About 3,500 tons of soil, boulders and clay have been removed from around the Gay Head Light and its new location 129 feet to the east. With most of the excavation complete, contractors are now working to install steel beams underneath the lighthouse. The move is expected to begin in early June.

On Monday, about half of the parking lot at the bottom of Aquinnah Circle was occupied by mountains of earth, each a different shade of brown, corresponding to different soil types. Up the hill, through a chain-link fence, piles of brick and stone were stacked, unearthed from around the lighthouse where several buildings have come and gone over the decades.

Bricks from foundation of old lightkeeper's house stacked up. — Timothy Johnson

A huge amount of digging has been required for the move. The excavation around the lighthouse needed to be wide enough to insert the long steel beams that will carry the structure. A wide trench has been dug to contain the steel beams along which the lighthouse will slowly be pushed to its new location.

Several companies were at the site Wednesday to finish the final stages of the excavation. Beneath the 400-ton lighthouse, workers from Expert House Movers of Sharptown, Md., removed soil by hand, making way for more of the wooden blocks and steel beams that now fully support lighthouse. John Keene Excavation of West Tisbury hauled away the last few truckloads of soil.

International Chimney Corporation of Buffalo, N.Y., will continue excavating around the lighthouse this week. A well-choreographed team of contractors has made quick progress at the site this spring, surveying underground features, stockpiling material, pouring the new foundation and reinforcing the lighthouse inside and out.

During the project, the team has uncovered a trove of historic remains, including the brick foundation of a former lightkeeper’s house and the concrete foundation of a former World War II lookout tower. About 50 large granite blocks were recently discovered beneath the brick foundation and will be incorporated into the landscape, along with several large boulders.

Smaller finds, including bottles from the former Martha’s Vineyard Co-op Dairy in Edgartown and the former Coca Cola bottling plant in Vineyard Haven, and fragments of chinaware that were likely brought here by whalers in the 1800s, will be donated to the Aquinnah Cultural Center.

Discovery of large pieces of granite was a surprise. — Timothy Johnson

While tunneling under the lighthouse, Expert House Movers came upon the original surveyor’s stake, which fell down into the tunnel in the exact center of the lighthouse. The small wooden stake was presented to lighthouse relocation committee chairman Len Butler, who will donate it to the cultural center along with the other small objects.

At a press conference Wednesday, Mr. Butler gathered with several project managers at the site, where the high walls of the trench and a curved retaining wall at the east end of the new foundation created a sort of theatre. Joe Jakubik, senior project manager for International Chimney, said the next steps for the project include building a platform of steel beams between the lighthouse and the new foundation, and raising up the lighthouse to install the hydraulic transportation system. “Right now we are making pretty good progress,” he said.

As machinery whirred near the lighthouse to the west, Mr. Butler displayed the original surveyor’s stake, which still came to a perfect point. He said it had almost been petrified by the clay. People huddled around to look at some of the broken pieces of blue and white chinaware.

The Gay Head Light was completed in 1856, replacing the Island’s first lighthouse, an octagonal wooden structure from 1799. A new lightkeeper’s house was built at the same time, covering about 1,800 square feet next to the brick-and masonry tower. It was one of three houses built on the site before 1956 when the light became fully automated.

Those buildings were already well documented, but the granite blocks were a surprise. Some of the blocks will be used as steps leading up to the relocated lighthouse. Others will likely be used for a stone wall and a circular bench commemorating the 1856 location. Mr. Butler said that some of the blocks had been used as steps at the former lightkeeper’s house and “are nicely foot-worn.” At the annual town meeting in Aquinnah last week, Mr. Butler provided a brief update on the lighthouse project, which began about two years ago. He described the many unexpected benefits “just popping out of the ground every day up there. It’s going to be quite a thing to see when it’s complete.”

Steel beams now holding up the tower. — Timothy Johnson

But some darker surprises have been unearthed as well. About 100 cubic yards of lead-contaminated soil must still be removed from within the footprint of the brick lightkeeper’s house. Mr. Butler said that was the only area where the contamination exceeded EPA standards. Much of the contamination is thought to have come from paint that leached out of a later wooden house.

The most contaminated soil and debris will be mixed with cement to prevent leaching and then transported off-Island. But most of the tainted soil, which is not considered a health risk, has been isolated on the site and will be returned to the ground after the move.

Removing the contaminated material will cost the town about $300,000.

Despite the health risks associated with the wooden building, the earlier brick building was apparently even more of a hazard during its time. Several children who lived there around the turn of the century were thought to have died possibly as a result of mold from the moisture that the bricks collected. The brick building was replaced by the wooden building in 1902.

Most of the original brick foundation has been excavated to make way for the move, and will be returned to the ground once the move is complete. Part of the foundation for the former World War II tower also has been removed. The remains of various other outbuildings at the site are not expected to interfere with the project.

“We tried to dig the stuff that we needed to, but not any more than that because we didn’t want to disturb anything so close to the cliff,” said John Keene, owner of John Keene Excavation. The lighthouse itself stands less than 50 feet from the edge.

In recent years, erosion has exposed a rectangular structure protruding from the cliff just west of the lighthouse. A survey by the company Radar Solutions International of Waltham has found that it is only about 300 square feet and does not extend into the area of excavation. Mr. Butler noted that coal has begun trickling out from the structure, suggesting that it was once part of a coal shed, most likely associated with the brick lightkeeper’s house.

New foundation, 129 feet away, is ready. — Timothy Johnson

Although the cliff area has been occupied by the Wampanoag tribe for thousands of years, the excavation did not reveal any ancient artifacts. Tribal representatives were present during much of the topsoil removal. With most of the digging now complete, Mr. Butler and Mr. Keene did not anticipate further discoveries at the site.

After the move, the excavated soil and clay will be returned to the ground, maintaining the same levels of compaction to help reduce groundwater infiltration and prevent uneven erosion.

Mr. Keene said the biggest challenge so far has been the sheer complexity of the excavation. Soil needed to be scraped off in precise layers, under the supervision of various groups, and with special procedures for the contaminated areas. House movers, filmmakers, regulators, excavators and others were often on the site at the same time.

“There is a lot of stuff going on, but everyone has been great to work with,” Mr. Keene said. “It all has been a great team effort.”

For more coverage of the Gay Head Light move, visit vineyardgazette.com/moving-back-gay-head-light.