The big bone count

femurs and other bones in a plastic bag

Several weeks ago, work began to determine a preliminary count of how many individuals were recovered from the Arch Street site in the early stages of discovery. The remains of these individuals are stored in more than 50 boxes, which are housed at Rutgers University, Camden. A portion of the boxes are thought to contain single individuals, corresponding to single burials. Many boxes, however, contain bones that obviously originated from more than one person, such as two skulls, two sacrum, or two right-sided femurs. The boxes also contain burial goods, such as ceramics and remnants of footwear, and an assortment of animal bones. Based on early observations, it was clear that the femur was the most well-preserved bone from the Arch Street burials, and therefore a quick, preliminary tally of burials was performed by examining the femurs from these boxes.

To determine a Minimum Number of Individuals (MNI), femurs from each box were examined and inventoried.  MNI refers to the fewest possible number of people or animals in a skeletal assemblage.  For example, let's say there are ten different bones in a box.  Six of those bones are right femurs.  The MNI is six because humans only have one right femur per person.  The other four bones could belong to one of those six people, or several, or could be from different people altogether.  Those ten bones could be 10 different people, but the six femurs say that at the very least, there are definitely six people represented.

The preliminary total MNI for the Arch Street boxes was determined to be 83, including at least four children/infants. The highest MNI per box was seven, while most boxes contained between one and three individuals. This count does not include the contents of the “original” box of bones currently housed at The College of New Jersey, nor the 78 coffins excavated from the site between March 7 - 13.

Future robust analyses of the remains recovered from the Arch Street site, involving the inventory of all elements and even measurements, will no doubt increase the minimum number of individuals to well over 100, and likely beyond 200.

For questions regarding this count or our preliminary analyses, please contact Allison Grunwald.