Construction Workers Unearth Dozens of Centuries-Old Coffins in Philadelphia

AP Photo
AP Photo/Matt Slocum

A construction crew working on a new apartment building in Philadelphia’s historic district uncovered dozens of coffins buried six feet under the parking lot Thursday.

Archaeologists, forensic scientists, and students from Rutgers University-Camden are working to recover and identify as many 18th century remains as they can in the hopes of finding out what life was like in colonial-era Philadelphia, NBC Philadelphia reported.

Historians say the coffins are part of the First Baptist Church burial ground established in 1707 in Philadelphia’s historic district on Arch Street. The remains were supposed to be moved across town to Mount Moriah Cemetery in 1860, but the job never got finished.

“It costs money to move the graves and sometimes it doesn’t happen,” Lee Arnold of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania told CNN. “Businesses decide to cut corners. The problem is that when you’re talking about the remains of loved ones, cutting corners is tragic.”

Researchers have unearthed 38 coffins on the site, which is 40 feet by 25 feet wide, so far. The remains will be taken to a forensic-osteology lab at Rutgers-Camden, where researchers will clean, analyze, and document the remains.

After this process has taken place, researchers will be able to use the cataloged remains to determine the gender, ethnicity, and age at death.

The owner of the construction site, PMC Property Group, is not obliged to do anything special with the remains by law, but has allowed researchers to analyze the remains and has pledged to pay for the remains to be re-buried at another location, WTXF reported.

The company plans to build a 10-story, 116-unit apartment building on the site where the bodies were found.