Lumber divers find artifacts in river

Published 11:52 am Saturday, July 20, 2013

Michael Collins, left, and Francis Widmeyer, recently discovered two artifacts of Native American orgins while diving. -- CAIN MADDEN|TIDEWATER NEWS

Michael Collins, left, and Francis Widmeyer, recently discovered two artifacts of Native American orgins while diving. — CAIN MADDEN|TIDEWATER NEWS

FRANKLIN—When local divers Francis Widmeyer and Michael Collins go diving, they are expecting to find forgotten treasures.

That treasure is normally logs that have been in the river for many years, which the duo sells to make luxury furniture items. Not long ago, however, Widmeyer was diving and put his hand on something unexpected.

“I was swimming along the bottom of the river, and I found a small pot,” he said.

Knowing that he was not supposed to remove items like this, Widmeyer put the item in a stump and surfaced. They contacted the state archeologist and were advised to go ahead and recover the items and keep them safely for the state to pick up.

“I go back down there, put my hand in the stump and grab a catfish at first,” he laughed. “But I got it, and I found a bigger bowl not far from where the other was.”

State and Tidewater region Archeologist Mike Barber said based on seeing pictures of the two bowls, that they seem to date from the late woodland period, which was 1000 AD to 1650 AD.

“It is incredible that they were found,” Barber said. “The concept that they were recovered from the river, the odds of that are extremely small.

“Dated at the latest time during this period, 1650, that was 300 or more years that they have been in river, jostling around and they’re still whole? That’s not going to happen very often.”

Barber said the two bowls seem to be of Algonquian origins. The Algonquian people occupied the coastal plains of Virginia. Barber said a unique thing about Southampton County is that the Algonquian people would have interfaced with the Iroquois people, and that the region was influenced by both tribes, their trading and battles.

The two bowls are being donated to the Department of Historic Resources. Barber said he hopes to return the bowls to Southampton County to be displayed by a local museum.

“These are probably impressive enough, that someone would like to have them to demonstrate items made by local Virginia Indians,” Barber said.

Widmeyer said he was ready for the state to pick the items up, so he did not risk breaking them. He did, however, hope that the items would one day be returned to Southampton County, and Collins agreed.

“I hope that they can come back to the county where people can really get a chance to enjoy them,” Collins said.

As far as diving itself, Widmeyer said he loved it.

“I feel like it is the closest thing I can do to walking on the moon,” he said. “You are going places where no one has been.”

The exact location of the item is being held by request of the Virginia Department of Historic Resources. Barber said his concern is that people will go looking for more items and inadvertently destroy them.

“Archeological resources are extremely fragile, and once they are gone, they are gone forever,” Barber said.