Unexpected Discoveries Made at Future UI Music Facility
By Alison Sullivan, Reporter
IOWA CITY – Construction crews set to build the future of the University of Iowa’s music building found they’d stumbled upon pieces of Iowa City’s past.
Crews broke ground this summer on what will be a brand new facility for the University of Iowa’s School of Music and in August, workers found several pieces of historic artifacts that about a dozen archaeologists spent a week to excavate earlier this month.
Remnants of a limestone foundation, two outhouses, a stone well, and a cistern -- a water receptacle -- were all discovered after crews dug eight feet underground. The site is located at the intersection of Burlington Street and Clinton Street.
Angela Collins, project archaeologist with the Office of the State Archaeologist, said the findings date back to around the 1830s and could give new insight into life around the time Iowa City was established in 1839.
“The very early history of Iowa City, not much is really known about that,” Collins said. “The well’s construction may be one of the earliest in the area. This small foundation to a potential structure contained Native American trade beads so it’s very telling of the time period but also of the interaction of pioneers in the early area.”
Collins said archaeologists are unsure what kind of structure the six by nine-foot limestone foundation used to be but speculate it could have been a pioneer cabin.
UI spokesman Tom Moore said the incident did cause some construction delays, which shouldn't impact the building's current timeline for completion.
The scenario isn't something that archaeologist or construction workers stumble upon too often. Collins said archaeologists typically conduct a study on an area prior to construction in case researchers need to examine that area first for artifacts. Strict protocol is followed if workers find these unanticipated discoveries to ensure they can be preserved. Collins said the archaeology team sprung into action after the discovery was reported.
Randy Clarahan, construction executive for Mortenson Construction, said the incident was a first in his 31 years in the business.
“Sometimes, you know, other contractors we've spoken to will run into something on a building restoration where they’re digging and taking out walls and find something buried in a wall," he said. "But to find something like an old foundation, this was a first for me."
He said digging is complete at the UI's Hancher site and it’s unlikely they’ll run into a similar situation.
Collins said the fact a bank – Bank of the West -- was previously built on the land probably contributed to archaeologists’ determination that the land was already too disturbed for any new artifacts. But Collins said at some point in time, five feet of new soil was laid on top of the original land. The artifacts were also found underneath the parking lot, which preserved them all these years.
Collins said extracting the evidence is just the beginning for archaeologists. The artifacts will now be cleaned and progress will soon begin on budget planning for further research on the items, reports to be written and potential ways to exhibit the new finds for the public.
“It was really kind of a win-win,” Clarahan said of the discovery. “It didn't impact construction timing and we’re able to help the archaeology office find something they were pretty thrilled about.”
What's On KCRG