Photo courtesy New York State Department of Transportation
The Kosciuszko Bridge that connects Queens and Brooklyn in New York City.

New York Bridge Renovation Could Unearth Native Artifacts

ICTMN Staff
2/27/13

Historians and archaeologists are predicting that Native American artifacts could be found along Newtown Creek during the renovation of the Kosciuszko Bridge that connects Queens and Brooklyn in New York City.

The Mespeatches Tribe once lived in the area and the community of Maspeth, Queens was actually named for the tribe. According to the community’s Chamber of Commerce, the term “mespeatches” translates to “at the bad waterplace” and was used because of the many stagnant swamps in the area.

The Mespeatches’ original village was east of where the Mt. Zion Cemetery is today on 54th Avenue until the Dutch and English came in the 1600s.

“The area is very, very rich in potential archeological artifacts,” Bob Singleton, executive director of the Greater Astoria Historical Society, told DNAInfo.com. “There have been a number of archeological digs throughout the years along Newtown Creek.”

The area was declared a national Superfund site in 2010 after a number of oil spills over the years.

Uncovering artifacts was discussed at a public hearing at the end of January when a representative for Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan asked Department of Transportation officials if they were prepared for that possibility.

“We’re well aware of that issue,” said project manager Robert Adams according to DNAInfo.com. She also said that DOT and the State Historic Preservation Office will be identifying and monitoring the areas with the most archaeological potential.

In the draft plan, the State Historic Preservation Office considers the area around the creek to be “archaeologically sensitive” because of its “proximity to water, topography that features high ground overlooking wetlands, the presence of abundant food resources, and the area’s known use by Native Americans at contact.”

DNAInfo.com does report, however, that the plan says the chances of finding intact Native artifacts is minimal because of the amount of human activity along Newtown Creek since that time.

“This area has been degraded, filled, built upon, so it’s unlikely that you’re going to find a whole lot of original material,” Adams said at the January hearing.

Others think it’s possible.

Christina Wilkinson, president of the Newtown Historical Society, told DNAInfo.com, one of the things that may be uncovered are mounds of oyster shells tribes used for currency.

Singleton said items from other more recent time periods could be found as well.

“The area is probably one of the richest archeological sites in New York City,” he said. “I’m not saying that they will find anything, but there is a very strong possibility, and every effort should be made to ensure that if something is, the proper techniques are applied.”

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NAGPRA/AIRFA's picture
NAGPRA/AIRFA
Submitted by NAGPRA/AIRFA on
I like how some have already mitigated. How about 'consultation' with the local tribes or did DNA INfo and Adams, consider this article that "consultation'?

Bob Carlson's picture
Bob Carlson
Submitted by Bob Carlson on
Interesting that the area is also a Superfund site; I've seen that overlap before when I was a state environmental inspector. During a cleanup of an old leaky gas station in 1991, a German cemetery in north St. Louis was discovered underneath. The headstones were all dated 1845-49, coinciding with a big cholera epidemic. After it was over, everybody forgot the cemetery was there. That was an interesting one to work on.
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