- The Washington Times - Friday, March 23, 2001

The more construction crews dig around at the future site of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge replacement, the more historical finds they seem to uncover.

Archaeologists, with the help of a backhoe, have discovered evidence of a prehistoric American Indian settlement in Alexandria, Va., dating back 1,500 to 2,000 years.

Some of the artifacts recovered indicate Indians lived in the area as early as 11,000 B.C. The previous estimate was 8,000 B.C.

Two years ago, archaeologists with the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Project verified the existence of the historic Freedmen's Cemetery, home to the graves of more than 1,800 black Civil War soldiers and freed slaves.

On the Maryland side of the span, other prehistoric Indian sites have been discovered, though none with the significance of this latest find.

"This is exciting," said Pam Cressey, Alexandria's city archaeologist. "I'm always amazed … how much survives."

Ms. Cressey said Indian artifacts unearthed earlier in Jones Point Park next to the existing bridge on the Virginia side led her and other archaeologists to believe they would dig up something more there.

What they found were arrowheads, pottery shards, fragments of stone tools and soil stains in oval shapes proof of post holes where two wooden huts once stood.

"We don't usually find these structures," said project archaeologist Dan Cassedy. "It's pretty unusual."

Ms. Cressey said the settlement sat just above a marsh, and the inhabitants put their trash in pits that sloped into the marsh. Nearby, they made stone tools by hand, as evidenced by the debris recovered.

The artifacts will be examined and eventually put on display in the city.

Jones Point is considered a hotbed of historical finds. The site once had a Revolutionary War-era fort, a quarantine house and a fish weir.

In the 1790s, Benjamin Banneker camped out on Jones Point for several months as part of the District of Columbia boundary survey. The boundary marker showing the southernmost point of the District remains there today.

Evidence of a World War I shipyard also remains, where 7,000 people once built 11 vessels for the war effort.

Much more is hidden underground in the area, particularly Indian artifacts, researchers said. The excavation extended only as far as the borders of the bridge construction.

Uncovering such finds "is a neat facet" of the bridge construction, said John Undeland, a spokesman for the Wilson Bridge Project. "It is opening windows of history that otherwise would be shut."

The newest findings will not slow the bridge project, Mr. Undeland said. Federal law allows such a historic site to be destroyed if archaeologists take all artifacts and make records.

A bridge foundation eventually will take the place of the Indian settlement.

Crews finished the first phase of the $2.2 billion Woodrow Wilson Bridge project two months ago dredging 150 barge loads of muck and silt out of the Potomac.

The next phase involves laying the foundation for two new six-lane bridges that will replace the existing six-lane bridge that carries the Capital Beltway over the river.

Yesterday, the Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) announced the $125 million contract for that work has been awarded and work will begin in May.

"This is a major step forward in the cooperative effort between Maryland, Virginia and the Federal Highway Administration to relieve the worst bottleneck on the East Coast," said SHA Administrator Parker F. Williams.

The remainder of the bridge will be constructed during the third and final phase, estimated to begin early next year.


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