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Unearthing history: Public Archeology Day in Gloucester County

Public to help excavate addition at Red Bank Battlefield

During its second Public Archaeology Day at Red Bank Battlefield, the county Department of Parks and Recreation will look for artifacts at a newly acquired parcel of park land.

The Gloucester County Department of Parks and Recreation recently acquired approximately a half acre of land at Red Bank Battlefield Park last year along the northern border of its grounds. The parcel came from a resident who wanted to sell a home in the nearby neighborhood. 

According to park Director Jennifer Janofsky, the previous owners of the parcel had been told during the period of time that they owned the land it not to dig or disturb the end of their yard that extended toward the park, in the belief that there were most likely historically significant artifacts submerged in the ground. 

Following surface-level analysis early last year, Janofsky said that assumption is expected to be proven correct sometime this month.

“That small half acre of land that the county was able to purchase contains what we believe to be an undisturbed Fort Mercer Trench that has not been studied by archeologists,” Janofsky said. 

“The county had people come in last spring to perform ground-penetrating radar in that area of the trench,” she added, “and they saw a number of anomalies or things of interest that could be notable upon digging.” 

For that reason, the county is preparing to once again welcome the public to the park on Sunday for its second Public Archaeology Day, thanks to a grant that will allow the county Parks and Recreation Department to begin the process of unearthing potential artifacts involving famous battlefields along the Delaware River. The first archaeology day was originally scheduled for June 12, but is now scheduled for June 18 and the weekend of June 25 and 26. 

According to Janofsky, the last time the county hosted such an event was in 2016, after it received a grant from the American Battlefield Protection Program. Sunday’s event is financed through a grant from the state historical commission. 

Janofsky said the results from the ground-penetrating radar from a year ago is not a guarantee that objects of interest are definitely in the trench, but it would not be unusual to find buttons, musket balls or various other pieces of equipment that may have been buried by Colonial Americans to hide them from the invading British. 

The Public Archaeology Days allow residents with no prior training or knowledge the opportunity to take part in an important moment in South Jersey history.

“The vast majority of people participating in this have no prior archaeological experience, so it’s great for people to be able to see how they work and what their methods are,” Janofsky said. “We hope that people can walk away from this with an appreciation of the importance of archaeology and history in general. 

“It’s one thing to read about a battle in a book, but it’s another to actually unearth and rediscover items from two centuries ago and have that connection with history … It’s something that a book can’t do for you.” 

The archaeology event is free, with two sessions from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 4 p.m. . 

Registration is required; visit  https://www.gloucestercountynj.gov/CivicAlerts.aspx?AID=363

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