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Historic Blockhouse Is a Treasure Trove of Artifacts

Excavation unearths items dating from the mid-1700s. Although area is now built up, ground under the shelter is untouched.

May 18, 2003|Charles Sheehan | Associated Press Writer

PITTSBURGH — Bouquet's Blockhouse, a shelter for 18th-century soldiers being sniped at or overrun by warring tribes, survived Pontiac's War and two revolutions -- the American and Industrial. It stands today much as it did 240 years ago, only now with a backdrop of skyscrapers and sports stadiums.

Archeologists are sifting through soil under the floor of the brick and stone redoubt with hopes of filling in some unwritten chapters of history.

The Daughters of the American Revolution, which has owned the small structure since 1894, planned to tear up and replace a deteriorating floor. Before any work was done, however, the group allowed archeologists from the nearby California University of Pennsylvania to do a limited excavation.

"We were quite surprised by the amount of artifacts that were found," said Carol Downey Fuller, DAR project manager.

Within two shallow, 1-square-meter digs, archeologists found conical beads used as jewelry by Native Americans and tinkling cones that were sewn into their clothes. They found a child's necklace, tools, weights used to sink fishing nets, shards of Iroquois pottery, musket and pistol balls, and colonial-era flints from English firearms.

The scientists are digging further in hopes of excavating the entire 100-square-foot floor. No one is sure what will be found or if anything of historical significance remains.

What is known is that a fierce struggle to control the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers was waged between superpowers France and England in the mid-1700s during the French and Indian War.

Much of the 36 acres of land where the victorious British built massive Ft. Pitt was later developed with heavy industry.

But the soil under Bouquet's Blockhouse was untouched, piquing the interest of university researchers and Michael Baker Jr. Inc., a firm that does archeological digs for the government before major projects begin.

The company is undertaking the excavation at cost, with archeologists and engineers volunteering their time, said David Anderson, manager of the Cultural Resources Section.

"The blockhouse is a time capsule that dates back to at least the 1760s," Anderson said. "The world kind of turned on that spot for years. Whether you can definitely say there are intact materials below that area, no one is sure."

The redoubt was built on the orders of Col. Henry Bouquet, who led British troops to victory over American Indian forces in the Battle of Bushy Run.

His victory ended the siege of Ft. Pitt, but he built five redoubts outside the fort as scouting points and defensive fall-back positions.

Some of the masonry walls and ramparts of Ft. Pitt have been excavated, but Bouquet's Blockhouse is the only remaining structure.

Archeologists will be looking for items that point to a history that has never been recorded.

"You get a lot of material from historic records, but it's surprising what was never written," Anderson said. "You tend to get a one-sided view ... a lot of things someone wanted someone else to think was happening."

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