they’ve found,” said Rod Lehnertz, Facilities Management’s director of planning, design, and construction. “When these kinds of finds occur, and they find a site of interest, it helps to piece together the history of the era.”

Contextual clues hint at larger implications from these finds.

“We are always hoping to find those artifacts in the context,” said Lynn Alex, the education and outreach program director for the Office of the State Archaeologist. “There’s a lot more information if you can find them in context.”

Intact archaeological sites aren’t as common because few are preserved, worn away from the elements as time passes.

“Oftentimes, in many parts of Iowa, the ground surface that was there 1,000 years ago is the current ground surface,” said State Archaeologist John Doershuk. “In this case, it was preserved and has a lot of research opportunities.”

But the winter weather will be problematic.

“The weather is the real hang-up,” Doershuk said. “This is the thing you want to do in the summer in blue skies and dry conditions.”

Lehnertz said flood recovery will “inevitably” be delayed between two and three weeks, depending on the weather. Tents are currently lining the dig on the eastern side of the park.

Lehnertz said that while it will have an effect on the flood-recovery costs, the estimates are not yet available.

“Whenever we stop a project, there are cost associated with that,” he said.

UI officials will work with archaeologists and historic-preservation officials to inventory the items. The UI must work with the office in order to keep its Federal Emergency Management Agency funds.

When FEMA is involved in recovery work, the National Historic Preservation Act is invoked to protect the archaeological value of a site, requiring a historic investigation.

“It’s valuable time,” Doershuk said. “But it’s also time spent valuable by the state archeologists.”

State archeologists will take the objects and write detailed reports, including how the finds tie to the history of the site. Once the artifacts are gathered and documented, construction will resume.

But as flood recovery continues, Doershuk said, contractors could be in store for more surprises.

“There’s more out there than what the pipelines are hitting,” he said.

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