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New York - Centuries-old Coffins, Skeletons Found Beneath NYC Street

Published on: November 5, 2015 08:50 PM
By: AP
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A plywood wall surrounds the opening to an underground construction area, Thursday, Nov. 5, 2015 in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of New York. Two burial vaults discovered beneath a street in the heart of New York University's campus by workers replacing a water main were likely part of a Presbyterian church cemetery, an archaeologist said Thursday. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)A plywood wall surrounds the opening to an underground construction area, Thursday, Nov. 5, 2015 in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of New York. Two burial vaults discovered beneath a street in the heart of New York University's campus by workers replacing a water main were likely part of a Presbyterian church cemetery, an archaeologist said Thursday. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

New York - Two centuries-old burial vaults discovered beneath a street in the heart of New York University’s campus by workers replacing a water main were likely part of a Presbyterian church cemetery, an archaeologist said Thursday.

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One of the roughly 15-by-18-foot crypts was clearly disturbed, with the skeletons and skulls of between nine and 12 people pushed into a corner while more than a dozen stacked wooden coffins can be seen in the second one, said Chrysalis’ Alyssa Loorya, the project’s principal investigator.

“You never know what you can find beneath the city’s streets,” she said at the site in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village neighborhood. “You bury people to memorialize them and these people were forgotten.”

Anthropologists and archeologists have hung lights in the excavated area and will use digital cameras with zoom lenses to take pictures of the coffin plates in the hopes of identifying the buried. And because New York City policy is to leave burial grounds undisturbed if possible, project engineers are planning a new route for the water main.

“We knew we could be encountering remains or other items in this area,” said Thomas Foley, an associate commissioner with the city’s Department of Design and Construction. “We’ll do some exploring to discover what other lanes we might have.”

Loorya’s firm was contracted to work on the three-year, $9 million project because Washington Square Park adjacent to the excavation work was a Potter’s Field for yellow fever victims in the early 1800s, officials said. The tombs’ brick roofs were discovered Tuesday by workers just 3 ½ feet under the street with utility cables running on top of them.

The vaults were probably built in the late 18th century or early 19th century and belonged to one of two area Presbyterian churches, Loorya said. Members of her team will search old newspapers, death records and church archives to identify the buried — if possible.

The discovery is not the first time officials have discovered historical artifacts in the course of planned upkeep projects to replace old pipes and water mains.

This Nov. 3, 2015 photo provided by the New York City Department of Design and Construction shows the inside of a centuries-old burial vault containing human remains beneath a street in New York's Greenwich Village neighborhood according to anthropologists and archeologists. Two vaults were discovered by workers replacing a water main in the heart of New York University's campus. One of the roughly 15-by-18-foot crypts contained skeletons and skulls of between 9 and 12 people pushed into a corner while more than a dozen stacked wooden coffins can be seen in the second one.  (New York City Department of Design and Construction via AP)This Nov. 3, 2015 photo provided by the New York City Department of Design and Construction shows the inside of a centuries-old burial vault containing human remains beneath a street in New York's Greenwich Village neighborhood according to anthropologists and archeologists. Two vaults were discovered by workers replacing a water main in the heart of New York University's campus. One of the roughly 15-by-18-foot crypts contained skeletons and skulls of between 9 and 12 people pushed into a corner while more than a dozen stacked wooden coffins can be seen in the second one.  (New York City Department of Design and Construction via AP)

Eighteenth century houses and wells along with Revolutionary War buttons worn by soldiers who marched in the Battle of Brooklyn were found during construction work beginning in 2005 in lower Manhattan’s South Street Seaport area, Loorya said.

“It’s definitely a wonderful find,” she said.

This Nov. 3, 2015 photo provided by the New York City Department of Design and Construction shows human remains in a centuries-old burial vault beneath a street in New York's Greenwich Village neighborhood according to anthropologists and archeologists. Two vaults were discovered by workers replacing a water main in the heart of New York University's campus. One of the roughly 15-by-18-foot crypts contained skeletons and skulls of between 9 and 12 people pushed into a corner while more than a dozen stacked wooden coffins can be seen in the second one.  (New York City Department of Design and Construction via AP)This Nov. 3, 2015 photo provided by the New York City Department of Design and Construction shows human remains in a centuries-old burial vault beneath a street in New York's Greenwich Village neighborhood according to anthropologists and archeologists. Two vaults were discovered by workers replacing a water main in the heart of New York University's campus. One of the roughly 15-by-18-foot crypts contained skeletons and skulls of between 9 and 12 people pushed into a corner while more than a dozen stacked wooden coffins can be seen in the second one.  (New York City Department of Design and Construction via AP)


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Read Comments (5)  —  Post Yours »

1

 Nov 05, 2015 at 09:52 PM Anonymous Says:

So difficult to be a Kohen. Wait, is it assur for a kohen to walk over a goy's grave?

2

 Nov 05, 2015 at 11:29 PM lazerx Says:

not if there was an air space of a tefach (fist) between the skeleton and the top of the burial vault...

3

 Nov 06, 2015 at 01:19 AM ayoyo Says:

In paris the bones are placed in uniform piles in the cripts that contain old burials from when the new streets were laid out and old cemeteries and churches were destroyed Every so often we read about these old bones in washington square that was also used as a burial ground for paupers at one time, there are more graves in the square itself.

4

 Nov 06, 2015 at 04:52 AM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #2  
lazerx Says:

not if there was an air space of a tefach (fist) between the skeleton and the top of the burial vault...

That's for a yid's kever. A goy may only be maga . . . (?)

5

 Nov 06, 2015 at 07:18 AM AlbertEinstein Says:

Reply to #1  
Anonymous Says:

So difficult to be a Kohen. Wait, is it assur for a kohen to walk over a goy's grave?

No. A nochri does not transmit tumah through ohel, only maga and masa.

6

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