Saturday, December 25, 2004


Experts continue to collect and analyze beach artifacts

By Bruce Pringle
December 22, 2004

Experts have slightly revised their analysis of artifacts found on a Lewes beach this fall, saying the bricks, pottery and other objects probably date to a period running roughly from 1700 to 1730.

Craig Lukezic, an archaeologist for the state of Delaware, said the new determination was made amid continued inspection of items displayed in recent days by people who gathered them from sands near Roosevelt Inlet.

The artifacts were dredged from beneath Delaware Bay by the Army Corps of Engineers as sand was pumped ashore in September and October. Most of the rare objects were broken in the process.

The Corps of Engineers dug up the sand -- and, inadvertently, the artifacts -- during a project to stabilize the inlet, which is heavily used by recreational boaters and fishermen. The Corps has said its employees spotted the artifacts, but continued to dredge because they mistook them for modern-day trash.

Lukezic and fellow state archaeologist Chuck Fithian earlier had suggested the artifacts might date as far back as 1680 and no later than about 1720. But they altered their estimates after checking thousands of pieces turned in by beachgoers such as Larry McLaughlin.

McLaughlin, supervisor of Lewes' streets department, presented the archaeologists with a variety of pottery last week, as well as a mysterious piece made of brick and metal. Lukezic said the piece might be from a ship's stove.
The artifacts may be remains of one of coastal Sussex County's many shipwrecks.

McLaughlin was among the first to comb the artifact-laden beach, which in recent weeks attracted so many people that the Corps of Engineers taped it off to discourage entry by the public. McLaughlin said he searched "before there was any publicity. That's probably why I found some unique pieces."

Potential injuries
Lukezic and Fithian were on the beach last week, excavating at various spots in an attempt to find where artifacts are most plentiful. Those locations are to be thoroughly searched by the Corps of Engineers, Fithian said.

That search will be conducted not only for the sake of archaeology, but also with safety in mind. Many of the dredged-up artifacts were sliced into sharp-edged pieces that could injure barefoot beachgoers.

"It could be a pretty big problem," Lukezic said. "The Corps is acknowledging it as a problem."

Corps of Engineers spokesman Merve Brokke said a decision has yet to be made on precisely what steps should be taken as his agency and the state continue to deal with the surprising results of the dredging.

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