leo berk, bridge unit artist-in-residence, blogs – part 2

Leo Berk, King County’s Bridge Unit Artist-in-Residence, is working collaboratively with Roads Services Division staff to understand the function and design possibilities of short span bridges. Tasked with designing a kit of parts for incorporation into the County’s small scale bridges, Leo’s process has begun with research into the process of bridge building. Along the way, he is discovering methodologies and approaches that undergird the work of the Roads Services Division, and he is sharing some of those discoveries with us through his series of blog posts. All Roads projects require a National Environmental Policy Act study that explores possible project impacts that range from the sociological, to the environmental, to the archaeological.

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bridges and archaeology
December 2, 2009

In King County, building roads and bridges gets us closer to understanding our region’s prehistoric time. I found this out a couple of weeks ago by taking a drive with Tom Minichillo who is the Archaeologist for King County Road Services Division (which insiders just call “Roads”.)

As we were driving out to the active “dig” that Tom needed to check in on, he explained that whenever the County does road work in an area that could be an archaeological site, they dig a scattering of holes and sift through the dirt to see if anything comes up. If they do find something, typically it’s little shards of rock that are the remnants of tool making.

berk_blogThese pieces can be very small, so they sift lots of dirt through ¼” screens to see what they can find. If they find enough of these shards in the test holes, then they dig a larger hole where they think they’ll find the most objects.

When we arrived at Tom’s current site, which is in conjunction with the Novelty Hill Road project near Redmond, I got to see a 5 by 5 meter hole being excavated by a team of archaeologists. They had found over 50 objects so far at this site in the woods. The most interesting ones were stone chips from rocks that aren’t native to our region. Thousands of years ago, local indigenous people traveled or traded across the Cascades and down south to present day Oregon to get rock types that were particularly good for making tools. Interstate commerce before the invention of states!

Archaeologists have a lot of blanks to fill in about the lives of these people because data is hard to come by in the Pacific Northwest where our wet climate, forest landscape, and acid soil degrade the evidence of past civilization. Every little bit of evidence helps fill in the puzzle. Every time we build a road in King County, there’s a chance that we might find another piece of that puzzle.

© Novelty Hill Road dig by Leo Berk