Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Re: Summer Cemetery Excavations

>In front of Mayor Giuliani (pre 9/11)...wonder if they're conjoined adult twins?
Today President Bush declared the less than 1/2 acre, a National Monument, the African Burial Ground, (thought to contain 20,000 burials) which is also part of New York's City Hall Park and Commons Historic District.
In 1999 I came onto the summer cemetery excavations in NYC's City Hall Park, it being restored to a period of about 1880 by the various contractors, busy while the human remains were discovered and "dealt with" supervised by a forensic anthropologist who worked for the Smithsonian and on-call with the Rhode Island police, Marilyn London, I hope she doesn't mind. The fence installed was large cast iron set in stone which was being ground constantly while we were working, along with the various other operations, i.e., as slabs of stone, from the Binghamton, NY area, in grey and black to outline former buildings around and in the park compiled from historic map overlays by other researchers were brought in to create a plaza that summer. There were also protests against the NATO aerial bombings in Europe, a large cross carried out to the middle of the nearby Brooklyn Bridge, the labor negotiations (or lack thereof) protested with the City and a few other problems as the dry summer proceeded. Under the "watchful eye" of the statue of Horace Greeley ("go west young man and grow up with the country" he sits on a small sofa) and near the Joseph Pulitzer monument, "newspaper row" had been nearby, where the city's papers were published at one time, (unfortunately none of the presses have been saved as in some cases other cities) were the human remains near the surface under the walkway and "in the way" of the to be electronically controlled emergency entrance to the park.
In the middle of testing for the area containing the cemetery and new security fence and features being installed were the remains it was thought of New York's "First Almshouse" cemetery, which I had done some research from borings on with another company that had excavated a small area between the since restored courthouse and City Hall, later expanded by another archaeologist and students from Brooklyn College. I had also worked in a re-excavated trench for power and steam between the "Tweed Courthouse" and Surrogate Court through Chambers Street with another archaeologist. The courthouse was then to hold a museum of the city, instead now occupied as a Dept. of Education headquarters. Some of the episodes of "Law and Order" TV show were filmed in it.
I was asked to excavate where a water fountain was to go and as I came down into the sandy soils encountered two burials, as many of the artifact-free burials were, of two or more laid in the ground in the same pit, and I hope the water fountain "footprint" was moved to accommodate the burials. Then, (or recently) the Iroquois Council in New York State had adopted a position or policy of recommending not moving any burials. The then recent decision I think that it was applied to was in the new salt sources found near or in Letchworth State Park, to replace the salt mines that had flooded and collapsed on the east shore of Lake Cayuga, above Ithaca, NY. The new source had burials on it and they wanted the people involved to leave them there and work around it. In this case all remains that were previously disturbed enough (very shallow) were removed and said to be returned to a chamber near those that remained at a later date. Not all the remains were inside a "cemetery" and my general feeling is that a better scientific effort perhaps could have been done, but like I said, I got to it in the middle. I was told that some of the remains for example were used for baseline studies of PCB contamination in the Hudson River where I had previously worked in Dutchess County, NY.

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