[NPS Arrowhead]
U.S. Dept. of Interior National Park Service Archeology Program Quick Menu Features * Sitemap * Home

Visit Archeology > Urban Archeology

Urban Archeology

Think of a city, and the image conjured up is likely to be of sidewalks and streets full of people from all walks of life moving swiftly by. Cities are known for their bustle, their diversity, and especially for how fast they change. Oftentimes moving forward pushes the stories of residents and neighborhoods into obscurity. Today, archeological inquiries help us to remember the people who influenced the city’s character.

City archeology usually takes place ahead of construction projects. Archeologists use city maps and historical documents to anticipate what they will find, then dig in with backhoes and cranes to remove overlying fill deposits and construction rubble. Change often seals in the past, revealing surprisingly intact evidence of cultural traditions, communities, and everyday life. Visit sites and museums across the nation to learn more.


San Francisco: The Presidio, Golden Gate National Recreation Area

Visit the Presidio to learn about its archaeological past, spanning from Native American sites dating back more than 1,200 years, through the Spanish and Mexican periods from 1776 to 1846, and through the U.S. occupation.

Sacramento: Powerhouse Science Center

Walk through time in the Central Gallery! Sacramento's Buried Past highlights four historic sites discovered in the city block between I & J - 8th & 9th block in downtown Sacramento, currently known as Plaza de Caesar Chavez Park.

Sacramento: U.S. Courthouse

Archeologists working ahead of construction at the courthouse recovered fascinating evidence of the city's 19th-century Chinatown. Visit the exhibit to find out about the people living in this community.

District of Columbia

Washington, D.C: District of Columbia Archaeology Tour

Take this brochure as your guide around the underground history of our nation's capital. Find out what archeologists have learned about medicine, housing, crowded living spaces, and what people did for work and play in the downtown business district.


City of St. Augustine: St. Augustine

The story of this Spanish colony among the Timucua Indians is told in an exhibit full of artifacts and history. A great deal of what we know about their often difficult daily lives comes directly from the excavated objects that people made, used, lost and discarded over the centuries.

Pensacola: Colonial Archaeological Trail

Follow this trail to visit a series of outdoor exhibits that feature Pensacola's colonial past, including the ruins of several structures associated with the colonial military during the American Revolution. Also visit the partially reconstructed remains of the British Fort George near the city's downtown.


Indianapolis: Ransom Place Archaeology

Now a historic district, African Americans have lived in Ransom Place since the 1840's, as has almost every European immigrant group that came to Indianapolis in the nineteenth century. Visit the archeological investigations May through June, house museums, and other buildings.


Annapolis: Historic Annapolis

Follow a walking tour to learn about African American lifeways and folk practices, landscape archeology, and colonial life. Be sure to peer through the floor at the Calvert House to see an underground heating system for the "orangerie."

Baltimore: Baltimore Heritage: Archaeology

Participate in projects and tours through Baltimore's rich archeological story.


Boston: Big Dig

This massive salvage project had unexpected results when archeologists discovered the evidence of a number of past communities, from Native American occupation through the historic periods of European immigration. The City Archaeology Program also offers tours of the collections facility.


Minneapolis: Urban Archaeology

Archaeologists working along the river front have revealed layer after layer of industrial and technological change. These findings tell the story of the changes that enabled Minneapolis to grow.

New York

Brooklyn: Weeksville

Weeksville was named for James Weeks, an African American who purchased land there in 1838 from Henry C. Thompson, another free African-American. Visitors can follow tours through the houses and listen online to an archeologist talk about the dig.

Manhattan: African Burial Ground and African Burial Ground National Monument

In 1991, the remains of more than 400 Africans living in New York City during the 17th and 18th centuries were discovered during construction of the Foley Square Project federal building. Archeologists recovered human remains and cultural information from the graves, sparking intense scrutiny and debate in the process. Visitors can today see a number of memorials. An interpretive center is underway.

Manhattan: Five Points

Five Points was notorious as a center for vice and debauchery throughout the nineteenth century. Adding to its undesirable characteristics were smells and dirt from thriving local industries. For the families living there, however, it was home. An exhibit is currently on view at the Foley Square Courthouse at 500 Pearl Street.

Manhattan: Seneca Village

In the early 1800s, the landscape of what is now Central Park West was largely wasteland and open fields. Several prominent African American clergymen and entrepreneurs bought land in the 1820s to build homes and establish a community. Over time, this area on the urban frontier became a culturally-diverse place of freedmen, Irish, and other groups. Today, above-ground archeology and testing in Central Park enables us to know something about Seneca Village, which was destroyed to make way for the park.


Philadelphia: Independence National Historical Park

Colonial Philadelphia was where the tenets and ideals of American democracy were debated, written down, and passed into statements of intent and belief. Archaeologists have recovered evidence of life as it was then, from streetscapes to gardens. Learn not only about the historical figures in textbooks, but about enslaved peoples, shopkeepers, women and children who were part of the everyday cityscape and tested the founding fathers' words on equality for all.

Philadelphia: Digging I-95

Excavations in neighborhoods along the I-95 corridor revealed glimpses into another time. Explore the virtal past.

  • (NPS Photo) A black and white image of the Presidio as the neighborhood looked in the 1880s.
  • A visitor peers through the glass floor at an archeology exhibit. (Discovery Museum)
  • (source?) A stoneware container found in Washington, D.C.
  • (St. Augustine) A colorful ceramic Majolica piece from St. Augustine.
  • (U. of Indiana) A black decorative button found during excavations at Ransom Place.
  • (source?) Signage interprets an open excavation unit along the Colonial Archaeological Trail.
  • (Maryland State Archives) A black and white image of the Brice House in Annapolis as it looked in 1865.
  • (Massachusetts Historical Commission) A side view of a wigged man pressed onto a ceramic plate found at the Big Dig.
  • (Institute for Minnesota Archaeology) Bird's eye view of Minneapolis,ca. 1891.
  • (Barbara Little) The African Burial Ground at Foley Square.
  • (Historical Society of New-York) This 1856 map shows the layout of Seneca Village.