Corrections or additions?

This article by Bart Jackson was prepared for the December 4, 2002

edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

The Business of Heritage: Ian Burrows

Archaeology and construction crews have been old friends

for centuries. From Hercules’ hometown of ancient Thebes to Xian,

China, men clearing land for the future have frequently unearthed

the progress of the past. In l966 the National Historic Preservation

Act ritualized this practice by requiring an archaeologist on site

at all major construction digs. As a benefit, right in our own area,

the shovels hewing out the Route 29 tunnel recently have laid bare

an entire Lenape hamlet, while over in a Washington Township housing

development, the surprising find has occurred of a chert (stone)


knife used by some paleo-Indian hut wife 11,000 years ago.

To help construction business people as well as interested amateurs

understand the process of this contract archaeology, the Professional

Engineers Society of Mercer County has invited Ian Burrows of

Trenton’s Hunter Research to speak on "Archaeological Finds at

Trenton’s Route 29 Project" on Thursday, December 5th, at 6 p.m.

at Merlino’s Waterfront Restaurant. Cost: $22. Call 609-219-6764.

This talk is one of a series of monthly seminars run by the Mercer

County Chapter of the National Professional Engineers Society


Membership and affiliate status is open to working engineers,


and all those in related fields.

Burrows explains the logistics of pre-construction archaeologic


and discusses some of his firm’s more exciting finds. "The main

difference between archaeology here and in England is that when your

Feds decide to do something, they give it the money and it really

gets done," says Yorkshire-born Burrows. After obtaining an


degree from the University of Exeter and an archaeology Ph.D. from

the University of Binghamton, Burrows became England’s Somerset County

archaeologist, tending to her 1,500 archaeologic sites. For 18 years,

he dug his way through medieval British excavations, and was appointed

Oxford University’s director of archaeology. Then he married and moved

to Hopewell. Signing on with Richard Hunter’s newly launched

Hunter Research, Burrows switched specialties to 18th century military

history. He has won the New Jersey Historical Preservation Award for

his work on the old Trenton Barracks.

Nowadays, right along with the environmental impact statements, radon

and wetland releases, plus a host of municipal easement papers, the

harried contractor must obtain a historical preservation permit. This

permit indicates simply that his planned housing development is not

about to permanently plow under the site of Washington’s winter


or the hut of the earliest known man in North America. It is yet


expense and potential delay to the construction process. Builders

must contract with an archaeological firm with experts to assess the

area and perhaps even monitor the work to check for artifacts.

If the archaeological finds are extensive, so are the hold ups. Even

Superfund sites must undergo, adjust to, and add in the cost of this

archaeological investigation.

"Surprisingly," says Burrows, "most builders are terribly

keen on what we’re doing and show very little resentment." The

archaeological site-monitoring process started off with a whimper

with the enactment of the National Historic Preservation Act in l966.

By the late ’70s most states had adopted an investigative method and

given it teeth. Thus since the early ’80s archaeological surveys have

become a natural part of the construction process.

With the federal mandate, a proliferation of contract archaeologists

instantly blossomed nationwide. Formerly sedate scholars — who

had competed for nothing more than academic journal space — found

themselves swaggering like Indiana Jones and hustling for the


dollars. While exact numbers are vague, an estimated 60 permanent

contract archaeological firms exist in New Jersey alone, ranging from

one person to the big players like Hunter Research, which has a staff

of 35. Contract archaeologists are required to hold a minimum of a

master’s degree in archaeology before they can put out a shingle.

Archaeologists have developed a typically precise and atypically


system of examining a construction site that affords them maximum

survey potential and the builder minimum waiting time:

Initial look-see. Termed Phase 1, the archaeologist will

first check the state preservation office, local libraries, and maps.

New Jersey maintains an up-to-date grid, listing each historic and

pre-historic site, from the locale of a single important artifact

to an entire Colonial village.

Armed with this background information, the archaeologist will explore

the area, checking for logical settlement attractions, such as water

sources, and for charred firewalls, possible iron pits, old roadways,

and other indicators of early presence. If no indicators are evident,

he gives the green light and construction begins.

Test holes. If the archaeological team suspects a find,

it will section off the area and methodically begin sinking core


This is where archaeological skill blends with that special gut


Where, how many, how deep? If nothing is found, the survey ends and

the building goes ahead. Yet what if you find just a few old shards

of Civil War stoneware? Do you keep going and hope for more? Unlike

library research, your choice is permanent. If you vote that this

site is unimportant, it lies lost forever.

In Washington Township, the Hunter Research team, after unearthing

several Colonial implements, explained to the contractor that they

had decided to keep going. "You have to assure these


says Burrows, "that you do indeed value their time. This is


You must convince them of the worth of it."

Establishing significance. Now, entering Phase 3, the

money begins to add up. In Washington Township, the Hunter Research

team laid bare a 150 by 100-foot rectangle by methodically taking

off layers of top soil. Backhoe experts listened to assistant lab

director Rebecca White, who demanded they lower the tract by

half an inch at a time.

Finally at 10 inches deep, White unearthed an unusual white-flecked

piece of chert that turned out to be an 11,000 year-old paleo-Indian

cutting tool. The rock could have been quarried as near as the Poconos

or as far away as Labrador. While fanciful conclusions would be


this surprisingly ancient piece might aid in determining the initial

settlers’ migration patterns.

Prior to construction of the Route 29 tunnel in Trenton both an 18th

century Colonial and a 1200 A.D. late-woodlands Indian hamlet were

uncovered. Enormous amounts of earth had to be moved, carefully


and screened — all with the finest of tools. While the artifacts

may be timeless, the labor is not. Unlike more leisurely expeditions,

these are all digs with a deadline. The builder is tapping his foot

and counting his costs. Thus the archaeologists are seldom allowed

the lead time to collect a horde of useful volunteers. They must


fast, yet precisely.

Data recovery. In its final phase, the dig is expanded,

and a compromise is struck between the needs of construction and


In some cases, like Route 29, temporary educational areas can be


In that case, material was be sent for display to the Trenton Museum,

and set aside for scholarly study. In excavating an old cellar hole

in the Route 29 dig, Hunter Research brought to light a 1770 stoneware

kiln. "Only three such kilns exist in the world, and we’ve found

both of them," says Burrows. The kiln and its accompanying


have shed light on 18th century methods of stoneware manufacture.

"Some of the academic archaeologists tend to call us sleazes,"

laughs Burrows, "and occasionally the contractors — well,

they call us all kinds of things. But in general we receive much more

respect than in Europe. People see our work for what it is, a real

and necessary preserving of our heritage."

— Bart Jackson

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