Archaeology

Restricted from Christian churchyards within the city, Africans developed a burial ground consisting of a small plot of land located outside the city’s northern palisade. As the enslaved population grew, so did the Burial Ground, eventually covering five to six acres, or about five present-day city blocks. Even here, harsh legal restrictions applied. No more than twelve persons were permitted in funeral procession or at graveside services, and interment was not allowed at night, the customary time for many African burial rituals. Enslaved Africans were required to have a written pass in order to travel more than a mile away from home.

While excavating the 290 Broadway block, archaeologists found many artifacts, both in association with the burial ground and others that were from the block being used after the Burial Ground was in use.

Archaeological excavations showed the mortuary practices of enslaved Africans in colonial New York. Each excavated burial revealed individual burials, most in wooden coffins, arms folded or placed at the sides and oriented with heads to the west. Bodies were buried in shrouds, fastened with brass straight pins, and were sometimes buried with items such as coins, shells, and beads. Over time, the Burial Ground became densely crowded with burials stacked here and four deep in some places.
Below is a sampling of some of the artifacts found in association with the burials and burial ground. If you would like to learn more, please scroll down, where you will find links to all the archeological reports produced for the African Burial Ground Project.

 
Rings found with Burial 310 and 242
Reconstructed finger rings with glass insets: Burial 310, cat. no. 1486 (top) and Burial 242, cat. no. 1229 (bottom).

Cheryl LaRoche

Finger rings were found with five burials: 71, 115, 242, 310 and 398. Plain bands and two rings with settings were recovered. Two burials- 242 and 310 had identical copper-allow rings with glass insets. Both rings showed fragmentation, and were fragile.
 
Button found with Burial 6
Gilt Button with anchor-and-rope motif, Burial 6, Cat. No. 219.

Photo by Doville Nelson

Four cast, copper-alloy buttons with gilt faces and applied loop shanks were recovered from Burial 6. These buttons had an anchor-and-rope design. One of the buttons were in excellent condition. One was recognizable, and the other two were degraded. The buttons may be associated with the British Navy, and were spaced in a line along the torso, suggesting they were fasteners. It is believed they were associated with some type of cloth, although no cloth survived.
 
Shroud pins
Tinned wrapped-head pins from various burial contexts.

Photo by: Josh Nefsky

Shroud pins were recovered from 159 different burials, and were the most common artifact recovered. Most pins were mineralized and fragmented, although one intact pin measured 2.5cm. the presence of pins implies the presence of shrouds, although not much cloth survived.

 
Archeology Reports

The Archaeology of 290 Broadway

Excavation of the site of 290 Broadway took place in compliance with Section 106 of the Historic Preservation Act of 1966. The bulk of the African Burial Ground/290 Broadway site excavation was undertaken by Historic Conservation Inc. Later, John Milner Associates took over excavation, producing this 4-volume set of reports presenting their descriptions and interpretations of that excavated portion of 290 Broadway not directly related to the excavated human remains.

Volume I: The Secular Use of Lower Manhattan's African Burial Ground. Want to learn more about the archeological investigations that reveal the use of the space after it had been used as a burial ground? This report will help you understand the history of the site.

(PDF-21.9MB)

Volume II: Archaeological and Historical Data Analyses. Want a description of what was found by archaeologists during their excavations? This report will help you learn about the history of the block, and explain the archeological features found in the block.
(PDF-52.8MB)

Volume III: Artifact Catalog: A list of all items found in archeological excavations at 290 Broadway
(PDF-1.79MB)

Volume IV: Conservation of Materials From the African Burial Ground and the Non-Mortuary Contexts: Want to learn how archeologists preserve the items they find during their dig? Read this report!
(PDF-18.6MB)

The New York African Burial Ground: Unearthing the African Presence in Colonial New York

The New York African Burial Ground: Unearthing the African Presence in Colonial New York
serves to report the research findings on the skeletal remains found and excavated during the African Burial Ground Project. This set of reports a conceptualized historical perspective, details of the archaeological discoveries, and descriptions of the skeletal biology of the unearthed human remains. Included in this work are detailed descriptions of the burials excavated, complete with drawings, figures, and tables, as well as a comprehensive appendix of the artifacts found within the burials.


Volume 1: The Skeletal Biology of the New York African Burial Ground - Part 1

(PDF-36.9MB)

Volume 1: The Skeletal Biology of the New York African Burial Ground - Part 2: Burial Descriptions and Appendices
(PDF-21.3MB)

Volume 2: The Archaeology of the New York African Burial Ground - Part 1
(PDF-114MB)

Volume 2: The Archaeology of the New York African Burial Ground - Part 2: Descriptions of Burials
(PDF-66.3MB)

Volume 2: The Archaeology of the New York African Burial Ground - Part 3: Appendices

(PDF-80.4MB)

Volume 3: Historical Perspectives of the African Burial Ground: New York Blacks and the Diaspora

(PDF-10.4MB)


Volume 4: The Skeletal Biology, Archaeology, and History of the New York African Burial Ground: A Synthesis of Volumes 1, 2, and 3

(PDF-15.5MB)

Volume 5: The New York African Burial Ground: Unearthing the African Presence in Colonial New York - Doing a report? Need a comprehensive synthesis of these volumes? This is a good starting point!
(PDF-20.5MB)

Last updated: April 4, 2018

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Mailing Address:

African Burial Ground NM
C/O Federal Hall National Memorial
26 Wall St

New York, NY 10005

Phone:

(212) 637-2019

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