19th-c. African-American village unearthed in what is now NYC's Central Park

Just a few months ago, anthropologists and historians finally received permission from the city of New York to begin digging in an area of Central Park (near 85th Street and Central Park West): a critical step in a decades-long quest to reveal the history of an African-American community destroyed in the 1850s by the creation of Central Park. From a New York Times article (published a couple weeks ago):

While the borings of the past produced just a few artifacts, the dig [ which ended on July 29, 2011—XJ ], generated 250 bags of material that should keep the scholars busy for months, if not years. The work on Wednesday alone yielded a toothbrush handle fashioned of bone and the lid of a stoneware jar.

About two-thirds of the residents of Seneca Village were African-American, while the rest were of European descent, mostly Irish. The community was settled in the 1820s, a few years before slavery was abolished in New York. Despite old news reports that the village was a squatter camp, it was, in fact, made up of working- and middle-class property owners.

More in the NYT, and here is the website for the Seneca Village Project. They have more images and panoramas from the excavation.

From a statement by project co-directors Nan Rothschild (Barnard College, Columbia University) and Diana Wall (City College of New York, CUNY), about the more than 250 bags of artifacts that will now be washed and analyzed in labs:

Best of all, many of these artifacts can be associated with two specific households. We found the foundation walls and many objects from inside the home of William Godfrey Wilson, a sexton for All Angels' Church who lived in a 3-storey home near the church with his wife and eight children, and we excavated the backyard of Nancy Moore's home (later occupied by the Webster family a bit to the southeast.

In the latter area we found the buried surface dating to the period of the Village, the ground on which the Villagers walked and on which they discarded many sherds of broken plates and glass, pieces of smoking pipes and butchered animal bone (apparently mostly beef) which suggests that someone in the Village vicinity was able to do butchering. From this area we hope to be able to recover information on the environment, including plants that were native to the Village and those representing the foods that were consumed there. After the lab analysis is complete we will be able to provide information on the lives of the residents of this community, bringing them into the present and making them part of New York City's known history.

(via Farai Chideya on G+)

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