The ASP Team Presents at the 2018 SAAs

Arch Street Project at the SAA Conference

On Friday, April 13th, 2018, members of the Arch Street Project team presented their preliminary research in a symposium at the 83rd annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology (SAA) in Washington, D.C. Participating team members and collaborators included Kimberlee Moran, Doug Mooney, Cory Kegerise, Nicholas Bonneau, George Leader, Gerald Conlogue, Allison Grunwald, and Jared Beatrice.

The symposium filled a room of approximately eighty seats, and when presentations ended we held a question and answer session for about one hour, during which members of the archaeological community, interested persons, and members of the press voiced their appreciation of the team’s efforts as well as their concerns about the treatment of the remains from the cemetery during construction efforts. Others in attendance asked relevant and engaging questions which lead to a productive discussion.

The ASP team looks forward to returning to the SAAs in 2019 to update the archaeological community on our ongoing efforts to learn what the forgotten dead of the First Baptist Church can teach us about Philadelphia in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Team members also presented in additional sessions, including a symposium on ethics in archaeology and a forum on forensic archaeology. These abstracts and those from our team’s symposium can be found below.

We thank the SAA board and the Washington Marriott Wardman Park Hotel for hosting this wonderful event.



Symposium: Bones and Burials in Philadelphia: Unmarked Cemeteries & the Arch St Project

Early American colonial settlements along the Eastern seaboard largely buried their dead inside the city’s boundaries in much the same way as their European contemporaries. In cities such as London, Paris, and Rome it is not uncommon for modern urban construction projects to unearth human remains from burial grounds long forgotten. When this happens local and national regulations dictate the process by which such remains are removed, studied, and reburied. In contrast, US cities often have no formal process and federal regulations do not address private development projects occurring on privately owned land. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Philadelphia, a city of cemeteries. When human remains were discovered at 218 Arch St the lack of regulation and legal precedent enabled a private developer to avoid conducting a salvage excavation of the burial ground until media pressure and concern from local archaeologists made it obligatory. This session will address the issues surrounding unmarked cemeteries in the Philadelphia region. We will examine the Arch St Project as an example of the pitfalls and research potential stemming from such projects including some of the preliminary findings from the site.

Individual ASP symposium abstracts in order of presentation:

  1. Doug Mooney, discussant (Philadelphia Archaeological Forum). City of (Inconvenient) Cemeteries: A Brief Synopsis of the Disturbance of Historical Burial Grounds in Philadelphia. Philadelphia’s many unmarked cemeteries and burial grounds have been repeatedly disturbed by construction activities in a string of incidents that stretches back more than 200 years. Incredibly, despite the regular discovery of these unmarked graveyards, City officials and local government agencies still make no effort to proactively protect these resources and profess a wide-eyed bewilderment each time another one is impacted. Likewise, those responsible for disturbing burial grounds invariably feign exasperation and ask, “How could we have known?!” This presentation provides an overview of Philadelphia’s unmarked burial grounds and their history of being disturbed, examines how they become lost in the ever-changing city scape, and addresses the reasons why they should be easy to anticipate and avoid.
  2. Cory Kegerise (PA Historical and Museum Commission). Mind the Gap: Laws and Policies Related to Burial Places in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania has a long history of human occupation and an array of community types and settlement patterns ranging from large cities to sparsely populated rural communities. This geographic and cultural diversity resulted in varying burial practices including small family plots in farm fields, religious burial grounds, as well as private and publicly-owned cemeteries. As the state grew and changed throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, the legislature enacted or revised laws affecting burial places and human remains in a piecemeal fashion, likely in response to specific projects and circumstances. This legal framework has not been substantially changed since the mid-20th century, leaving policy gaps that recent projects have exposed. Chief among these issues is how privately-owned, unmarked burial places are treated legally and ethically when remains are discovered, often during development activity. This session will explain the legal and policy environment for burial places in Pennsylvania as context for the 218 Arch St. project in Philadelphia.
  3. Kimberlee Moran, moderator (Rutgers University—Camden), A. Dhody, A. Hatza, G. Leader, and A. M. Mires. The First Baptist Church of Philadelphia’s Burial Ground: “moved” in 1860; “excavated” in 2017. In November of 2016, the Philadelphia Inquirer published an article about bones found at a construction site at 218 Arch Street. As a private project, no city office would take charge of the human remains despite the fact that construction equipment was exposing and damaging them. The Mutter Institute, as a collaborative research organization associated with the study of historic human remains, approached the property developer with an interest to learn more about the bones found at the site. What ensued was a race-against-time excavation of a portion of the First Baptist Church of Philadelphia cemetery, supposedly moved in 1860. This presentation will provide an overview of the initial salvage excavation, what was discovered about the site during the early days of the project, and the recent work of our multi-disciplinary team as we attempt to harness research potential out of a less than ideal situation
  4. Nicholas Bonneau (University of Notre Dame). An Accounting of the Dead: Historical Epidemiology and Big Data in the Arch Street Project. As of the beginning of September 2017, the remains of over 250 individuals were recovered from the building site at 218 Arch Street. While the presence of bodies in what was once the First Baptist Church of Philadelphia burial ground should not surprise us, contemporary documents and written histories of the congregation state that all burials had been moved to the Mount Mariah Cemetery in the mid-nineteenth century. The abundance of human remains left on the original site raises questions for historians, archaeologists, and others concerned with the legacy of interments. To create a foundation from which historians and archaeologists alike might explore these questions, I combine methodologies of big data management and analysis with more traditional historical research. This involved the collection of burial records for over 2,000 individuals interred in the cemetery and burial records for over 5,000 interred in other cemeteries in Philadelphia. I compare patterns of mortality in the larger Philadelphia community and those listed in the parish burial records, with data gathered from individual remains at 218 Arch Street. This allows us both the identification of the disease environment in which the burials occurred and suggests why connections with descendants may have faded.
  5. George Leader (University of Pennsylvania), K. Moran, J. Beatrice, and A. Dhody. Preliminary Results of Material Culture from the Historic First Baptist Church Cemetery, Philadelphia (ca. 1700–1860) and Analytical Problems Arising from Stressed Excavations and the Lack of Formal Legal Oversight. The material culture found in association with the skeletal remains recovered from the historic First Baptist Church of Philadelphia cemetery, which was in use from 1700–1860, provides a valuable glimpse into colonial and post-colonial burial practices in one of early America’s most important cities. The interior material culture in the form of burial goods is most often minimalistic with few exceptions while the exterior material culture (i.e. coffin hardware) assists in relative dates while highlighting stylistic trends of the day. As one of the largest known collections of 18th and 19th century coffins yet unearthed in historic Philadelphia, the assemblage offers invaluable data on mortuary behavior of some of America’s first citizens and immigrants. However, the difficulty in excavation, due to the lack of site access, time, and legal concerns created problems that are still felt in post-excavation analysis.
  6. Gerald Conlogue (Quinnipiac University) and M. O’Connor. The Role of Radiographer as a Member of the Arch Street Project Team. The value of a radiographic examination of skeletal remains is unquestionable. Over the past several decades, technical innovations have resulted in more compact equipment making it easier to set up radiography in the field. Digital imaging receptors have replaced film and software has enabled post-processing image manipulation, further simplifying the logistics and efficiency of field imaging studies. Radiography systems are designed to minimize radiation dose in living patients leading to a concurrent loss of resolution. However, anthropological applications aim for optimal resolution with less regard for radiation dose. A radiographer, versed in the science of radiography, can be invaluable in planning field radiographic studies, selecting optimal equipment, and assembling an imaging team. A team should consist of at least three individuals for maximum efficiency. Including radiography students on a team provides an opportunity for classroom theory to be put into practice. It also exposes students to the realities of field research such as needing to modify plans onsite due to unforeseen challenges. The presentation concerns the examination of material recovered from Arch Street Project by a team that put the aforementioned ideas into practice.
  7. Allison Grunwald (Independent Researcher). Analysis of the Faunal Remains at the Arch Street Cemetery Site. Prior to moving the burials within the First Baptist Church of Philadelphia cemetery to a new location in 1860, a local newspaper of the time documented that the neighboring tenement houses used the open space as a dumping ground. Artifacts recovered from this deposit include pottery sherds, pieces of glass bottles, leather shoe soles, metal objects, and the remains of shellfish and domesticated animals. Many of the animal bones show signs of butchery, indicating that the remains are from food waste. Oyster, clam, sheep (mutton and lamb), and cattle were consumed by these tenants, as well as medium and large fowl, likely chicken and turkey. The goal of this paper is to quantify and analyze the faunal remains and compare the data to what we know of contemporary nineteenth-century Delaware River Valley resident diets.
  8. Jared Beatrice (The College of New Jersey), G. Leader, K. Moran, and A. Dhody. Bioarchaeological Analysis of Human Skeletal Remains from the Historic First Baptist Church Cemetery, Philadelphia (ca. 1700–1860): Preliminary Results. The inadvertent discovery of the historic First Baptist Church of Philadelphia cemetery resulted in the recovery of a large sample of human skeletons composed of commingled remains as well as discrete individuals associated with intact coffins. Analysis of the skeletal remains prior to reburial provides insight into demography, behavior, and living conditions among members of this congregation interred circa 1700–1860. While preservation of the remains is variable within the cemetery, preliminary results include a paleodemographic profile consistent with high infant and childhood mortality. Moderate prevalence rates of developmental enamel defects are also indicative of physiological stress experienced during early childhood. In addition to paleodemographic and paleopathological trends, we present the osteobiography of an adult male exhibiting multiple well-healed traumatic injuries and evidence of autopsy—a form of postmortem examination that appears infrequently in public cemeteries dating to this period.

Symposium: “Ethical” Engagement with Historic Cemeteries: From “Issues” to a Multiple Consciousness

  1. Anna Dhody (Mütter Museum of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia) and Kimberlee Moran (Rutgers University—Camden). No Good Deed: The Recovery of Philadelphia’s First Baptist Church Cemetery. What to do when one box of bones becomes a whole cemetery? In late 2016, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that human remains were uncovered at a local construction site, 218 Arch Street, formerly a cemetery that closed in 1859, its dead supposedly having been interred elsewhere. Because the site is privately owned and the construction privately funded, no clear legal guidelines exist governing authority over human remains. Seeing a potential research project, the authors contacted the developers and offered to take the small banker’s box of human remains for analysis and reburial. Months later, the construction firm contacted the authors with a developing problem. Dozens of whole coffins were being unearthed daily, and no state or local government agency was willing to step in and take charge. In the absence of authority, with a construction deadline looming, the authors conducted a salvage archaeological operation to save the remains. This presentation will discuss the legal and ethical issues surrounding the Arch Street Project, which continues to evolve in magnitude and complexity.

Forum: Forensic Archaeology

  1. Kimberlee Moran, moderator (Rutgers University—Camden), with participants Sharon Moses, Craig T. Goralski, John Schultz, Ryan Seidemann, Eric Young, Dana Kollmann, Anna Chaussee, and Ann Marie Mires.