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NJ bridge dig turns up Native American artifacts

By Carmen Cusido
Ewing, New Jersey (AP) January 2011

A $1.1 million archaeological dig that has been under way for months as part of the proposed Scudder Falls Bridge replacement project has turned up evidence that Native Americans lived at the site as long ago as 500 B.C. and as recently as 1500 A.D.

“The most intriguing evidence (in Ewing) are the physical remains of a large number of hearths,” said John Lawrence, a senior archaeologist with AECOM, the Trenton-based engineering firm hired by the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission, which owns and operates the Scudder Falls Bridge and is paying for the dig.

“They are the remains of where the Native Americans would have been cooking food for storage and for daily meals,” Lawrence said of the hearths.

AECOM is conducting the dig with the New Jersey and Pennsylvania historic preservation offices to determine if any artifacts might be affected by the proposed bridge project, said Joe Donnelly, a spokesman for the commission.

The dig started in October, with 10 people in the field and two in the laboratory working 40-hour weeks in all kinds of weather.

Lawrence said archeologists should be done digging in Ewing this week. A dig across the Delaware River in Yardley is projected to take three or four months once it begins, which could happen within a month, Lawrence said.

In Ewing two weeks ago, the archaeological team found the charred remains of nut shells that might be evidence of the Native Americans’ diet.

Other artifacts found so far include little chips of stone that the Native Americans might have used to create a tool, such as an arrowhead.

“Many of the artifacts would just be a piece of stone to a layman, but information about the technology being employed by Native Americans to make their tools tells us about their ways of life,” Lawrence said.

About 10 percent of the artifacts are tools, including projectile points, pottery, markers used for drawings, and hammer stones, Lawrence said.

The artifacts are taken from the site to an offsite lab where they are cleaned, processed and catalogued.

Some objects, such as ceramics that might contain plant or animal residue, are sent to a specialized lab for analysis, Lawrence said.

When the project is done, the artifacts will be taken to the New Jersey State Museum, where researchers and others who are interested can look at them and analyze them.

Donnelly said archaeological digs like this one are standard procedure when large-scale public projects such as bridges or highways are proposed.

If the site has been determined to contain significant information about the past, the archeologists will recover that information before the project moves ahead and affects the site, Donnelly said.

The Scudder Falls Bridge carries Interstate 95 across the Delaware River between Mercer County, N.J., and Bucks County, Pa.

The Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission is working with transportation departments in New Jersey and Pennsylvania to advance a $310 million I-95/Scudder Falls Bridge improvement.

Construction is set to begin in 2013.