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Fort Pitt yields little of its past to digging archaeologists

| Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013, 9:37 p.m.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Archaeologist and crew chief Andre Parquette (left) looks at the contents of a soil probe with archaeologist Christine Davis and project manager Mindy LaBelle as they survey the site outside the Fort Pitt Block House at Point State Park, Downtown, on Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013.
Steven Adams | Tribune-Review
This year marks the 250th anniversary of the Fort Pitt Block House at Pittsburgh's Point State Park. Wednesday, June 25, 2014.
Steven Adams | Tribune-Review
Pittsburgh's Point State Park has earned accolades from the American Planning Association as one of the group’s 10 Great Public Spaces.
Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh
The earliest known photograph of the Block House, taken around 1890 before the building was given to the Daughters of the American Revolution. At the time of the photograph, the Block House was in use as a tenement with a family living on the second floor and another family occupying the first floor. The people featured in the photograph are unknown, but they may include some of the actual inhabitants of the Block House.
James Knox | Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
The Block House in Point State Park Tuesday June 4, 2013.

Archaeologists have begun digging near the Fort Pitt Block House to find remains of its long-buried past, including a cemetery about 250 years old.

“It doesn't matter if we find human remains or a bunch of glass bottles from the 1860s. Anything we find will be considered a treasure,” said Emily Weaver, curator of the Block House.

“It's part of our mission to promote historical research, archaeological research. It's part of our stewardship of owning the Block House.”

The Fort Pitt Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution commissioned Christine Davis Consultants to excavate the land near the city's oldest building where a garden will be planted. The excavation — the first on the Point since the land below the floor of the Block House was dug up 10 years ago — started Thursday and continues through Saturday.

Archaeologist and crew chief André Parquette carefully excavated about 4 square feet of turf near the garden. After a few hours, he found bits of plastic, remnants of modern times, but no buttons, bottles or bones.

“From an artifact standpoint, the best things we'd possibly find is a privy,” he said. “It's universal that people use the toilet to flush away things they don't want people to find.”

Davis' Verona-based firm excavated 2 feet under the Block House in 2003. It found shards of glass, ceramic pieces, marbles, beads, musket balls and a French gun flint.

This time, the firm is going 3 feet underground.

“I expect to find at the very least evidence of the historical period when residents were living here — pioneers,” Davis said. “I think we'll find some Native American objects, arrowheads, stone tools of different types.”

Without getting their hopes up too high, Block House officials are excited by a 1760s map that shows the location of the cemetery near the Block House. During the flood of 1763, three coffins washed up nearby, according to a journal kept by a Quaker trader living at the Point.

“That graveyard sits right here, right where we're standing,” said Weaver, waving her arms at the site of the excavation.

In 1953, the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh excavated the site and found fragments of the logs of old Fort Pitt, the brass spout of a gunpowder flask and the waste from making musket balls, said Janet Johnson, museum curator of archaeology at the State Museum of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg.

She said the Carnegie Museums dug there again between 1964 and 1965.

“Archaeology helps reveal what we might not know about the past,” she said.

Bill Zlatos is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7828 or bzlatos@tribweb.com.

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