Thursday, January 06, 2005


Lewes Beach excavation under way


Delawaere online
By Molly Murray
January 05, 2005

The News Journal/SCOTT NATHAN
Delaware State Museum archaeologists Charles

Fithian (left) and Wes Willoughby take measurements
in a trench dug on Lewes Beach in search of dredged-up

State archaeologists begin searching for artifacts pumped ashore
State archaeologists started digging trenches 6 feet deep along Lewes Beach near Roosevelt Inlet on Tuesday to discover to what extent archaeological artifacts were pumped onto the shore during a sand replenishment project this fall.

But some of the evidence may have disappeared over the long holiday weekend.

With unseasonably mild temperatures Saturday, the sand was packed with beachcombers and metal detectors. State officials are worried that amateur artifact hunters removed hundreds of pieces from what may be one of the earliest Delaware settlements, or a shipwreck.

The half-mile long stretch of beach was not closed to the public until Tuesday, when the safety hazard presented by the trenches and use of heavy equipment gave the state the legal right to secure the area.

On Tuesday, officials found dozens of bricks, pieces of pottery and fragments of glass that likely date to the early part of the 18th century.

But, they said, other artifacts probably were scooped up and will be lost.

Craig Lukezic, an archaeologist with the state Historic Preservation Office, pointed to a sharp cliff that marked the high-tide line. It was chiseled by the teeth of rakes used by artifact hunters to dig along the edge of the embankment.

Lukezic said most of the people who picked up pottery, glass and metal from the beach don't know how to conserve it and the pieces will rapidly deteriorate.

Daniel Griffith, the state historic preservation officer, said in an earlier interview that state officials had limited authority to close the public beach under state law.

The News Journal/SCOTT NATHAN
State archaeologists begin their investigation Tuesday

to pinpoint the Lewes Beach site where a beach replenishment
project pumped hundreds of 18th-century artifacts on shore.

Peter M. Bon, president of the Sussex chapter of the Amateur Archaeology Society, said people would have complained about a lack of public access.

"You're darned if you do and darned if you don't," Bon said. He then pointed to an area in Delaware Bay about 2,000 feet off the beach. "The real stuff might be out there in the water."

The artifacts being found on the beach come from a site where sand was scooped up by an Army Corps of Engineers dredge for beach replenishment. Many items probably were broken by the dredge.

State and federal officials agree that the artifacts were pumped along with sand in September and October as part of a $3.9 million project to repair the jetty at Roosevelt Inlet, remove a sand bar in the inlet and repair the storm-damaged beach nearby.

Local beachcombers started noticing fragments of pottery and bits of broken glass, causing state officials to investigate and discover the ravaging of the underwater historic site.

Griffith said he will meet later this week with officials of the Army Corps to determine how to proceed with an assessment of the Lewes site - on the shore and beneath the water.

Historians are not sure whether the artifacts are from a shipwreck or from a site that was once on land. Some of the artifacts appear to be English and some Dutch. They all appear to date from about 1720 to 1740.

State officials dug five trenches Tuesday, finding almost no artifacts in some and dozens of items in others. They are trying to narrow down the area where the sand was pumped in from the offshore target site.

Archaeologists went through the tedious and sometimes backbreaking work Tuesday of sifting through thousands of cubic yards of damp sand.

Claudia Leister, a state historian, discovered what appeared to be a trigger guard for a musket and a delicate piece of twisted glass that probably was once the stem of a goblet.

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