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Thread: Colonial Era Wall Found in Battery Park Subway Dig

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    Default Colonial Era Wall Found in Battery Park Subway Dig

    December 7, 2005

    In Manhattan, Dig This Find: Wall Dates to Colonial Times


    The top of an old wall was discovered by workers digging a new subway tunnel under Battery Park.


    By PATRICK McGEEHAN
    Three weeks after the Metropolitan Transportation Authority started digging a new subway tunnel under Battery Park, the project hit a wall. A really old wall. Possibly the oldest wall still standing in Manhattan.

    It was a 45-foot-long section of a stone wall that archaeologists believe is a remnant of the original battery that protected the colonial settlement at the southern tip of the island. Depending on which archaeologist you ask, it was built in the 1760's or as long ago as the late 17th century.

    Either way, it would be the oldest piece of a fortification known to exist in Manhattan and the only one to survive the Revolutionary War period, said Joan H. Geismar, president of the Professional Archaeologists of New York City.

    "To my knowledge, it's the only remain of its kind in Manhattan," Ms. Geismar said. "It's a surviving colonial military structure. That's what makes it unique."

    Among the items archaeologists have found around the wall are a well-preserved half-penny coin dated 1744 and shards of smoking pipes and Delft pottery, said Amanda Sutphin, director of archaeology for the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission.

    "It's one of the most important archaeological discoveries in several decades in New York City," said Adrian Benepe, commissioner of the city's Department of Parks and Recreation. "Everybody knows that the Bronx is up and the battery's down. But I don't think anybody anticipated that the battery was 10 feet down."

    Some city officials already are excited about the discovery and what it can teach historians and tourists alike about life in New York under British rule. But its discovery has posed a dilemma for transit officials, who are in a hurry to replace the 100-year-old South Ferry station.

    Ms. Geismar and other archaeologists said it was too soon to say exactly when the wall was built or by whom. Most likely, it is the base of a barrier at what was then the shoreline, built to protect soldiers as they fired guns and cannons at attacking ships, they said.

    Several historians and archaeologists interviewed about the find said they did not have enough information yet to compare its significance to other important discoveries in Lower Manhattan. In 1979, the walls of the Lovelace Tavern, which was built in 1670, were found during excavation for the building at 85 Broad Street that now serves as the headquarters of Goldman Sachs, the investment bank. And in 1991, digging for a federal building a block north of City Hall turned up the African Burial Ground that dates back to the early 1700's. In both cases, at least some of the remains were preserved.

    A battery wall appears on maps from the 1760's, but some archeologists said they have a hunch that this wall may predate that one by as much as 60 years. Some say the discovery of the coin near the base dates it to at least the 1740's. There is no way to tell for sure exactly how old the wall is, but the archeologists want to study the material in and around it more closely, and perhaps even dig under it to find more clues.

    What is clear about the battery wall, which sits on bedrock about nine feet below street level, is that it stands in the way of the M.T.A.'s plan to build a section of tunnel for the No. 1 train that will connect to a new transit station at South Ferry.

    The M.T.A. planned to spend about $400 million on the project, which began in late 2004 and is scheduled to be completed in two years. The money came from the Federal Transit Administration after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

    But the M.T.A. has not estimated how much the discovery will add to the cost of the project or to its duration, said Tom Kelly, a spokesman for the M.T.A.

    "It's premature to discuss this thing at all, other than to say that we have made this find and we are protecting it," Mr. Kelly said. But the M.T.A.'s handling of the site has already rankled some preservationists.

    When an excavation crew discovered the 8-foot-thick wall in early November, it was one continuous stretch of cut and mortared stones about 45 feet long, archaeologists familiar with the project said. But pictures and drawings produced by M.T.A. employees show that the wall is now in two smaller pieces about 10 feet apart. The gap, the archaeologists said, was created by the steel claw of a backhoe before they could halt work at the site.

    For the past month, work on the tunnel there has been at a standstill while officials of the various city agencies involved have argued about how to preserve some or all of the wall and proceed with construction of the tunnel.

    The M.T.A.'s contractor on the project, the Schiavone Construction Company of Secaucus, N.J., was being paid extra to complete its work in Battery Park quickly so that the park could be reopened by summer. In exchange for the right to tear up the park, the M.T.A. agreed to spend more than $10 million cleaning up the mess and helping to reconfigure the park as the parks department has envisioned. That redesign would include the creation of a bicycle path to link the riverfront on the east and west sides.

    But the contractor is already a few weeks behind schedule and engineers are anxious about a prolonged delay. One idea the M.T.A. floated was to remove a 3-foot-long section of the wall to be preserved elsewhere, then plow ahead with the excavation. But Mr. Benepe and Robert B. Tierney, the chairman of the Landmarks Preservation Commission, said they had been assured that no decisions had been reached on the matter.

    "I'll talk to parks about that and look at the options and see how much could be and should be preserved," Mr. Tierney said.

    The uneasiness between the various officials was apparent today when archaeologists from Landmarks and representatives of the parks department arrived at the site, which has been cordoned off with a plywood fence. A group of officials from the M.T.A. Capital Corporation turned the visitors away, telling them that the wall had been hidden under wooden planks that could not easily be lifted.

    That response came as a surprise to the parks department representatives, who were preparing to hold a news conference there on Thursday with remarks provided by officials including Mr. Benepe and Katherine Lapp, the executive director of the M.T.A. Late today, the various agencies said two planks would be removed Thursday to provide a glimpse of the wall and the news conference would go on without Ms. Lapp.

    The inter-agency squabbling did not dampen the enthusiasm of the preservationists, though.

    "This is thrilling," said Warrie Price, president of the Battery Conservancy, a not-for-profit organization that supports revitalization of the battery. Ms. Price added that she hoped the wall could be reconstructed, at least in part, above ground in the park.

    "If these stones are able to be reused, it would be wonderful to be able to actually touch this history."

  2. #2
    Chief Antagonist Ninjahedge's Avatar
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    Of all the things to run into....

    That both sucks and rocks. Cool discovering things like that, but right in the middle of a planned dig......


    NY has so many buried secrets....
    Last edited by Ninjahedge; December 8th, 2005 at 01:32 PM.

  3. #3

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    It was too good to be true.

    Construction was moving along quickly, and not just by MTA standards.

    This photo was taken on Nov 5, when tunnel work inside Battery Park began.


    Two weeks later, decking was complete from Greenwich St into the park.


    Nothing is easy in Manhattan. The tunnel runs directly under the Fritz Koenig sphere.


    I guess they won't be blasting for awhile.

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    Wow, it's big! Very cool - yet not altogether shocking. They must have considered that they might dig up some historic structures and/or artifacts considering the location.

    Thanks for the pics - they really did go right under that sphere.

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    YEY! Crappy 8 car(or whatever # of cars) circle for longer! w00t!

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    Why not extract the whole remnant, restore it, and donate it to a museum? Or, if it's in good enough shape, install it as part of the new Peter Minuit plaza.

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    Disgruntled Optimist lofter1's Avatar
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    The view from the other side of the pond ...

    Redcoats halt subway in New York

    By Francis Harris in Washington
    The Telegraph
    December 9, 2005

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main...9/ixworld.html


    The British military has halted a multi-million dollar project to update New York's subway system more than 200 years after the last Redcoats left the city.

    Workers drilling a tunnel in Manhattan have come across a 45ft section of wall from a colonial-era fort and have had to stop work.

    Adrian Benepe, the parks commissioner, described the find as "one of the most important archaeological discoveries in several decades in New York City".

    Archaeologists say the wall could date from the reign of Queen Anne at the start of the 18th century.

    But their demands to study the site in detail have caused tensions with transport officials trying to complete a £230 million subway expansion. They even stopped parks officials setting foot on the site.

    It is claimed earth-moving equipment has been used since the discovery and the wall has been reduced to two smaller sections with a large hole in the middle.

    Under one compromise suggestion, a three-foot section of the British wall would be put on display above ground and the rest bulldozed to allow the work to continue.


    © Copyright of Telegraph Group Limited 2005

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    Quote Originally Posted by TLOZ Link5
    Why not extract the whole remnant, restore it, and donate it to a museum? Or, if it's in good enough shape, install it as part of the new Peter Minuit plaza.
    Same thing I thought.

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    Chief Antagonist Ninjahedge's Avatar
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    No. lets just take 3' out and demolish the rest....

    They need to do it carefully, but I do not see anything of great historic significance that would be lost here if it was not handled like china......

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    In Mexico City they found Aztec ruins when digging the subway. They left many visible within the stations.

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    In Athens, at least one metro station has parts of the old city wall on display.

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    Battery’s wall rediscovered 300 or so years later

    By Jefferson Siegel

    Hidden from sight for centuries, parts of Downtown continue to yield treasures and secrets from the city’s rich history. In 1991, just north of City Hall, workers excavating land for the Federal Building unearthed an African Burial Ground.

    Last month, just after expansion work had begun on a new South Ferry subway station, a mortared stone wall was unearthed below the surface of Battery Park. The discovery brought digging to a halt so that an archaeological assessment could be conducted.

    The wall, believed to be a portion of the city’s early fortifications from the late 17th century, is estimated to be at least 40 feet long and 7 feet wide. Several items found near the rampart, including two coins, helped offer a preliminary estimate of the wall’s age. A British half penny bearing the likeness of King George II bore the date 1744. Other artifacts, including a medallion believed to date to 1755, were found on top of and adjacent to the wall.

    “We’re here today to announce what may be the most important archeological discovery in a New York City park in many, many years,” Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe said last week.

    Despite a host of past construction projects under Battery Park, including a highway underpass, the Brooklyn-Battery tunnel, subway tunnels, air shafts and landfills, “We were surprised by the extent of the finds,” Benepe said.

    In 1624, the Dutch East-India Company established an outpost on the Battery at a time when Native-Americans inhabitated the area. Manhattan’s southernmost area was a first line of defense for the City of Niew Amsterdam, soon to become the City of New York in 1664.

    In the 17th century a series of structures and fortifications were built in the area. These forts, known as “batteries,” gave rise to the area’s current name. Recalling the popular song, “New York, New York” (“The Bronx is up and the Battery’s down”), Benepe, standing several feet from a hole in which a small portion of the wall was visible, turned toward the excavation and noted, “The battery, if this is a battery, is about ten feet down. It will be of the greatest importance for us to assess what’s down there and develop a plan to salvage it and get it out of the way of the subway construction.”

    Robert Tierney, chairperson of the Landmarks Preservation Commission, was no less thrilled with the discovery. “It is incredibly exciting,” he said. “Just when you think you’ve discovered everything in this city, you come across something like this,” he enthused. “It will provide yet another important element of the city’s history that you can see, touch, feel and be a part of,” Tierney added.

    Bill Rudin, chairperson of the Battery Conservancy, equated the significance of unearthing the wall with the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. He echoed Benepe’s suggestion that the wall would be excavated and situated above ground “so that the world can see the history of this great park and this great city.” Over the years, the private-sector Conservancy has raised tens of millions of dollars towards park rebuilding.

    Warrie Price, President of the Conservancy, stood nearby holding a framed antique map of the Battery. “I purchased this map at an antique shop in New York ten years ago,” around the time she founded the Conservancy. “Understanding it (the essence of the Battery) was looking at great old maps, never dreaming it was going to be the ability to tell us something about the surface.” Price, Benepe and Tierney spent several minutes looking at the framed 1740 map as Price explained how it helped determine where the newly-unearthed wall may have originated. “I love the drawing of the half-moon Battery,” she said. Pointing to the lower portion of the map, Price noted the similarities in the area that have persevered over the centuries, adding, “It’s the same prow as we have today. It is the same curvature, it is our seawall design.”

    Benepe noted that the wall might have remained hidden and buried had new station work not been undertaken. He added that, after completion of station construction, the M.T.A. will create “a village green and a bikeway that would parallel the street system” in one portion of the park. “The experts themselves are still ascertaining exactly what’s here. The stretch of wall that’s been discovered so far traverses the entire width of this construction cut,” Benepe said.

    Digging continues in areas removed from the wall. “A lot of the pressure to deliver this project on a timely basis is from the Parks Department,” Commissioner Benepe added. “To get the park reopened to the public as soon as possible, we have told them, if it means delaying reopening the park to salvage this in a professional way so that it can be reused above ground, we’re okay with that.” Benepe said the transit hub, located further south from the excavation, is not in any danger of alteration or delay.

    Contrary to one early report, Mysore Nagaraja, president of the M.T.A. Capital Construction Co., reassured that the wall had not suffered any damage during excavation and was in one piece.

    A conservator and technicians will determine the best way to remove that portion of the wall blocking subway construction and how to raise the wall to the surface.

    As of Wednesday, the Parks Department did not know when work would begin to remove the wall.

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    Pondering a Wall, and Trying Not to Hit One

    By PATRICK McGEEHAN
    New York Times
    December 19, 2005

    http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/19/ny...J5emP5fkbNndBg


    Cary Conover for The New York Times

    A 45-foot segment of cut and mortared stones,
    which archaeologists say was either a Colonial-era
    battery wall that protected European settlements in
    the south end of Manhattan or a piece of a fort
    that replaced Fort Amsterdam. Workers unearthed
    the wall last month while digging a subway tunnel in Battery Park.


    First came the excitement over the discovery of a Colonial-era fortification in Battery Park. Now it's decision time: What should the New York City do with this massive relic?

    City officials have conceded that the thick stone wall, which sits about nine feet below street level and perpendicular to the path of a planned subway tunnel, is too historically significant to cart off to a landfill. Archaeologists believe it was built at least 240 years ago and was either part of the battery wall that protected European settlements at the south end of Manhattan or a piece of one of the forts that replaced Fort Amsterdam.

    But coming up with a plan for preserving the wall, discovered last month, presents a bigger puzzle. City officials must answer a string of questions: How much of the wall should be removed from the ground? How and where would it be displayed? Where would it be stored in the meantime? And who is going to pay for all of this?

    Adrian Benepe, the city's parks commissioner, said that he hoped some of those questions would be answered at a meeting scheduled for today at the offices of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

    He said that one of the biggest obstacles was cleared on Thursday when the authority agreed to hire conservation experts to draft a plan for extracting the wall from the subway trench.

    But those planners will have to act fast. Joan C. Berkowitz, a partner in Jablonski Berkowitz Conservation Inc., said the transportation authority has asked her firm to take two weeks to document the current state of the wall in enough detail so that it can be taken apart and reconstructed. Still, she said it would probably require three.

    "It puts a damper on the holidays and puts a little buzz on them as well," Ms. Berkowitz said. "When something this interesting or odd or unique comes up, it's hard to say no."

    Mr. Benepe said the wall extends beyond the edges of the trench dug by construction crews on the eastern side of Battery Park, but only the 45-foot-long segment that has been uncovered will be removed. His preference, he said, is for that section to be rebuilt in the park after the trench is filled.

    "We will move the wall out of harm's way in such a way that it can be reinstalled, preferably in the park in a location as close as possible to its current site," he said.

    Warrie Price, president of the Battery Conservancy, a nonprofit organization dedicated to maintaining Battery Park, expressed a similar desire. "I would hope that it can be shown outdoors at the site where it was found without it being a deterrent to its conservation," Ms. Price said. "I want people to really see the real thing in its real place."


    Librado Romero/The New York Times

    Workers unearthed the wall last month
    while digging a subway tunnel in Battery Park.

    A remnant of the wall marking what once was the shoreline of Manhattan, before Dutch settlers extended it with landfill, would help explain to visitors how the area looked before the Revolutionary War, she said. Until now, there has been no visible piece of the battery, for which the park is named. Castle Clinton, the reconstructed fort in the park, was built around 1810 on what had been an island about 200 feet from shore.

    Already, tourists and history buffs have been wandering the park, looking for the wall, Ms. Price said. But it is shielded from view by a wooden fence that surrounds the construction site.

    Mr. Benepe and Ms. Price praised transportation authority officials for their cooperation and willingness to delay the subway project, which is connected to the construction of a new station at South Ferry. Mr. Benepe said he hoped that removing and preserving the wall would not cost more than "a few hundred thousand dollars," and said he expected the money to come out of the authority's funds for the subway project.

    "They've actually been terrific," Mr. Benepe said of the officials. "They've had to recalibrate their construction schedule because of the wall. but there was genuine excitement about it."

    Mysore L. Nagaraja, the president of the M.T.A. Capital Construction Company, who was scheduled to meet with Mr. Benepe today, referred questions about the wall to the transportation authority's press office.

    Ms. Berkowitz said she was confident the wall could be reassembled aboveground and would withstand the elements of life in modern-day New York.

    "There's no reason in my mind that it would have to be cordoned off," she said. "It's a big hunk of wall."

    She said it was as much as eight feet thick but no more than three feet high, and was actually two walls in one. It was made of two stacks of cut stones, possibly granite, that were mortared together, she said, and the middle was filled with mud and rubble.

    Ms. Berkowitz said she would leave the debate about what the wall was and when it was built to the archaeologists. So far, there has been no consensus. Archaeologists who have inspected the wall agreed that it was built before America was a country, but their estimates of its age varied by 60 years or more.

    Amanda Sutphin, the director of archaeology for the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission, said she had a hunch the wall may have been part of Fort George or one of the other forts that stood at the foot of the island.

    If so, she said, it could date to the early 1700's or even the late 1600's.

    The original fort, Fort Amsterdam, was built in 1625 and replaced by a succession of forts, including Fort George. Those forts are believed to have been where the old Custom House now stands, across State Street from Battery Park.

    Ms. Sutphin said that if the wall "is part of the fort, then our idea of where the fort was is wrong."

    But other archaeologists said they believed it was part of a battery wall along the water's edge that was built in the mid-1700's. Either way, it would be the oldest military fortification known to exist in Manhattan.

    "Sea wall? Fort wall? Fortification? Everyone has an idea what the wall is," Ms. Price said. At a dinner party last week, she was asked to "talk about the wall for five minutes," and happily obliged, she said.

    "I'm kind of enjoying the excitement of not knowing, not having the defined this-is-it from the archaeologists," she said. "It's getting everyone involved in, 'What do you think it is?' "


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    Disgruntled Optimist lofter1's Avatar
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    Digging for a Subway, but Hitting a Wall, Again

    By PATRICK McGEEHAN
    NY Times
    January 23, 2006

    http://www.nytimes.com/2006/01/23/nyregion/23wall.html

    Workers digging up Battery Park for a 21st-century subway station keep bumping into the 18th century at every turn.

    For the second time in a few months, workers have uncovered a stone wall that archaeologists believe has stood near the southern tip of Manhattan since New York was a British colony. Like the one found in November, this wall stands in the way of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's plan to replace the South Ferry station, where the No. 1 train turns around to head back uptown.

    City officials said they did not yet have a clear idea of when the second wall was built or what its purpose was. But they have agreed that it, like the first one, is historically significant and must be preserved.

    "It's a historic wall of some kind," said Adrian Benepe, commissioner of the Department of Parks and Recreation.

    The second wall was discovered in late December, and transit officials were concerned that it could prompt the Federal Transit Administration, which is paying for the new station, to halt the project.

    But Bernard Cohen, director of the administration's Lower Manhattan Recovery Office, decided on Thursday that the excavation could resume in the park after all of the pieces of the two walls were cataloged, carefully removed and stored in crates.

    Joan C. Berkowitz, an architectural conservator who is supervising the removal of the walls for the transportation authority, said that the first wall should be removed by the end of January and that the second might be removed by early February.

    The authority does not have an official estimate of the cost of removing the two walls, but Mysore L. Nagaraja, the president of the M.T.A. Capital Construction Company, which oversees the authority's expansion projects, said he hoped it would not exceed $1 million. He said he believed the project could still be completed by the end of next year and within its $420 million budget.

    "I want to have them out of my way yesterday, but I know that is not real," Mr. Nagaraja said. "The sooner it's out of our way, the less I hear from the contractor about schedule delays."

    "A few weeks are lost," Mr. Nagaraja said, because digging was halted in the areas around the two walls. But, he said, crews have continued demolishing 60,000 cubic yards of bedrock to make room for the station and a new tunnel section that will connect to it.

    "The other rock, we just blast it away and truck it away," Mr. Nagaraja said. "We have to do this with kid gloves."

    Ms. Berkowitz said workers would take apart chunks of the walls with chisels and rubber mallets. Once loose, the sections will be lifted "gingerly" out of the trenches in canvas bands attached to construction cranes, she said.

    The second wall, made of stone blocks and mortar, is similar to the first, but is longer and taller and appears to have been constructed with logs near its base that extend to the east, Ms. Berkowitz said.

    It is several feet below street level and about 300 feet south of the first wall, which archaeologists believe may have been part of the original defensive battery, which gave the park its name.

    The first wall, which is more than 40 feet long and about 8 feet thick, was constructed as two stacks of stones sandwiching a pile of rubble. It is in the northeast corner of Battery Park, near the island's original shoreline, and archaeologists working on the project said British soldiers may have built it in the mid-1700's to protect one of the forts that dominated the settlement at the southern tip of the island.

    But some of them believe the wall may have been part of one of the forts and could have been built as long ago as the late 1600's.

    Either way, it would be the oldest fortification that still exists in Manhattan, they said. The second wall may rest on landfill that extended several hundred feet along the shoreline to the south and west. Castle Clinton, a national monument that now sits in Battery Park, was built in the early 19th century on rocks beyond the shore.

    In the past 100 years, the park has repeatedly been dug up to accommodate transportation infrastructure, including subway tunnels, the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel and the Battery Park underpass.

    "So much excavation has happened in the Battery, it's amazing that there's still in this one undisturbed part so much of our history being revealed," said Warrie Price, president of the Battery Conservancy, a nonprofit group dedicated to improving the park.

    Ms. Price said the walls would be stored in the park until the subway tunnel was finished and the authority restored the grounds.

    Ms. Price said that she would like to see a plaque or some other reference to the walls placed above the sites where they were found. But she said she hoped that they would not be completely reassembled in the park in a way that would impede recreational activity.

    She added that one solution may be to exhibit parts of the walls in Castle Clinton, which belongs to the National Park Service.

    Mr. Benepe said the walls must be removed before any decisions could be made about where they would end up and who would pay for their relocation.
    "We'll cross that wall when we come to it," he said.



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    Chief Antagonist Ninjahedge's Avatar
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    You know, while I believe it is important to learn and preserve the past, how important is a wall?

    Do we really need to catalog every stone to be able to do bilogical tests on it to see how many Brits pissed on it while they were in NY? I mean, this sounds like people take it as if age denotes importance.

    I think the history surrounding it is important, and they should be careful in its removal to preserve any OTHER historical reminants that may be found. But once the whole thing is exhumed it is nothing but a bunch of rocks that have been buried for more than 100 years.


    What will happen, 500 years from now, if we start another tunnel project that runs into a dupsite full of old Commodore 64's? Would that entail any kind of historical preservation crusade?

    I hope they can keep their eyes focused on what is important about the find, and the project, and not get caught up in preserving meaningless material findings.

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