Skip to Content Skip to Navigation logo

Delaware Department of Transportation

Archaeology/Historic Preservation

DelDOT's Cultural Resources - Archaeological Exploration and Historic Preservation in Delaware

What is Archaeology?

Archaeology is the study of artifacts that have been left behind by people in the past. An artifact is anything that was made or used by people. We study artifacts left by people in history and prehistory. Prehistory means more than 450 years ago, before explorers came from Europe, when Native Americans were the only people in America. We call it prehistory because "pre" means before, and "history" means to write things down. The Native Americans did not have a written language, they had an oral or spoken history.
Why Do Archaeology?
Archaeologists do archaeology to learn about how people lived in the past, both in prehistoric and historic times. They are interested in learning what they ate, where they slept, how they raised their children, and what they liked to do. They do this by studying artifacts that have been left behind in the ground.

An artifact is anything made or used by people, old or brand new. Archaeologists are interested in old artifacts, from a long time ago. Archaeologists look carefully at what they find in order to share what they learn with students, and other people. The places in the ground where artifacts are buried are called sites. As long as the artifacts are buried, they are safe from getting messed up, but sometimes people want to build a road or a building where there is an archaeological site underground. Archaeologists try to learn as much as they can about the people who used to live on the land from the artifacts, because artifacts are like clues left in the ground. Archaeologists study the artifacts to try to find answers to their questions about how people lived a long time ago, since the people are not around anymore to ask questions. After archaeologists study all the artifacts, they use a computer to write a report that tries to create a truthful story about how the people lived a long time ago.
Where do you do Archaeology?
Archaeology can be done almost anywhere. That includes the woods, a farmer's field, and even in a downtown city. An archaeologist is likely to find clues of past life almost anywhere they look on land that has not been too messed up by buildings, roads, or other big construction projects. Sometimes archaeological sites are buried way below the ground. Some things give archaeologists good clues that they might find artifacts and sites, like if the land is close to a river or stream. This is because everyone needed water, and the animals that prehistoric people hunted for food came to drink from the rivers and streams. An archaeologist has to think about how the land has changed over time, remember, everything was wilderness before cities and suburbs started being built.
How do you do Archaeology?
Archaeologists use their hands, and their heads to do their work. After an archaeologist finds some artifacts on the ground, they begin digging to see if there are more artifacts buried in the ground. Sometimes archaeologists have to take off a lot of dirt on the top of the ground to find the artifacts that are buried below. Once they have taken off the newer layer of dirt on the ground, they can begin carefully looking for artifacts in lower layers of soil. They call the layers in the soil strata. Archaeologists have to keep track of where each artifact comes from, so they dig in square units. They give each unit a special number. Then they begin taking off thin layers of soil with a special tool called a trowel. They put the soil into a bucket, then dump the bucket out into a screen. They shake the screen so that the dirt falls out of the bottom, and the artifacts are left in the top. They carefully pick out the artifacts, and put them in special bags with special numbers that tell which unit they came out of. It is very important to write down where. an artifact came from, because this can help us better understand what was going on in certain areas of the site. Archaeologists also take samples of the soil itself, and do special studies in the laboratory to look for very tiny things, like burned seeds or bits of bone, which can tell what prehistoric people were eating from their environment. After the dig is over, archaeologists clean and study each artifact. Each artifact gets entered into the computer, to help create a record that will not get lost. After all the field work and lab work is done, archaeologists write their report on the site, so that other interested people, and other archaeologists, can learn from the finds.
Who can do Archaeology?
Anyone can do archaeology, this includes women and men. An archaeologist has to be willing to put in hard work in the field, as well as at in the laboratory, and even writing at the computer. Once the work at the archaeological site is done, archaeologists must examine, measure, and try to identify each artifact they collected from the site.. They do all of this work in the laboratory. Sometimes, if an archaeologist needs help identifying artifacts, or wants to learn more about something they found, they ask advice from other scientists in jobs that are like archaeology in some ways. Some of these similar scientific fields include anthropology (study of culture and the origin of people), geology (study of the earth and rocks), history (study of past events), paleontology (study of fossils), palynology (study of seeds and pollens), climatology (study of weather and climates), and even biology (study of living beings and life processes). You must go to college if you want to be an archaeologist, or any of these other types of scientists. While in college, you get to learn a lot about archaeology, often at "field schools," which are outdoor classrooms where young archaeologists get hands-on training and experience.
About the Hickory Bluff Archaeological Site
The Hickory Bluff archaeological site is located on the eastern bank of the St. Jones River in Dover, Delaware. Parsons Engineering Science, Inc. is a company that is helping Delaware Department of Transportation do the archaeology at this site. This prehistoric site was first identified in 1994, during an archaeological survey. The site lies in the proposed corridor for the Puncheon Run Connector, which will connect Route 1 with Route 113. Phase III archaeological investigations, or an excavation, is being performed on the site so that we can learn as much from it as possible before construction of the road begins. Archaeologists do not often have the luxury of excavating an entire site, so they must determine an appropriate sample of the site to excavate, enough to allow us to learn as much as possible.

The entire site is over 5 acres in size, and appears to have been occupied by prehistoric people during the Woodland I period, about 3,000 B.C. -1,000 A.D. The Woodland I period had two main culture complexes, called the Barker's Landing (about 3,000 B.C. to 1000 A.D.) and Delmarva Adena (about 500 B.C. to 1 A.D). Occupation of this site was not confined to this period, traces of both the earlier Archaic period, and the later Woodland II period have also been found. Artifacts found at Hickory Bluff include spear points and arrowheads, as well as other sorts of chipped stone tools, and pieces of pottery. The raw materials, or rock, used to make these stone tools includes both locally available jasper, quartz, and quartzite, as well as tools made from rocks that came 'fran' further away, such as cuesta quartzite (from northern Delaware), Flint Ridge chert (from Ohio), argillite (from northeastern Pennsylvania and northern New Jersey), and rhyolite (from northern Maryland). The presence of tools made from the rocks that came from further away means that prehistoric people were either doing a lot of traveling to get their resources, trading with other cultures 'further away, or migrating. More likely, it was probably a combination of all of these possibilities. The pottery sherds that have been found at the Hickory Bluff site have been identified as steatite-tempered Marcey Creek Plain Ware, which was made during the early Woodland I period, as well as later Woodland I pieces of clay tempered pottery, which are associated with the Delmarva Adena complex, represented by several cultures including the Coulbourn, Wilgus, and Nassawango.

This site is very important because in addition to a large number of prehistoric artifacts, a large number of pit houses have also been found. Pit houses are shallow holes, where people lived underneath bark and reed shelters. There are many pit houses at the Hickory Bluff site, which may mean that people were coming back to this site year after year. Prehistoric people did not remain in one place for very long, they were nomadic, which means they moved around quite a bit each year, according to where resources like food (animals and plants) and water were located. Archaeologists are able to take samples of the different layers of soil they dig through, and they can use special techniques to find seeds and other tiny plant remains, that help tell us what plant resources were like in the past.

A Prehistoric Camp in Delaware

Large Version 

Archaeological Features

Large Version 

Prehistoric Chronological Chart

Large Version 

Stratigraphy of an Archaeological Site

Large Version 

Figuring Out a Date

Large Version 

If You Are Interested in Archaeology, See if Your Library Has These Books!

Avi-Yonah, Michael
Dig This! How Archaeologists Uncover our Past. Runestone Press, Minneapolis 1993.

Calloway, Colin G.
Indians of the Northeast. International Book Marketing/Facts on File, New York. 1991.

Cobblestone Magazine, multiple authors
Cobblestone Magazine. the History Magazine for Young People. Cobblestone Publishing, Inc. 1983.

Corbishley, Mike
How do we know where People Came From? Raintree Steck-Vaughn Publishers, Austin, Texas. 1995.

Duke, Kate
Archaeologists Dig for Clues. Harper Collins Publishers, New York. 1997.

Hakim, Joy
The First Americans. Oxford University Press, New York. 1993.

Liptak, Karen
Dating Dinosaurs and Other Old Things. Millbrook Press, Brookfield, CT. 1992.

Pickering, Robert B.
I Can Be An Archaeologist. Children's Press, "Chicago. 1987.

Porell, Bruce
Digging the Past. Archaeology in Your own Back Yard. Addison-Wesley, Mass. 1979.

Runestone Press
Stones and Bones-How Archaeologists Trace Human Origins. Runestone Press, Minneapolis. 1994.

Runestone Press
Sunk! Exploring Underwater Archaeology. Runestone Press, Minneapolis. 1994.

Samford, Patricia and David Ribblett
Archaeology for Young Explorers. Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. 1995.

Satler, Helen Roney
The Earliest Americans. Clarion Books, New York. 1993.

Sherrow, Victoria
American Indian Children of the Past. The Millbrook Press, Brookfield, CT. 1997.

Smith Jr., Howard E
All About Arrowheads and Spear points. Henry Holt and Company, New York. 1989.

Smith-Baranzini, Marlene, and Howard Egger-Bovet
US Kids History: Book of the American Indians. Little, Brown and Company, Boston. 1994.

 ADA Information