Unexpected Discoveries at the National Constitution Center Site

Aerial photograph of the archeological excavation work at the National Constitution Center site in 2000.
The archeological excavations conducted at the National Constitution Center site covered half of the block, including the building’s future footprint. The large well-preserved areas identified at the site are among the most significant find of this type of resource in any east coast city.
 

Archeology and the National Constitution Center

Archeological excavations at the National Constitution Center (NCC) site began in 2000. More than half the total area of the city block was investigated, which would become the new building's basement and foundation.

Archeologists discovered a rich record of the people who lived and worked on the block especially during the Colonial and early Federal periods. By 1795, the third block of Independence Mall exhibited economic, cultural and racial diversity amongst its occupants. Here, wealthy merchants lived side by side bricklayers and laborers, and Quakers intermingled with French and German immigrants.

One aspect of the site's history that archeologists further pursued during the excavation was the study of African American households who lived on the block. At least six African American households existed on the block in 1795, including the household of James Oronoco Dexter. Studying the recovered materials from these households will expand upon our understanding of the emergence and development of a black community in what once was the nation's capital and largest city.

 
The aerial photograph shows a team of archeologists uncovering archeological features under the tent at the National Constitution Center site.
The work at the National Constitution Center site uncovered 131 brick lined shaft features representing privy pits and wells. Historic ground surfaces were also found, that represented backyard areas, streets and alleyways. These archaeological remains represent the best preserved and most extensive set of archeological resources dating to the late 18th and early 19th centuries yet excavated in Philadelphia.
 
The photograph shows a partially excavated brick-lined pit, with artifacts that have settled to the bottom.
The photograph of Feature 193 illustrates the many layers of fill material archeologists encountered during excavation. These layers allow archeologists to determine the time period for the objects. This excavation recovered information ranging from pre-contact Native American occupation of the area through the late 19th century domestic and commercial uses of the block.

Last updated: February 26, 2015

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