Archeologists say artifacts are confined to 3.6 acres

Firm, township ask state to allow work on rest of park land


MONROE – Most of the proposed high school site in Thompson Park is not home to any substantial historical artifacts, according to the results of the latest archeological investigation.

“We recommended that restrictions be lifted in that area,” Richard Grubb, of Cranbury-based Grubb and Associates who conducted the survey, said yesterday.

Grubb and other representatives of the firm announced their findings at Wednesday’s Township Council meeting. Reports have been submitted to the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), and town officials said they expect approval for the release of restrictions on the park land to be granted within the week.

Of the 35-acre site, the archaeologists found items they deemed of note on 3.6 acres. While they recommend that construction be allowed to commence on the remainder of the land, those several acres will be fenced off and examined further, in a phase 3 investigation.

“We looked at two areas where we found some 18th-century materials,” Grubb said. “Only further work will determine exactly what the site was.”

Among the items found on the 3.6 acres were ceramics; turtle shells; animal bones; a piece of a farming hoe; coral; pipe stems and bowls; and the base of a wine bottle.

“Whatever they were doing there, they were obviously having a good time,” Grubb joked.

Of the items found, 90 percent were related with Europeans, not Native Americans, Grubb said. The only items that could be associated with Native Americans were the pipe pieces, according to Grubb.

The site has been a source of controversy for months, for various reasons. One source of contention arose from the DEP’s request that the survey be conducted to determine whether the Leni Lenape Bethel Mission Settlement, dating back to 1746, once stood on the site where the high school is proposed.

After completing a phase 1 investigation, Grubb’s archaeologists determined that Bethel was located roughly a halfmile from the tract in question. They stated that the settlement was located on the former Redmond Farm, adjoining the Lane family property, where an orchard and a spring once existed in the 1840s.

At least one concerned party, however, vehemently disagreed. Richard Walling, who was consulted by the firm during the phase 1 investigation, argued that the site at which they say Bethel stood was on a sloped piece of land, with soil that was not conducive to agriculture. He has also questioned the thoroughness of Grubb’s survey techniques.

“Features ID’d in the phase I survey were not investigated in the phase II work,” Walling wrote in an e-mail.

Though the archaeologists’ report stated that construction should be permitted to begin on the majority of the site, Grubb said they also recommended monitoring during construction.

“Monitoring is not as much of a token gesture as it sounds,” Grubb said. “There are protocols.”

The firm would oversee the construction, and be notified of anything found on the land. From there, they would perform excavation work, while likely diverting construction tasks to another area of the site while they did so, Grubb said.

“The details haven’t been worked out yet,” Grubb said. “The state may come back and dictate to us how the monitoring would be done. The idea is not to delay the work to where it becomes unwieldy.”

Board of Education member Rita Ostrager expressed concern about what would happen if artifacts were found during construction.

“Personally, that worries me,” Ostrager said. “And that has to be a part of our decision on Monday.”

The Board of Education will meet Monday to come to a decision on how to move forward with plans for the high school if approval for the park site is not obtained.

“We don’t expect to find anything there,” Grubb said.

In a letter to township officials Wednesday regarding Grubb’s findings, Assistant Township Attorney Peg Schaffer wrote that the artifacts found on the 3.6 acres could displayed either at the site of the high school or at another location, perhaps in a museum. She noted Grubb’s suggestion that the phase III archeological study itself could present a learning opportunity for high school students.