Dubuque's ancient history unearthed in Southwest Arterial land - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Dubuque's ancient history unearthed in Southwest Arterial land


Progress and history are colliding as archeologists dig up Dubuque's past.

This is on land the city intends to purchase in the construction of Dubuque's Southwest Arterial, a major traffic mitigation project intended to connect Highway 20 with Highway 151 in Dubuque.

Sifting through history is a dirty job, but this team of archeologists say it's an important one. Leah Rogers is the team's lead investigator.

"Roads do need to be built, but it's wonderful that we can also build our roads but then not destroy our heritage in the process as well," Rogers said Thursday afternoon at the site.

She said it's land rich with history.

"Every place we've dug, we've found stuff," Rogers said.

That includes Wednesday's exciting find. After two months on site, the team found its first complete tool.

Jason Thompson, an anthropological archeologist and UNI professor, held the arrowhead-like tool in his hand Thursday.

"What this is, in my opinion, is some sort of leather-working, hide-working tool," Thompson said. "An implement for piercing a hide."

He said the people who made the tool were probably on that land sometime between 7,000 B.C. and 2,500 B.C.

"The people in this area were still living as what we would call foragers or hunter/gatherers," Thompson said. "They were not agricultural, they were not settled in permanent encampments or villages."

While the team can't uncover every artifact before Southwest Arterial construction begins, they can unearth enough to tell about the history of the place.

"We're here to mitigate the impact of any potential cultural resources, you know. Excavate, document and prepare the area for development," Thompson said, "so I'm not pained by it because it will provide a lot of other folks with jobs."

To these archeologists, it's a matter of harvesting all the data they reasonably can and then letting progress take its course.

The team hopes to finish its excavation before the snow comes.

Dubuque's Southwest Arterial is an estimated $100 million project that, upon ground-breaking, is set to see three years of construction before completion. The exact ground-breaking date is not yet set.

Bob Schiesl, assistant city engineer, said Dubuque is short some $34 million in funds for the project. While trying to secure those, he said, the city is tying up all the project's loose ends, including the archeological excavation on sites deemed historic, wetland studies and completion of the final design.

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