Construction Unearths 1800s Artifacts at University of Iowa

By Forrest Saunders, Reporter

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By Forrest Saunders

IOWA CITY, Iowa - Construction crews at the University of Iowa have unearthed a significant historical find. Now, archaeologists are digging into frozen dirt and uncovering hundreds of artifacts.

The excavation site is on the eastern edge of Hubbard Park. That's right next door to the Iowa Memorial Union.

From outside the white tents placed there it’d be easy to think the University was prepping for their next catered event. Inside, however, archaeologists are serving up a smorgasbord of history. They're excavating the foundations of four homes. One from the 1900s, the others date back to the 1830s.

"It's a very well preserved surface that tells us what people were doing when the earliest settlers to Iowa City came," said Bill Whittaker, project archaeologist with the Office of the State Archaeologist.

The find was made by a construction crew digging a new water pipe, part of the UI's flood mitigation and recovery project. Work on the line has been stopped while archaeologists excavate the construction path. They have until next Friday to complete work so construction can resume.

"It causes anxiety because you want to get it out carefully, get it out quickly, and also get it out in poor conditions," Whittaker said.
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Freezing temps have archaeologists working in a heated tent, chewing through hardened ground.

"This is by far the worst thing I've ever dug through. I can see why they don't normally do excavations in January. If this heated tent weren't here this would be impossible," said Warren Davis, an archaeological technician

It may be hard work, but the fruits of labor are many. The team estimates they've gathered hundreds, if not thousands of artifacts. That includes pieces of plates, coins, and animal remains.

"You'll see a lot of bones in sites like this that have been sawed very cleanly. This was probably someone's dinner," Davis said.

The University said the digging may push back its original June, 2015 completion date for the multi-million dollar mitigation project. But officials don't expect it will be a major delay.

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