Monday, December 13, 2004


Artifacts believed from late 1600s


By Molly Murray
December 10, 2004

The News Journal/GARY EMEIGH
A piece of dredged-up brick, believed to be Dutch made,

was found Thursday on the beach near Roosevelt Inlet
at Lewes. It came from an off-shore site.

Suspected age of fragments would rule out Delaware's first settlement of Swanendael

State archaeologists surveyed the beach near Roosevelt Inlet for a second straight day Thursday, picking up fragments that may be part of one of Delaware's earliest European settlements.

Among the finds are green bottle glass, distinctive yellow bricks that appear to be Dutch and a fragment of a clay pipe bowl marked with tiny dots called rouletting.

They now know the artifacts, pumped in during a beach restoration project that ended in October, are very old. They probably date to a period from about 1680 to no later than 1720.

"We always wanted to find a site like this," said state archaeologist Craig Lukesic. "Though it's not how we wanted to find it."

Because the artifacts were pumped in during the dredging project, most are broken.

A bread loaf-size piece of granite on the beach, the end of which was severed in a fresh, clean cut, showed state officials just how powerful the dredge can be.

If 1680 proves to be the earliest date of the artifacts once the survey is complete, that would rule out the discovery of Delaware's first settlement, the 1631 Swanendael whaling colony.

But even if the finds don't turn out to be from Swanendael, they are still very early and are rare in a state with few artifacts from its 17th-century past, according to state historians.

Even as state archaeologists picked up bits and pieces from the beach Thursday, they pointed to the many questions surrounding the find.

Among them are which of the many early settlements of Lewes the artifacts came from, how the settlement ended up under 8 feet of water about 2,000 feet off today's beach and how state and federal officials will survey the half-mile long beach area that is covered with 8 to 10 feet of pumped-in sand.

In addition, late Thursday night, Daniel Griffith, the state historic preservation officer and director of the state Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs, said it also is still possible the artifacts may be from a shipwreck.

Initially, state officials had ruled out that option because they found no blocks, no rigging or other pieces of ship hardware that would be expected at a disturbed shipwreck site.

Griffith said a state beach expert told him Thursday that wave action near the entrance to Delaware Bay would have made a land settlement 2,000 feet off the modern-day shore unlikely.

Officials still are trying to determine how they will survey the site just off the beach to see what, if anything, remains at the bottom of Delaware Bay.

"What's on the surface is probably a small part of what's here," said Daniel Griffith, the state's historic preservation officer and director of the state Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs.

Griffith said he is optimistic that the cutterhead dredge used to pump sand onto the beach from about 2,000 feet offshore only touched a part of what may be an artifact-rich site.

One hope is that the artifacts came up at the end of the project when sand-pumping was nearly complete, Griffith said.

Army Corps of Engineers archaeologist Robert Dunn said it appears the artifacts were covered with sand, silt and mud, perhaps buried as deeply as three feet beneath the bay bottom. That may be one reason they are so well-preserved, he said.

State officials such as Lukesic, Griffith and archaeologist Charles Fithian are dating the site based on specific, unique items they found. A green-glazed pottery called borderware is one clue because it was made in the 17th century.
Odd-sized yellow bricks are a sign of Dutch occupation, Fithian said.

The small pipe bowl fragment also appears to be Dutch.

The Swanendael settlement was financed by Dutch investors under the Dutch West India Company. Their purpose was to establish a whaling colony. The 28 settlers were killed by Native Americans.

Swedes, Dutch and English settlers also established colonies in Lewes.

While the mixture of pottery and glass appears to point to a late 17th-century settlement, there is no clear indicator that links the artifacts to a particular group of settlers.

The site was discovered in the weeks after a $3.9 million project to improve the Roosevelt Inlet jetty. Workers pumped sand that had accumulated in the inlet, as well as sand from a site just off the beach, onto the beach to replenish it. The pumping started in early September and concluded in early October.

In the weeks that followed, beachcombers started finding fragments of glass and pottery - rare finds on a beach where treasure hunting typically involves pebbles, seashells and the egg cases of marine creatures such as skates and whelk.

On Thursday, the stretch of beach was closed to the public to give state and federal officials a chance to assess what is there and plan how to survey it. State officials also are asking people who collected artifacts to turn them in so they can be catalogued.

Lukesic said the artifacts are unstable and will deteriorate unless they are conserved. They should be soaked in fresh water as soon as possible to begin removing sea salts, Fithian said.

"If they are not treated, they will disintegrate in time," he said.

Griffith said state officials are working with the Army Corps of Engineers to come up with a plan to dive on the dredge site. They would like to dive during the winter when visibility in the bay is better, he said.

The state also plans to work with local, amateur archaeologists to begin a detailed site survey on the beach.

Peter M. Bon, president of the Sussex Chapter of the Amateur Archaeology Society, said the group is ready to help.

Bon said he visited the beach a few days ago and met a couple who were picking up artifacts. Bon said he worried that fragments from Delaware's past might end up on a picture frame for sale at a craft show if something wasn't done.

At a meeting Thursday night, members of the society who had collected artifacts brought them in. Among the finds were more fragments of glass and pottery and a decorated metal spoon handle, a candle stick holder and a crushed tea pot. Most of the pieces also dated from the late 17th Century, Fithian said.

On Thursday, Caroline Whalen-Strollo, an amateur archaeologist from Bethany Beach, walked the shoreline and picked up pieces of pottery and glass that she said she plans to turn over to the state.

"People don't know what they have," she said. "This history belongs to all of us. ... No one correlates it's their heritage they are losing."

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