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
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
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
"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:
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.
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."
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
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.
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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