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Volunteers dig up ancient history at Cape

Thomas Penders of the 45th Civil Engineer Squadron holds a piece of ancient pottery uncovered at the Little Midden site at Cape Canaveral Feb. 27. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class David Dobrydney)

Thomas Penders of the 45th Civil Engineer Squadron holds a piece of ancient pottery uncovered at the Little Midden site at Cape Canaveral Feb. 27. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class David Dobrydney)

(left to right) Dale Hawkins, Timothy Kozusko and Elaine Williams sift through dirt and stones for artifacts at the Little Midden archeological site at Cape Canaveral Feb. 27. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class David Dobrydney)

(left to right) Dale Hawkins, Timothy Kozusko and Elaine Williams sift through dirt and stones for artifacts at the Little Midden archeological site at Cape Canaveral Feb. 27. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class David Dobrydney)

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, Fla. -- In the shadow of Delta II boosters being readied for launch carrying the latest in scientific equipment, pieces of ancient history are being plucked from the earth by a small but hardy group of volunteers.

Led by Thomas Penders, cultural resource manager for the 45th Space Wing, they are recovering artifacts from some of the earliest inhabitants of Cape Canaveral.

Mr. Penders is a professional archeologist and is in charge of all historic properties on Patrick Air Force Base, Cape Canaveral and their related areas such as Malabar Training Annex.

For the past month, Mr. Penders and his group have been working on a site called Little Midden. Named after the heaps of earth and artifacts that were left by ancient peoples, Little Midden is a 164 foot square patch of soil 1.5 feet deep. The site was found in the course of an Installation Restoration Project in 2006.

At that time Mr. Penders performed a Phase I archeological survey, filling three bags with artifacts just from the surface, and 25 bags from shovel tests. He is now back for additional recovery. Unfortunately, the site was partially destroyed during the 1960s when the area was used to launch meteorological rockets. Remnants of their infrastructure are still visible among the undergrowth.

"The site was probably at one time significantly larger," said Mr. Penders. "It appears that some of the site was used at that time to stabilize some of the nearby unpaved roads."

With much of the history already lost, the goal now is to extract as much of the remaining information as possible, said Mr. Penders. He and his team are now excavating the site, painstakingly filtering shovelfuls of dirt, shells and roots and coming up with 500-1000 year old shards of pottery, stone tools, and even shark's teeth and vertebrae.

"There are numerous middens at Cape Canaveral, but not many with the number of atypical artifacts as we are seeing here from our excavations to date," Mr. Penders said.

All artifacts discovered at the Little Midden site will be kept at Cape Canaveral. Once the current excavation is finished, a report will be sent to the Florida State Historic Preservation Office. This will mean that the Wing is not obligated for any future actions or compliance issues regarding the site and there will no issues in the future should the Wing want to develop the area.