DIRTY WORK
Ben Hoksbergen, Redstone Arsenal's only archeologist, moves dirt from around a small embedded object on a dig site. The object turns out to be a rock from road paving. But he never assumes that an object can be identified when only a small portion is visible from the surface.

REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- Digging in the dirt may seem like child's play, but for Ben Hoksbergen, it's his career. As Redstone Arsenal's only archeologist, Hoksbergen has a prime opportunity to get down and dirty with Redstone's rich history.

The north side of Martin Road near Indian Creek has become a site for archeological exploration. This site is part of a series of digs that will happen along Martin Road due to the future "Martin Road expansion project," where Martin Road will be widened from two lanes to four lanes from Rideout Road to Zierdt Road. The expansion project stems from BRAC-related Arsenal growth and the increase of Arsenal employees living in Madison and using Gate 7.

Before the road can be expanded, a data recovery must be performed. Areas that require data recovery are considered "significant" and are eligible for national registry.

Items that Hoksbergen and his contracted team of archeologists expect to find around Martin Road include trash and storage pits, post holes, burned rock piles, pottery pieces, arrowheads and possibly even burials once the team is digging in a higher elevation area. This area has been radio carbon dated to 300 A.D.

The Martin Road dig is estimated to last around eight months, which Hoksbergen said is a "shot in the dark."

"The time it takes to complete this project will depend entirely on what we find," he said. "If we uncover burials or post mold patterns from an old house, it will last longer."

The constant rain that seems to have taken over Huntsville this winter has affected the time estimate as well. "Since the soil is almost all red clay, the rain definitely slows us down a good bit," Hoksbergen said.

The site that is being excavated to the north of Martin Road is on NASA property and used to contain a waste water treatment plant in the 1950s. Next, the team will move to the south side of the road directly across from the current site. Hoksbergen expects this side to be more significant due to its higher elevation.

It may come as a surprise that Redstone Arsenal is one of the most concentrated archeological site areas in the United States. "The Tennessee Valley in general is a very rich area," Hoksbergen said. "Redstone has 950 sites within Army property alone.

"The oldest artifact we have found on the Arsenal, a spear point, dates back 13,000 years," he said. They have found everything from decorated pottery, ceramic trowels, axes, arrowheads, and even a Spanish coin that was dated 1782.

"The coolest thing I have found was an intact Confederate belt buckle on an old house site that was owned by a Confederate veteran," Hoksbergen said. "Since we had the property info on the man who previously lived there, we were actually able to trace the buckle to a particular person, which makes it a more valuable find."

The artifacts that are found on the Arsenal are sent to a lab to be analyzed. Afterward, they are transported to a curation facility in Moundville, just south of Tuscaloosa and the University of Alabama.

"My favorite part of the job is still just finding stuff," Hoksbergen said. "Even though I have found thousands of arrowheads, I still get excited. Sometimes I get information out of a dig that totally changes perspective or contributes to science. It's the cool items and information that comes out of a dig that keeps me going."

Page last updated Fri March 5th, 2010 at 16:37