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The Face of Colonial Albany Volume 53 Number 2, March/April 2000
by Charles L. Fisher

[image] Facial reconstruction of an unknown woman whose remains were found in a 1998 excavation in Albany (Sculpture by Gay Malin, New York State Museum; photo by Charles L. Fisher, New York State Museum) [LARGER IMAGE]

Archaeology beneath the streets of Albany gave New York State Museum a unique opportunity to reconstruct the face of a resident of the colonial town. During 1998 the New York State Department of Transportation began the reconstruction of Pearl Street in downtown Albany and museum archaeologists selected the corner of Pearl and Howard streets for investigation. The site yielded seventeenth- through nineteenth-century layers of trash. Artifacts from a 1680 Lutheran Church including bricks, roof tiles, and handmade nails were present alongside tobacco pipe fragments and glass trade beads left by earlier visitors. Evidence of a second church, built on the same site in 1742, included ceramics, glassware, and food remains.

The discovery of three well-preserved wooden coffins containing human remains provided physical evidence of health conditions in Colonial Albany. Historical sources indicate that a cemetery was present on the Lutheran church lot, but other documents describe the removal of burials when Pearl Street was widened in the 1790s. Why these three individuals were not moved at that time is unknown.

The subject of the facial reconstruction was an unidentified adult female. She was interred about the time the original church was replaced. The woman was in her early forties when she died. She had lost about 60% of her teeth and had suffered from an upper respiratory infection, sinusitis, rickets, arthritis, and, possibly, gout. Large muscle attachments on her limbs indicated that she regularly engaged in heavy labor, despite her physical problems.

After the skull was reassembled and a cast made, average tissue depth markers (based on averages with consideration to race, sex, and weight) were placed at points on the cast to use as a guide and underlying muscles, fat pads, and glands were sculpted onto the cast. Most of the major features of the face were determined by the skull's morphology, but eye and hair color, shape of the ears, and skin texture were interpreted from the best information available.

The woman's remains have been re-interred at Albany Rural Cemetery alongside other citizens of colonial Albany. For more information about the facial reconstruction, see www.nysm.nysed.gov/arccrsppearlst.html.

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© 2000 by the Archaeological Institute of America
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