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March 14, 2017

Human remains rescued from Old City construction site ahead of snowstorm

History Archaeology
031417_RemainsOC Source/Mütter Institute

Coffin removed from a construction site at 218 Arch St., the former burial grounds of the First Baptist Church.

A team of volunteer archaeologists and forensics experts successfully removed 70 coffins from the Old City worksite where crews last week unearthed a field of human remains, beating out a massive snowstorm projected to drop up to 12 inches of snow in Philadelphia. 

RELATED ARTICLE: WATCH: Coffins, human bones unearthed at Old City construction site

The former First Baptist Church Burial Ground, under development by PMC Property Group for a multifamily residence, first drew the attention of archaeologists last September when bones were found at the site. As work continued last Thursday, a collection of coffins was unexpectedly discovered beneath the soil, leaving little time for a thorough excavation. 

Throughout the day on Monday, in advance of Winter Storm Stella, volunteers toiled to safely preserve the remains, which have been traced back to the mid-1700s. Crews raced against the clock after realizing that the remains far exceeded what they had originally anticipated. 

The remains will be transported to the Forensic-Osteology lab at Rutgers-Camden, where The Mütter Institute, the research arm of The Mütter Museum in Philadelphia, aims to document and analyze them. Eventually, researchers said, the coffins will be re-interred at the historic Mount Moriah Cemetery in Southwest Philadelphia.

“The excavation is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Anna Dhody, curator of The Mütter Museum and director of The Mütter Institute. “We now have months, perhaps years, of work and research ahead of us. The remains will need to be cleaned and an inventory conducted before we will know the final number of individuals removed from the site. The Mütter Institute hopes to collaborate with additional institutions and researchers in order to shed more light on the history of the parishioners of the First Baptist Church.”