Danbury dig unearths local prehistory

DANBURY TWP. A human leg bone juts out beneath layers of soil, while at another site excavators work on to unearth a fragment
JACOB LAMMERS
May 24, 2010

DANBURY TWP.

A human leg bone juts out beneath layers of soil, while at another site excavators work on to unearth a fragmented human skull.

Although their work could be confused with the latest episode of CSI, archaeologists and volunteers are actually uncovering the secrets of an ancient civilization. For the last four summers, a team from the Cleveland Museum of Natural History has sifted through the soil to uncover the remains of a prehistoric Native American culture.

The ancient tribe occupied the land overlooking Sandusky Bay about 5,000 years ago, but disappeared before European explorers arrived.

The excavation, called the Danbury site, sits on private property at a construction site, where researchers have discovered animal and fish bones, human burials and pottery shards.

"We're just finding what they left behind," said Brian Redmond, the natural history museum's curator and director of the dig.

The Native American tribe hunted and gathered food and also fished, Redmond said.

Brothers Greg and Gary Spatz bought the land overlooking Sandusky Bay in 1999 and wanted to develop the property for housing.

In June 2003 construction began on the property, which led to the discovery of skeletal remains and cooking and storage pits.

"When we hit that we weren't sure what to do," Spatz said.

Ohio, unlike other states, has no laws against destroying an archaeological site on private property Redmond said.

Spatz pumped millions of dollars into The Cove on the Bay development project, but halted it to give researchers a chance to examine the 10-acre archaeological site.

"Everything isn't about the bottom line," Spatz said. "I think you have to give back to the community, to science. You can't be just greedy and profit-motivated. You try to do the right thing."

Last week, excavators uncovered the top of a fragmented skull that will be transported to The Ohio State University's Anthropology Department, where it will be analyzed for age, gender and diseases.

The skull and several other skeletal remains will be returned to the dig, where they will be buried at a common grave site.

Though they have no ancestral connection to the Danbury tribe, the Wyandotte Nation of Oklahoma will perform the burial rituals. The Wyandotte Nation occupied Northwest Ohio in the 19th century.

Redmond expects the site will be completely excavated by the end of this summer's six-week dig. Two of the five lots were thoroughly excavated and will eventually be built on. Three lots will be preserved.

"People should realize that this is part of their heritage and history," Redmond said. "It's the history of where they live."