Arch Street Project
In late 2016, The Philadelphia Inquirer's article "Old bones found -- and nobody's in charge" revealed the discovery of humam remains at the construction site of 218 Arch Street by PMC Property Group. At the time, the remains consisted of a large box of fragmented human bones. In response to this article, the Mütter Institute contacted Jonathan Stavin, Executive Vice President at PMC, to offer expertise and guidance in removal of the human remains. The cemetery belonged to the First Baptist Church of Philadelphia (http://friendsofmountmoriahcemetery.org/the-first-baptist-church-of-philadelphia-section-112/). The church was formed in 1707 and the inhabitants of this cemetery are some of the earliest Philadelphians. The Baptist congregation and cemetery closed in 1859 and the graves were supposed to have been relocated to Mount Moriah Cemetery. The PMC excavation indicated that most of the cemetery remains were not relocated.
On February 20th, the construction crew discovered multiple coffins still interred at the site -- some stacked three deep! PMC agreed to halt construction in the area of the cemetery until all the remains were rescued, even extending their original deadline after bad weather conditions slowed the excavation.
On March 13th, over 70 coffins were successfully recovered from the construction by a team of volunteer forensics and archaeology professionals. The volunteer team worked solidly and the total number of remains discovered had far exceeded the original expectations.
By conducting the biological profile of the skeletal remains, we can better understand the population demographics of Philadelphia as the city evolved from European (and possibly some African) immigrants, born on another continent in the 17th century, into multi-generational Americans of the 19th century.
The analysis of the material recovered from the Arch Street project is potentially transformative to our understanding of who earliest residents of Philadelphia were and what their lives were like. All of the remains can reveal insights about diet, disease and injury, the bodily stresses incident to manual labor, childbirth practices, and mortality. Some of them may have died during the 1793 yellow fever epidemic; others may have succumbed to the 1849 cholera epidemic, disasters that also threatened the stability of the local and new federal governments.
The long-term goal is to create public engagement through multiple platforms, including published papers, presentations at academic conferences, a digital exhibition, and perhaps an exhibition in collaboration with other interested institutions, such as the Museum of the American Revolution.
Can You Help?
We urgently need help to safely store, analyze,
and reinter these early Philadelphians.
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