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Block House excavation produces centuries of buried secrets

| Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013, 2:06 p.m.
Archaeologist Christine Davis looks over a display case of artifacts on Aug. 21, 2013, that were found at the Fort Pitt Block House during a dig over the weekend at Point State Park.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
Archaeologist Christine Davis looks over a display case of artifacts on Aug. 21, 2013, that were found at the Fort Pitt Block House during a dig over the weekend at Point State Park.

Archaeologists uncovered about 1,000 artifacts spanning centuries during a weekend dig at the Fort Pitt Block House — everything from children's toys to a Native American bear tooth pendant.

“If you were a Native American, this was a very powerful object to wear around your neck,” said Christine Davis, owner of Christine Davis Associates. Her Verona-based firm conducted the excavation that began Thursday.

The inch-long bear tooth with a tiny hole for a string was the favorite piece of Davis and Emily Weaver, curator of the Block House.

“We were so surprised to find it,” Davis said. “We expected to find some Native American objects, but to find something like that was impressive.”

Her firm excavated up to 3 feet deep in a plot south of the Block House. It occupies a site where a garden soon will grow. The last archaeological dig at the Block House was 10 years ago when Davis' firm dug under the floor of the building. Constructed in 1764, it's the oldest building in Pittsburgh.

In 1953, the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh excavated at the Point and found fragments of the logs of old Fort Pitt. The Carnegie Museums excavated again at the Point around 1965.

The oldest of the objects crews found last weekend were fragments of Native American tools dating to 1750 or perhaps centuries earlier. Also on display in a showcase in the Block House is a hide scraper and many objects from the late 19th century, when people lived in tenements at the Point and the area was a hub of railroads and warehouses.

One of the objects from the later period was a child's toy jug, only as big as the tip of a thumb.

“It's like a child would use in a doll house,” Davis said. “The little jug is interesting because it celebrates all the children who lived here after the British occupation.”

Other objects include two clay pipes, a comb, blue Staffordshire ceramic pieces with a floral design and a fragment of a Calvin's Root Beer bottle. It dates to 1894 when the Fort Pitt Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution took over the property.

“The artifacts are amazing,” Weaver said. “It's good to know about the families who lived here. It's good to know about the Native American people who lived here.”

Davis said none of the artifacts on display is from a centuries-old cemetery archaeologists thought they might find.

Her staff has not had a chance to analyze all the objects it collected.

Weaver said the Block House will display the artifacts until October or November. Then they will be stored to protect them from the winter cold.

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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