MARBLEHEAD, Ohio - Archaeologists are in a race against time to uncover Native American artifacts and human remains from the site of a Danbury Township housing development.
Gary Johannsen, a member of the Ohio Archaeology Society, said volunteers have found remains from at least 23 Native Americans dating to 1650 and before, plus evidence of housing, pottery, food, and weapons from earlier civilizations.
“As long as they'll let us dig, we'll have people here. ... It's a very significant site,” Mr. Johannsen said.
Brothers Gary and Greg Spatz, who are developing a marina and 80 single-family homes on 31 acres along Sandusky Bay, are willing to leave the burial sites alone for now, but plan to continue the project.
Gary Spatz said he has instructed the project's contractor to avoid the roughly three acres where remains and artifacts have been found.
“I just told him to work around the area so the scientific guys can do what they need to do,” he said. “We are going to create a greenspace, once the scientific community has had a reasonable amount of time to put [the remains] back in the ground, which is where they belong,”
The first artifacts on the site along Danbury North Road were uncovered two weeks ago. Within a few days, volunteers found human bones, including entire skeletons.
“We knew we had a major burial site,” Mr. Johannsen said.
The presence of Native American artifacts on the site was documented more than 25 years ago. According to a 1977 report on file with the Ohio Historic Preservation Office, visitors saw artifacts during a walk-through of the area.
David Snyder, archaeology reviews manager for the Ohio Historic Preservation Office, said state laws do not cover development of burial sites, giving property owners a free hand in most cases.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers claims jurisdiction over the proposed marina work, but considers the housing development a separate project that it has no authority to regulate, said Marty Wargo, a biologist with the Corps' Buffalo district office.
“We are still looking at archaeological impacts that may be associated with the marina,” Mr. Wargo said. “Any connection between the marina and the housing development is tenuous at best.”
Mr. Snyder believes the inclusion of a marina for the private use of residents gives the Corps the right to intervene on the site. It's a right he thinks the federal government should have exercised.
“I think we've missed a real opportunity here, and it's unfortunate,” he said. “We've missed the opportunity to secure this archaeological site and have something preserved that is of tremendous importance.”
Mr. Johannsen said he and other members of the archaeology society are grateful the developers have permitted them to work on the property.
“They don't have to let us do that, but they've been bending over backward to help us,” he said. “You can't stop progress.”
The remains and artifacts from the site are being sent to the Firelands Archaeological Research Center in Amherst, Ohio, to be examined, tested, and carbon-dated.
During a visit to the site earlier this week, Mr. Johannsen displayed pieces of pottery, animal bones, and flint tools - some of them still sharp after centuries underground.
A large pit, dug to a depth of 5 feet, yielded several sets of remains, plus charred corn kernels, cherry pits, and evidence of grease from cooking fires.
Some of the pottery contained white flecks, indicating that the clay was shell-fired. Those pieces likely date to the 16th and 17th centuries, shortly before the Seneca, Wyandot, and other Native American tribes were wiped out in Ottawa County by Iroquois attackers.
Other artifacts document a Native American presence in the area up to 10,000 years ago, Mr. Johannsen said.
“We're just touching the surface of this, so it's exciting,” he said.