A "once in a lifetime" opportunity for archeologists to study the first people to inhabit the US has taken place after thousands of ancient artefacts were discovered – almost completely by accident.
The Department of Transportation in Connecticut were constructing a bridge over the Farmington River in Avon when workers discovered the historic site, which dates back 12,500 years to a time known as the Paleoindian Period.
The project required deep excavation for the construction of the bridge, which is the only reason this ancient site was discovered, with archeologists normally unable to dig so deep due to the prohibitive costs.
Archaeologists were given the rare opportunity to look at a site six feet under the surface, where they found an open fire pit and a number of posts from temporary housing, along with 15,000 artefacts that were mostly primeval tools.
Catherine Labadia, a staff archaeologist with the State Historic Preservation Office, told The Hartford Courant : "This is the once-in-lifetime opportunity to look [at a site of this age] in Connecticut.
“This site has the potential to make us understand the first peopling of Connecticut in a way we haven’t been able to.”
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The team uncovered 15,000 artefacts, most of which are ancient tools, and 27 features.
The features are remnants of what the team calls 'human activity' and are much rarer to find.
These features include holes and walls – what Senior Archaeologist David Leslie described as "traces of behaviour" that have been recorded in the earth.
Archaeologists also found an open fire pit or hearth, and a number of posts from temporary houses.
Leslie noted that just a few Paleoindian features have ever been discovered in this part of the country and the Avon site revealed more than 24.
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The site shows evidence of the earliest known population in Connecticut, she said.
Labadia said that archaeologists working on their own would normally not be able to conduct such a deep dive because of how expensive it is to do.
Although Department of Transportation workers had not been expecting to discover the site – there was one archaeologist who did think the area was of significant historic value.
The artefacts may have been left undiscovered if not for the work of the late Brian Jones, an archaeologist who worked at Archaeological & Historical Services and later became the state archaeologist.
Jones, who tragically died over the summer after a battle with cancer, had a “knack” for finding Paleoindian sites, Leslie said.
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“Many other archaeologists, I think, have missed sites that are deeply buried because we’re used to only investigating the top few feet,” Leslie said. "But Brian had a feeling that there could be the potential for archaeology here.”
Thankfully Jones did get the opportunity to see the fruits of his labour before his death, and even after his cancer diagnosis he would regularly visit the site to offer his advice and expertise to the archaeological crews.
“Brian was battling cancer throughout the past year … and yet he still found time almost every week to be on site with us,” Leslie said.
Labadia said the site discovery felt like a final ode to Jones’ years of dedicated work.
She said: “It was almost like a gift that was given to him.”
To honor Jones and his work, the Avon site has been dubbed the Dr. Brian D. Jones Paleoindian Site.
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