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More than 90 Native American artifacts—including pieces of pottery, tools and a flint knifepoint believed to be about 3,000 years old—have been found on property owned by Lehigh in Upper Saucon Township. The artifacts will be returned to Delaware Nation, a sovereign, federally recognized nation of Lenape people whose traditional homelands encompass the Lehigh Valley, including what is today Lehigh’s campus.

The artifacts, which include complete tools made of jasper, quartz and chalcedony, were found during a Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) archeological survey of nearly 100 acres, about half of which is owned by Lehigh. Once the artifacts are returned Delaware Nation plans to display them in their new museum expected to open this spring at their headquarters in Anadarko, Oklahoma. The museum will be housed in a historic building that includes Delaware Nation’s library, archive, and historic preservation office, said Carissa Speck, tribal historic preservation director for Delaware Nation.

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The vast majority of Lenape artifact collections are still housed across Lenape homelands, which encompass eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, and parts of New York, Connecticut and Maryland. Delaware Nation and the other federally recognized Lenape Tribal Nations were forced out of their homelands as a result of settler colonial dispossessions and broken treaties. Other federally recognized Lenape Tribal Nations are: Delaware Tribe of Indians (Bartlesville Oklahoma); the Stockbridge Munsee Community (Bowler Wisconsin), and the Munsee Delaware Nation and the Eelūnaapèewii Lahkèewiit (Delaware Nation at Moraviantown), both in Ontario, Canada.

Since looting of Native artifacts is still a problem in many areas, Delaware Nation does not want to share specifics of where the artifacts were found, Speck said.

“These artifacts will help us grow our collection, and we will be able to display them for our tribal citizens to have access to and see them in person,” she said. “Most tribal citizens do live in Oklahoma. If the artifacts were on display in Pennsylvania, many of our members wouldn’t be able to see them.”

In the fall of 2023, Lehigh officials received a letter from A.D. Marble, an engineering firm hired by PennDOT for the archeological survey, that stated the artifacts had been found, said Erin Kintzer, senior director of real estate services for Lehigh.

Laws vary depending on the state, but in Pennsylvania, artifacts found on private property belong to the current property owner, said Steven McDougal, an archeologist for PennDOT’s District 5, based out of Allentown.

“Typically very few collections have gone to Native American tribes or nations," he said. “Having collections donated to Native American tribes and nations is a relatively new idea, at least in Pennsylvania. I personally think it’s a really good idea.”

Most of the time, the landowner will keep what is found. If not, PennDOT encourages the landowner to donate the collection to The State Museum of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg, McDougal said.

Kintzer said it was the first time in her nearly nine years at Lehigh that she was contacted about artifacts. Kintzer consulted two sociology and anthropology professors and spoke with Lehigh College of Health Dean Beth Dolan to decide the best option for the artifacts.

Kintzer said it was the first time in her nearly nine years at Lehigh that she was contacted about artifacts. Kintzer consulted two sociology and anthropology professors and spoke with Lehigh College of Health Dean Beth Dolan to decide the best option for the artifacts.

“If you don’t make a decision, the artifacts go to the Pennsylvania Museum of History. That felt a little too distanced or removed from what we were hoping to accomplish here,” Kintzer said. “I was worried they might end up in a drawer where someone forgets about them, versus being something that would be honored and used.”

Dolan suggested contacting Delaware Nation. University leaders signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Delaware Nation in October 2023, signaling an ongoing, reciprocal partnership. The agreement also enabled Delaware Nation to relocate an extension of their historic preservation office to Lehigh’s campus. At the time of the signing, Sean M. Daley, a faculty member with the College of Health who directs Lehigh’s Institute for Indigenous Studies (IIS), said he hopes the MOU will encourage Delaware Nation students to not only come to Lehigh to study, but to start a connection with their ancestral lands.

Dolan said the timing of the find was fortunate. Katelyn Lucas, Delaware Nation’s historic preservation officer, moved into her office at the IIS at the start of the Fall 2023 semester and was quickly able to handle the transfer of the artifacts to their rightful home.

“Honoring the history and culture of the Lenape people is a foundational goal of Lehigh’s MOU with the Delaware Nation, a goal that is further supported by the Institute for Indigenous Studies in the College of Health,” Dolan said.

Most of the artifacts found on Lehigh’s property are “pre-contact” artifacts, meaning they were made before European settlers arrived, said Richard White, an archeologist at A.D. Marble & Company. Swedes were the first European settlers in Pennsylvania. The first settlement was recorded in 1643 when Governor Johan Printz of the colony of New Sweden arrived and established his capital at Tinicum Island, according to Britannica.

Artifacts collected at the site include debitage, or the material produced during the process of fashioning stones into tools or weapons; stone tools, stone knife points and ceramic fragments from pottery.

Anytime PennDOT officials are undertaking a project, they have to consider its effects on cultural resources, including archeological sites, historic buildings and historic districts, McDougal said. There were a number of previous archaeological sites in the area of this particular project, which is why PennDOT decided to conduct the survey.

The State Museum has a predictive model that takes into consideration locations of previously recorded sites, the type of soil, landforms in the area and natural resources Native people would have needed to live, such as streams, McDougal said.

Last April and May archeologists excavated a total of 566 test pits across an area of just under 100 acres, White said. The excavation site included property not owned by Lehigh where artifacts had previously been recorded by amateur archeologists 20 to 30 years ago, White said.

The majority of artifacts uncovered in the spring were discovered on Lehigh’s land, he added.

PennDOT completed its study of the property.

“Archaeology is the study of humanity through the lens of material culture.” McDougal said. “I personally think it’s really important to understand the history of the land we are on, dating back as long as there have been people there. You study past peoples, whether it be Native Americans, or early European settlers of this area, and that tells you a lot about how people lived, the small bits and pieces of life. I think it gives you a very good picture of common humanity.”

People have been living in what is now Pennsylvania for roughly 15,000 years, McDougal said.

“There are still many important Native American sites across eastern Pennsylvania which warrant proper respect and protections,” Lucas said. “The Lenape Tribal Nations still care deeply about their ancestors’ sites and belongings in the homelands. But because they were historically forced out and relocated far away, it has often been difficult to get institutions and organizations in the homelands to recognize and respect their ongoing relationship to these lands.”

Lehigh’s decision to return the artifacts to Delaware Nation is an ideal model for such collections, Lucas said. Lenape Tribal Nations should also be consulted before ground disturbance happens in their homelands, she added.

“There’s a really long history of settler colonial institutions problematically implying that Tribal Nations aren’t capable of handling their own artifacts,” Lucas said. “Returning ownership of collections and management agency to Tribal Nations for their own museums is critical.”


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