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Archeologists digging up past in preparation for future boom.

At a construction site on Beekman Street downtown, workers carefully scoop up soil in five gallon buckets knowing they are as likely to hit a stray utility line as they are to dig up a skeletal hunk of 18th century guinea fowl.

The project--part of a New York City Department of Environmental Conservation/Department of Design and Construction utilities upgrade--is one of several, including the former African Burial Ground on Duane Street, and the Battery Walls at South Ferry, that gained significance as an important archeological site through the recovery of thousands of artifacts.

"It is surprising that you can still find pockets of intact resources from the 18th century within New York City street beds, but you do, and it is extraordinary," said Amanda Suphtin, director of archeology for the Landmarks Preservation Commission.

As the construction boom peaks around the city, project managers working in tandem with archeologists, will become more common, Sutphin said. Projects in landmarked areas or projects that require thorough environmental reviews, such as the MTA's 2nd Avenue Subway line currently in the pipeline, may require archeological oversight. The relationship does not have to be problematic, Sutphin said.

"A lot of times, people tend to view archeology as a big hold-up for a project, but it doesn't have to be. As long as the lines of communication remain open, work does not need to be interrupted," said Alyssa Loorya, M.A., R.P.A, principal in Chrysalis Archeological Consultants, the firm that is overseeing the Beekman site.

The Beekman Street project has actually altered the way some of the crew's members view their work. One of the most significant of the 5,000 items excavated on the site was a 14 foot long hollowed out yellow pine water pipe which altered the way Paul Critelli, utility manager for Judlau Contracting, Inc. viewed the work he had done replacing city water mains for the past seven years in Lower Manhattan.

"Now I know what it was like in the 1800's and how our ancestors actually distributed water through wooden water mains," Critelli said. "I think that, once my children come of age to actually recognize the findings, history will become more real to them. It really is important for them that we preserve the past."

The project was particularly conducive to archeological oversight because the work, which includes the upgrading of 120-year-old utilities lines and the installation of new catch basins, require curb to curb hand digging to protect delicate utility lines planted in shallow portions of the street. Archeologists have been on the project from the get-go. That area of Beekman Street, between Pearl and Water Streets is landmarked, and city representatives looking over old maps had determined there was a significant chance that intact artifacts may remain there. The street is part of the original shoreline of Colonial New York that ran along Pearl Street. It was created out of landfill and was suspected to be one of many former water lots sold by the city where residents created "cribbing", a sort of dam that could have been built out of interlocking logs and filled to push back the water line over a period of years. Waterlogged property sales were popular for many decades in the early 1800's.

Other significant finds include foundation walls that Loorya believes may have come from a tavern. Within that area over 2500 artifacts were found including shards from fine glassware, remains of guinea fowl and lobster, and a ceramic plate commemorating the death of George Washington. The style of the materials found lead Llorya to believe that the tavern may have catered to a more elite clientele, she said.

Even the most significant finds did not hold up the work, Loorya said. The crew excavated around the foundation wall after it was found.

"If we weren't doing archeology here, they may have broken up the wall as they came across it. Instead, they worked around it. It was a slight shift in the direction of the work, but it didn't hold things up."

Workers actually pointed out dozens of pieces of Carribean staghorn coral that stumped Suphtin who at first couldn't figure out what they were doing along the river until she deduced they were probably used as the ballast on ships. "One of the workers digging pointed it out to me. He knew it was different because they are familiar with the materials they work around. The guys are a wealth of information for me out here," Loorya said.

This kind of work could help keep neighborhoods intact. "As neighborhoods are rapidly changing, it is nice for people to learn what the character of that neighborhood was. It makes history a little more tangible, a little more real," Loorya said.

It could keep business booming for the city as well. Said Sutphin, "Of course, if you want to look at it from a business perspective, New York history brings a lot of tourism.

Tourism brings money and the money helps developers get more money. It's a nice loop."
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Author:Wolffe, Danielle
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Date:Dec 6, 2006
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