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Firm to search for artifacts that date back 5,000 years along Mohawk River

Monday, July 23, 2012
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— Scientists are back on the scene of an archaeological find discovered two years ago alongside the Mohawk River in Amsterdam.

Archaeologists two years ago discovered artifacts dating back 5,000 years at the site where the Canal Corp. plans to build footings for the city’s new $17 million pedestrian bridge.

Findings during a preliminary review were considered significant enough to pursue a full exploration conducted by scientists from the Louis Berger Group, an international consulting firm with an office in Albany.

The grounds west of the state Route 30 bridge were filled with historic items, including a projectile point 5,000 years old and “younger” arrowheads between 2,800 and 3,000 years old.

Other finds included Mohawk Indian ceramics dating back 500 years.

The site is considered unusual because there aren’t many archaeological sites alongside rivers in urban areas. Development typically ruins them.

The Chuctanunda Terrace Site has been protected for decades by one major impediment to accessing the site — the CSX railway. It sits on a terrace above the shore of the river, making it inaccessible from there as well.

Louis Berger field archaeologist Dell Gould confirmed Thursday he and a team were working on the site but he referred any questions to the Canal Corp., which contracted with the company.

State Canal Corp. spokesman R.W. Groneman on Thursday said the work is part of the design phase for the pedestrian bridge — he said the agency expects to have something to report in the spring of 2013.

He said archaeologists are expected to be on the scene for two or three weeks but he had no further information.

“They’re looking for artifacts,” Groneman said.

Another excavation at the site could be good news in the event more artifacts are unearthed — they’re all opportunities to learn more about those who lived in what’s known today as the city of Amsterdam, said city Historian Robert von Hasseln.

Von Hasseln said it was a surprise to him that another excavation had begun —he said there’s typically two phases. The first is a general dig to see if there’s anything of value underground. The second phase is initiated if significant items are found, he said.

He said he could only speculate why another dig is under way.

“For them to go on like this, it means they must have found something of particular significance,” von Hasseln said.

Von Hasseln, who heads up the Historic Amsterdam League dedicated to preserving the city’s history, said the group is eager to work Chuctanunda Terrace Site findings into proposals for educational displays on the new pedestrian bridge.

But he said it’s difficult at this time to get detailed information due to the secrecy and protection afforded to archaeological sites.

Such areas are protected to avoid “treasure hunters” and amateurs from damaging artifacts. “It’s one of those processes where we have to be glad they’re doing the work and we have to be excited about the findings, but we have to be patient and let the process take its course,” von Hasseln said.

 
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