PHILADELPHIA (CBS)–Over 70 coffins were successfully recovered from a Philadelphia construction site by a team of volunteer forensics and archaeology professionals, officials have announced.
The discovery was made last week and brought the construction of a new apartment complex in Old City to a halt.
“The excavation is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Anna Dhody, Curator of the 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.”
Among the 70 coffins recovered, authorities tell Eyewitness News that they have found at least 100 bodies and approximately 200 remains at the Old City site.
The coffins were part of the First Baptist Church Burial Ground established in 1707, when Benjamin Franklin was just a year old. Records show the bodies should have been moved to the Mount Moriah Cemetery in Southwest Philadelphia around 1860, but historians agree that someone didn’t do their job.
“We’ll try to find out anything that these bones can tell us about who these people were in life,” said Kimberlee Moran, an associate teaching professor and director of forensics center at Rutgers University. “This is a rare opportunity to learn as much as we can about the earliest residents of Philadelphia. Ultimately, we want to reinter them at Mount Moriah Cemetery with the rest of the remains from this time period.”
Officials say the total number of remains discovered had far exceeded the original expectations.
The remains will be transported to the Forensic-Osteology lab Rutgers-Camden where The Mütter Institute, the research arm of The Mütter Museum of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia, hopes to document, analyze, and respectfully reinter the remains.