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. And yet, change often seals evidence of the past underground, revealing surprisingly intact evidence of cultural traditions, communities and everyday life.
Today, archeological inquiries help us to remember the people who influenced the city’s character. Urban 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 Archeologists use city maps and historical documents to anticipate what they will find, then dig in with backhoes and cranes to remove overlying fill deposits and construction rubble.
Visit sites and museums across the nation to learn more. Below are some ideas to get you started.
The Alexandria Archaeology Museum
Visit the museum on the third floor of the Torpedo Factory Art Center in historic Old Town Alexandria. In the Museum's Public Laboratory, you may find volunteers washing, marking and cataloging artifacts from the latest dig.
Boston and Lowell, Massachusetts
Boston City Archeology
Lowell National Historical Park
Boston covers a broad and diverse historical landscape. Explore the locations where archeologists have found crypts, sunken ships, and 17th-century schools. The city lab offers open tours and volunteer programs.
Lowell was the third incorporated city in Massachusetts and one of the nation's first planned cities. Its mills made the city a manufacturing hub, and archeology captures its role in the industrial revolution and the boardinghouses and streetscapes supporting it.
New York City, New York
African Burial Ground National Monument
While excavating the 290 Broadway block in New York city, archeologists found an African burial ground dating to the colonial period. The excavations sparked discussions with descendant communities about the history of slavery in New York and revealed information about mortuary practices of enslaved Africans in colonial New York.
NYC Archaeological Repository
The repository retains archeological collections from excavations across the boroughs. Use the map to identify places to visit and explore the website for exhibits related to the excavations. The repository is also open for visitors, by appointment.
Bartram’s Garden is one of only a handful of identified prehistoric locations in Philadelphia. Archeological evidence has been found that the Garden was occupied seasonally by Native Americans as early as 3,000 BCE. These objects are available to view in the John Bartram Bowman Special Collections Library by appointment.
Be careful where you step here if you visit in person, but follow archeologists' work online as they conduct compliance work to support highway renovation.
Independence National Historical Park
Independence National Historic Park encompasses many sites in downtown Philadelphia, including Benjamin Franklin's, James Dexter's, and George Washington's houses. Their projects illustrate the challenges archeologists face when excavating in urban centers.
San Antonio, Texas
San Antonio Missions National Historical Park
San Antonio is best known for four 18th century Spanish missions that are now part of the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park and a fifth mission, San Antonio de Valero, or the Alamo. The missions, and features linked to the missions (such as acequias, gristmills, and dams), have been archeologically investigated and detail life in the missions.
San Diego, California
San Diego Archaeological Center
Learn about how people have lived in San Diego for the past 10,000 years. The museum offers exhibits and educational programs.
San Francisco, California
Golden Gate National Recreation Area
At the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, there are more than 370 archeological sites including colonial forts, shipwrecks, and even bathhouses and amusement parks. Visitors are welcome to explore the area's many-layered history and see archeology can interpret it.
The Presidio Trust manages over 30 archaeological areas within the Presidio National Historic Landmark District (NHLD). These archaeological areas offer a long-term history from Native Ohlone settlement hundreds of years ago through the occupation of the United States Army. Visitors can check out the lab and volunteer.
St. Augustine, Florida
Castillo de San Marcos National Monument
Explore the fort and learn about how archeology uncovered information about its development and the everyday life of those stationed there.
Florida Museum of Natural History
View exhibits and see artifacts from excavations throughout St. Augustine. Learn how the city developed over hundreds of years.
Fort Matanzas National Monument
Not far from St. Augustine is Fort Matanzas, where archeologists have tracked the history of this small perch overlooking the river. Learn about the British and their nearby wreck.
Last updated: August 4, 2020