Excavation moves into second phase


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A century-old coin became the latest item discovered during a campus archaeological effort, which was recently renewed.

In February, IMU flood-mitigation-project workers stumbled on archaeological artifacts while digging chilled-water lines in Hubbard Park.

Archaeological work stalled earlier this year to allow flood-mitigation construction to catch up, as well as to deal with necessary Federal Emergency Management Agency paperwork and reviews.

Now, the work is resuming as University of Iowa students and the Office of the State Archaeologist begin to excavate a mid-19th century neighborhood further.

FEMA requires a meticulous historical investigation of the site because it funds flood-mitigation work.

With the beginning of the second phase, Arthur Bettis, a UI associate professor of earth and environmental sciences, did drill work to detect areas that had been destroyed during an 1851 flood.

Bill Whittaker, a project archaeologist at the State Archeologist’s Office, said floodwaters likely swept down the Pentacrest hill and locked artifacts in a layer of mud, or a “temporal marker,” which helped preserve the area until it was found earlier this year.

“The little town of Des Moines was completely wiped away,” he said. “It affected the whole state, and in Iowa City, it completely wiped out the neighborhood down here. We have very little historical accounts of what’s going on down here, but it looks like it was pretty badly damaged.”

Office officials will now spend the next three weeks working with students to dig and screen soil samples to map out foundations, which will guide full-trench digging and excavation due to begin Oct. 13.

“After Homecoming, we’re expecting to really shine a little bit of light,” said Dan Horgen, research assistant for the state archaeologist’s office.

All work should be complete by Thanksgiving.

Crew members last winter discovered remnants of an ethnically diverse working-class neighborhood buried beneath the soil and will now take a closer look.

“We know almost nothing about the early history of Iowa City because almost no newspapers existed from Iowa City before the Civil War,” Whittaker said. “The history we do have is from the county history, which talks about the rich people who owned property and the rich people who do influential things. We don’t know anything about the thousands of other people who don’t make the history, and this might be able to tell us something about those people.”

They have already found masonry fragments, glass, ceramic, and most recently, a coin or token from Des Moines dated to 1907.

Six to seven cisterns, which collected rainwater, and an outhouse were found in March, which Whittaker said are the ideal items to find.

“Both privies and cisterns fill up with garbage and they can tell us a lot about the occupants,” Whittaker said.  “If they become richer or poorer, or what they changed in their preferences. There’s a lot we could figure out here.”

Hubbard Park will remain open during the dig, said Cory Lockwood, associate director of IMU event and facility operations.

The IMU stages weddings at Danforth Chapel, and events such as Ultimate Frisbee games appear regularly on Hubbard Park’s lawn. Lockwood said officials “worked around” the excavation schedule to ensure the park can still be used.

Excavation will be focused in the southwest and northeast quadrants of Hubbard, leaving the rest open. Danforth Chapel is in the northwest section.

“There will still be plenty of green space available,” he said. “The impact will be a little less than it was last time with the chapel.”

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