Tuesday, January 04, 2005


Lewes Beach offering up artifacts


By Molly Murray
January 01, 2005

Archaeologists to take over search from beachcombers

The News Journal/SCOTT NATHAN
A Pennsylvania couple found artifacts including
this miniature toy ship in Lewes.

The most interesting thing Andy and Cindy Janiga found in their years of beachcombing was an antique wooden table leg.

But all that changed Thursday when the Duryea, Pa., couple took their metal detector to Lewes Beach and took a walk along the sand renourishment site at Roosevelt Inlet.

A few minutes into their walk, Andy Janiga looked down to see a piece of metal.

He bent over, picked it up and held in the palm of his hand. It was a meticulously detailed tin ship model - so detailed that some of the paint remains and the ratlines and other rigging are as delicate as filigree on a Victorian ring.

The tiny ship and two others the Janigas also found look very much like Delaware's replica of the Kalmar Nyckel, the ship that brought the state's first permanent European settlement in 1638.

The Janigas' discoveries add to the growing body of information on artifacts that make up one of the state's newest - and possibly "highly significant" - historic sites.

Early next week, state archaeologists plan to begin field work at the beach site by digging trenches to get an idea of where artifacts landed and how far beneath the surface they will be found, said Daniel Griffith, director of the Delaware State Historic Preservation Office.

In addition, Griffith said, state officials will meet with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to finalize plans for a complete assessment of the beach site and a site about 2,000 feet into the Delaware Bay that is the likely source of the artifacts.

State officials also want to work with the corps to make sure underwater historic sites are not disturbed during future sand-dredging projects.

Griffith had asked the corps to consider a six-month moratorium on beach renourishment projects in Delaware waters.

That could have meant delays for the upcoming Rehoboth Beach-Dewey Beach renourishment, which is expected to start in February. But corps officials suggested a careful review of sand and buffers around any potential targets to protect underwater historic sites, said Ed Voigt, a spokesman for the corps.

The Lewes discovery came in late November after the corps completed a $3.9 million project to improve the jetty at Roosevelt Inlet, limit sand shoaling in the inlet and rebuild about a half-mile stretch of storm-damaged beach.

Starting just after Labor Day weekend, a corps contractor started pumping 11,000 cubic yards of sand from the inlet and 165,000 cubic yards of sand from an underwater site just off the beach.

Corps archaeologist Robert Dunn said in an earlier interview that he believes the dredge ran into a buried site about 2,000 feet off the beach.

While a corps inspector reported bits of pottery and glass being pumped onshore, it was discounted as modern-day debris. Dunn said no one contacted him.

"I call it the Delaware dredging fiasco," said Steven Anthony, president of the nonprofit Maritime Archaeological and Historical Society based in Washington, D.C.

Anthony said he is concerned that the beach, which is now an archaeological site as well, has not been closed to artifact hunters.

Bill Winkler, who owns the TreasureQuest Shoppe in Ocean View and has an interest in shipwrecks and underwater archaeology, said he is concerned that if people continue to collect from the beach, state archaeologists won't get a complete picture of what is there.

Griffith, of the Historic Preservation Office, said that once work starts on the beach, sections will be closed for safety reasons. He said state officials still are hopeful that people who find items at the Lewes site will bring them in so they can be photographed and cataloged.

Meanwhile, state archaeologists still are not completely sure what the offshore site is.

What they do believe, Griffith said, is that it "is a highly significant archeological site."

If it is a site that was once on land - a possibility because of beach erosion in the area - it could have once been a beach-based settlement, he said.

More likely though, is that the artifacts came from a shipwreck, he said.

State archaeologists first thought they might be looking at artifacts from 1680 to 1720, a period that would have made the site one of the earliest in Delaware's history of European settlement.

But they now believe it could be slightly later, between 1720 and 1740.

If that is the case, and if the offshore site is a shipwreck, it would be the earliest documented shipwreck site in Delaware waters, Griffith said.

Whether the site is a wreck or a settlement, the artifacts are in near-pristine condition, except for the breaks in the glass and pottery as they passed through the dredge onto the beach.

"This type of archaeological site is extremely rare in Delaware, and its significance can be of national importance," Griffith wrote in a letter to the Corps last week.

Janiga, who took his discoveries to Winkler, found several items in Lewes.

One of his finds appears to be a hand-held sundial or some sort of navigational instrument. He also found two rings, each bearing a crucifix enclosed in a clear, glass-like covering; a button cover with a raised emblem of an eagle and an anchor; and a highly detailed replica of a teapot.

The miniature teapot has a rounded bottom and is inset with bone or porcelain. It bears the raised figure of a gargoyle-like profile on the bottom.

"It's neat to see all this stuff, but how it happened is just ridiculous," Winkler said. "They've got to close the beach. Archaeology has got to be done."

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