Michigan Historical Artifact Recovery Team 

   
Preserving the Past for Future Generations
About MHART


The above photo was taken several years ago during site work at the historic Pierce site. Settled in 1832. The ground here was in the Miami Loam series which made it very difficult to identify potential dig locations. I brought in Ground Penetrating Radar Equipment, which also proved to be ineffective for this project. Although discouraged, I persisted for more than 3 years and dug 5 different pits on this site. We recovered shards and items dating back to the turn of the 19th century.

Our founder, Joseph Merkel, started down his own path of history at the age of 10, digging old farm dumps with older neighborhood friends. By the time he entered Michigan State University, studying Archeology, Architecture and Business, it became clear that discarded objects were a fantastic way to learn much more about our heritage. He also realized that much of this history was being destroyed or lost. When he was 16 years old, a major construction project was in progress on part of what was a dumping area for The University of Michigan back in the mid 1800's. New to driving on the highway, he convinced his mother to let him take the truck and go to this enormous dig site. The first time there, he was given permission to enter the site after hours by one of the foreman. That evening, he was able to recover two 5 gallon buckets of unbroken items dating from the 1850-1880 period in time. He tried to return to the site the following evening and was told that NO ONE was allowed inside the area. He begged and pleaded with the excavation foreman, but no luck. He was told that some kids were in the pit and that since it was mostly pure ash, a wall collapse was possible. He sat in his pickup truck watching the large excavating machines fill even larger dump trucks. AH HAH, EUREKA!!!, he though, I'll just follow those dump trucks and sift/rake through the debris when and where they dump it. Great idea, Terrible reality..... He followed them to what is now a soccer field area east of downtown Ann Arbor and watched the buldozers run over and crush down all of the dirt and items contained within the dirt, immediately as  dumped from the trucks. He even made one last appeal with one of the dozer operators and was told that it was not worth his time to stop and pick up old bottles. Joseph was then asked to leave the site. He drove home, in tears, telling his mom and dad about the tradgedy occuring in Ann Arbor. Both parents said something like, "we are sorry to hear about that but there is nothing we can do, so I would just forget about it."  "Forget about it", he thought, "why don't these people get it?" They just detroyed thousands of whole objects that would have been a remarkable assemblage of history.  Joseph Merkel instinctively knew then what others were not willing to see so..... During his college years, Merkel decided to take matters into his own hands and began working with Historical Societies, Individual land owners and Contractors in order to recover/save history before a new drainfield, sewer line,  underground utility or building was constructed. His efforts have saved numerous artifacts from bulldozer tracks and excavating machines. Generally speaking, contractors do not realize how quickly and easily history is destroyed or lost during excavation work.
Joseph has come to realize that it is not part of their job and has made some life-long friends as a result of doing work, along side the machines, given alloted time by the contractors.  He enjoys working on projects where large scale excavation will occur in downtown districts.



The above photo shows what is possible when we are allowed to work along side the excavation crew. On this particular site, we wore hard hats and did not interfere with progress. 
As a result, more than 200 unbroken objects were recovered and or restored for future study and discussion. 

Often the workers will ask, What is that? What was it used for? and How old is it? During their break times, Joseph gladly explains the use and age of any artifacts recovered and why the artifacts are a important part of our history. When a worker is truly interested or fascinated, he gives them a artifact or piece of history to take home. Thus, allowing them the chance to become stewards and to become more aware of what may lie beneath them during future excavations. The common sense that Mr. Merkel exhibits on the job site leaves a lasting impression on the excavating crew, knowing he is serious about history and always just a phone call away. Mr. Merkel has been called onto excavation sites in progress to investigate and advise them as to what they have uncovered. To this day, Mr. Merkel has not seen another excavation site containing as much history as was destroyed, on that day, in 1983. If you are part of a large scale excavation in a historic downtown area, just call him, he will be there ASAP...........

With his enthusiastic and tireless approach, Mr. Merkel has acquired a reputation as a stimulating speaker. He also provides a realistic approach to locating and recovering objects that he calls "living history". Schedule permitting, he is always willing to speak to groups interested in history from the 1820-1870 time period.
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