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22 February 2009
Dig unearths secrets of early Delawareans

As far back as 3,000 BCE, small tribes roamed with the seasons throughout the Delmarva Peninsula (Delaware, USA) and would settle for a while on the relatively high ground near here, where Spring Creek flows into the Murderkill River. Now a small piece of their settlement site is providing a window into how those people lived and raising new questions about how far they traveled to trade with other tribes.
     "Sporadically and periodically over the past 5,000 years, people have been coming back to this site," said David S. Clarke, an archaeologist with the Delaware Department of Transportation. DelDOT is spending about $2 million to excavate the site and collect its artifacts before building an $11 million interchange. The site isn't the biggest archaeological find in Delaware, Clarke said, but it is significant. Usually, discovery of such a site would mean altering the construction project to avoid excavation, which is required by the National Environmental Policy Act. But that wasn't possible with this project. "No matter where the engineers moved the road, it was going to hit the site," Clarke said.
     Crews from Archaeological and Historical Consultants are doing the actual digging and sifting at the site. Field director Scott Padamonsky said the stone tools, pottery shards and other items found during excavation will be taken back to the firm's lab, cleaned, studied, catalogued and returned to Delaware. Eventually, the artifacts will be displayed at the Delaware Archaeology Museum in Dover.
     To Clarke and Padamonsky, the finds present a mystery: The pottery doesn't bear the same patterns as other pieces that have been found in the region. How far did the local people travel to get the pottery? Or did a tribe of outsiders visit here? Clarke said the people who lived in the region thousands of years ago weren't organized into the kinds of identifiable tribes they later became. They ate fish, clams, birds, muskrats, nuts and berries. They lived in something akin to a tepee, but made of sticks and bark.
     The Murderkill and other waterways provided people with 'highways' that allowed them to travel by canoe throughout the peninsula. One thing they didn't have was good stone for making tools. The bits of arrowheads, scrapers and knives found on the site are made of quartz, rhyolite and argillite, which aren't as strong as the flint used by native people north of here, Clarke said. To get those kinds of tools, natives traded their animal hides and clamshell beads with people in what is now Pennsylvania, he said.

Source: Delaware Online (17 February 2009)

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