Today was a celebration for 10 archeologists, 190 volunteer diggers and a sleepy black dog named Rugger.
Blessed by unseasonably warm weather, the group managed over the last month to unearth many treasures and some junk, and to form a picture of how the Baltimore waterfront looked 200 years ago.
So while bulldozers and backhoes idled in the background, waiting to pounce on the last undeveloped block of the city's gilded Inner Harbor at Pratt and Calvert streets, the stalwarts of the Baltimore Center for Urban Archeology munched celebratory pastries, sipped spiced cider and reflected on dirty work done fast and well.
"For the last week we've been going about as fast as you could go," said Tom Polk, an archeologist from the northern Baltimore suburbs. "We were throwing shovelfuls of dirt right over our shoulders, not even screening it, so we could get to the bottom of some of the major features before time ran out. I hate to think of the artifacts we threw away."
But urban archeology is often a race against the bulldozers. The Rouse Co., which begins Tuesday building a fancy hotel-office-parking complex atop the remains of the colonial Cheapside Wharf, "was nice to let us in here at all," said Polk, "particularly when they gave us $30,000" to do the work.
And if some artifacts were thrown away, 40,000 were not, according to city archeologist Elizabeth Comer, who headed the project. They included some nice 18th century Spanish and English coins, a colonial broom with the bristles intact and two perfectly preserved coconuts with the holes intact where someone had drunk the juice; and some things Comer probably would have just as soon passed over, like a cat's leg "with fur intact," as the artifact list put it.
Maybe Rugger found that. He was the official dig mascot, an oafish pooch with those helpless Labrador eyes that snoozed in the sun today while important persons spoke.
What astonished the archeologists was the remarkable condition of almost everything they found. Bulkheads made of logs as big as trees formed the original wharf in 1783, and construction workers who stopped by tapped on the logs with hammers and declared them as sound as new wood, even after a century and a half under streets, buildings and finally a parking lot.
"We found clumps of grass that were still green, and pine needles that when you broke them smelled just like fresh pine," said Polk. He credited the ooze into which everything sank with keeping oxygen out.
The big find was the wharf itself, to which colonial scows carried cargoes from big ships that moored out in deep water. From its humble, muddy beginnings, the wharf spawned cobblestone streets and brick buildings where people lived and goods were handled.
But time passed Cheapside Wharf by. As commerce increased the wharf pushed further out into the harbor, and today the shoreline is two blocks from where the old wharf stood.
Cheapside Wharf is gone, but it won't be forgotten. Rouse Co. intends to display artifacts from the dig site in the main lobby of its new complex, said company vice president Bill Fulton, and Comer and two colleagues will start almost immediately cataloguing and preserving their finds for posterity.