A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America
City Hall Park is part of the landmarked African Burial Ground and The Commons Historic District because of its known archaeological potential. When plans for a large-scale renovation of the park were drawn up in 1998, care was taken to ensure that mitigation would occur to avoid damage to the archaeological resources. This included archaeological monitoring of all subsurface work in the park, as well as hand-excavated test trenches and in certain areas complete excavation. The archaeological project design was "impact-driven" rather than "research-driven."
The archaeological investigation of City Hall Park was contracted to Parsons Engineering Science, Inc., of Fairfax, Virginia. Fieldwork began in December 1998 and finished in August 1999. The field team excavated and monitored a surface area totaling 15,325 square feet. This was the most extensive archaeological project ever undertaken in City Hall Park. During the project 51 features were investigated, comprising 25 trash pits and 26 architectural features. Some, like the large trash midden in the northeast side of the park (Feature 88) and the architectural remains of Feature 63, can be fairly securely associated with certain eighteenth- and nineteenth-century structures known to have been located in the park (in this case the Barracks and City Hall, respectively). The associations of other features are more speculative. More than 250,000 artifacts, not including skeletal remains, were recovered during the course of the excavations. Preliminary analysis of the features indicates that those in the northwest section of the park are later (late eighteenth to early/mid nineteenth century) than those in the northeast (spanning the eighteenth century). This is consonant with the documentary evidence of site use.
In the fall of 2001, the artifacts were transferred to the City University of New York for inventory, analysis, and conservation. The assemblage is currently housed in the laboratories of the Brooklyn College Archaeological Research Center, where students, faculty, and consultants are collaborating to complete the analyses and produce a report on this unique site.
Aside from the architectural and artifactual assemblage, a number of human burials were found. These consisted of both undisturbed graves (primary burials) and fragmentary remains, which had been redeposited (secondary burials). With few exceptions, the primary interments were south and east of the Tweed Courthouse, in an area that appears to be the burial ground of the First Almshouse and not associated with the African Burial Ground.
Secondary interments, which consisted of partially articulated and unarticulated human remains, were found in the same general locations as the primary interments, and additionally within fill strata in the northernmost part of the park, mostly east of the Tweed Courthouse. These fragmentary and redeposited remains were likely burials disinterred by nineteenth-century construction in the park, particularly of the Tweed Courthouse, and during landscaping in the 1860s and 1870s. Excavation for the basement of Tweed Courthouse may have disturbed additional burials associated with a second cemetery of the Almshouse located to the north of the earlier one. All primary burials were left in situ and the park design altered to avoid disturbance to the graves. The Physical Anthropology Laboratory of the Smithsonian Institution has completed analysis of the human remains from the secondary contexts.