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Vol. LXIII, No. 37
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
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Archeological Protocols Challenged at Preservation Commission Meeting

Ellen Gilbert

Citing the Mendham, N.J. finding last week of a stirrup, spoons, nails, horseshoes, and four brass buttons commemorating the inauguration of President George Washington by a retired fire chief using a metal detector, a visitor at Monday’s Historic Preservation Commission meeting challenged the archeological protocols (or lack thereof) followed during recent construction on Quaker Road near the Princeton Battlefield.

Responding to the questioner, who asked not to be identified, Township Engineer Bob Kiser likened the installation of the water main, which continues to Updike Farmstead (a property owned by the Historical Society of Princeton) to similar work done in the recent past on Princeton-Kingston Road. Contractors were informed of the possibility of unearthing artifacts, he said, and they, in turn, notified their employees. Mr. Kiser disagreed with the visitor’s assertion that acknowledging a find would hold up work, saying that rather than being a disincentive, the delay in work would probably represent increased income for the contractor.

“Remember that these are living fields and artifacts are coming to the surface,” the area resident persisted. “How can we have a very strict protocol to ensure that artifacts aren’t lost?”

“Would you like to watch this construction?” responded Historic Preservation Officer Christine M. Lewandoski. The previous installation of a trolley line along the route of the water main had already turned over the area’s soil, Ms. Lewandoski added.

Mr. Kiser pointed out that “nothing was trucked away” in the digging that occurred along Quaker Road, and that since “it was put back,” whatever artifacts might have been turned over are “still there.”

“Has anything been found?” asked Commission president David Schure. “No,” said Mr. Kiser. “But it hasn’t been overseen,” responded the visitor.

Princeton Battlefield Society member Kip Cherry arrived at the meeting in time to support the argument for greater vigilance in archeological protocols pertaining to construction sites, particularly to ones on or near the battlefield. “Princeton doesn’t appreciate what’s here,” she commented, noting that the Battle of Princeton was a turning point in the Revolutionary War.

Committee member Robert von Zumbusch asserted that Princeton’s existing protocol is actually quite good. “There are very few towns that have anything close to this protocol,” he observed. He also pointed out the “enormous cost of properly sifting what are likely to be small items,” were the protocol to be beefed up.

Ms. Cherry suggested that volunteers be organized to do the work. “This is something a lot of people would enjoy doing,” she said, adding that “even Rush Holt would volunteer.”

The complicated process of getting approvals — sometimes the State needs to okay construction projects, sometimes a project, like the Updike Farmstead end of the water main installation, comes under the purview of another agency — was noted by Ms. Lewandoski and Mr. Schure. Liaison Chad Goerner suggested that Township Attorney Ed Schmierer be consulted about the extent to which such work can be regulated.

Commission members were reminded that someone from Princeton High School was scheduled to talk to them about archeology at a later meeting, and it was agreed to make the question a future agenda item.

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