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Phila. archaeologist hits it big in Pittsburgh

Fort Duquesne, an 18th- century French outpost thought lost to history, is believed to be found.

A brick-lined culvert believed to be part of Pittsburgh's original fort.
A brick-lined culvert believed to be part of Pittsburgh's original fort.Read more

PITTSBURGH - About two weeks ago, Philadelphia archaeologist Tom Kutys thought he'd found a stone wall when he came across mortared capstones in a trench at the state park that once was the site of French and British forts.

Instead, archaeologists at Point State Park believe they may have uncovered long-buried remnants of Fort Duquesne, Pittsburgh's original fort.

"If we are correct about this, we are looking at the earliest example of European masonry in Pittsburgh," said Brooke Blades, an archaeologist with A.D. Marble and Co., which is working on the $35 million renovation of the park in downtown Pittsburgh.

After excavating around Kutys' discovery, workers found what they believe to be a drainage system that served the fort in the mid-1700s, he said.

"It argues that there may be extensive other evidence of Fort Duquesne," Blades said. "People always knew where Fort Duquesne was, but the question was how much of it was left? . . . It is tangible evidence. It's where the permanent occupation of Pittsburgh began."

The discovery, however, won't slow down the renovation of the park. In fact, Kutys' discovery will be buried as work continues to upgrade the 36-acre park to include a new lawn area, irrigation and electrical systems, landscapes, vendor hookups, benches and wireless Internet in time for Pittsburgh's 250th anniversary celebration next year.

No artifacts associated with Fort Duquesne have been found, but Blades said the location of the drain only 45 feet from where the fort stood - coupled with the fact that the brick dates at least to the early 19th century - indicates that the drainage system likely was part of the fort established by the French in 1754.

"I can't think of it getting much better," said Kutys, 25.

As French and British forces fought to seize control of North America, the French built Fort Duquesne where the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers meet to form the Ohio River. The French destroyed the fort as British forces advanced in 1758 during the French and Indian War. The British then built Fort Pitt on the ruins of Fort Duquesne between 1759 and 1761.

Blades said excavation in another section of the park will begin next week and he hopes to find evidence of the fort's stockade.

The renovation has angered preservationists, who said history was being buried.

Supporters of the renovation, however, said they plan to start an archaeological program at the park.

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