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Construction Site Turns Into History Dig

IOWA CITY, Iowa (CBS2/FOX28) -- A University of Iowa construction project is now home to an archaeological dig.

Last week, construction crews putting in a chilled water line started finding artifacts in the ground outside of the Iowa Memorial Union and immediately called in the state archaeologist and FEMA to secure the historical area.

"And in this case, it's stopping the construction in this portion of the site so that we can do an archaeological investigation," said UI Planning, Design and Construction director Rod Lehnertz.

The dig tells the story of early life in Iowa City through everyday items found in limestone and brick foundations in Hubbard Park. Things like decorated ceramics and 3 cent coins date this settlement -- one of the first in Iowa City -- back to the 1830s to 1850s.

The people who lived there could have been some of the workers who built the Old Capitol building, even before Iowa City was incorporated and before Iowa was a territory, Lehnertz said.

But a flood in 1851 wiped out those settlements -- not unlike the flood that would hit Iowa City in 2008, and cause the need for this year's construction project at the IMU in the first place.

The historical dig goes even deeper -- arrowheads found in the soil date back to Native American cultures 3,000 years ago.

Artifacts were also found during construction of the new School of Music building, including Indian trade beads and evidence of some of the first student housing at the University of Iowa.

"It adds to the history of our community, but also to our university, and yes, as we continue to build new, it's important to look back," Lehnertz said.

So, what was going to be just a part of the future turned out to be a window to the past, as well.

"It's just a great way that we can learn about the earliest settlers in Iowa City," said project archaeologist Bill Whittaker.
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