Philadelphia had one of the largest communities of freed blacks among the colonies. But the nearly 1 million artifacts found on the site of what will be the National Constitution Center show that the first Americans' lives were intertwined through trading and as neighbors.
"There was an astonishing diversity of development on this one little block," center president Joseph Torsella said Monday.
The excavations started in June and will end this week as part of groundbreaking for the $130 million center, which is scheduled to open in 2003 and is paying for the dig and subsequent research.
The well-preserved artifacts include bits of newspapers, European coins dating to 1696, kitchen utensils, hand-blown wine bottles, whale-oil lamps and perfume bottles, sewing items, lots of shoes some with the laces still tied and a necklace locket engraved "For Thomas Hancock Ramsey, died 1789."
The items help detail a time when Philadelphia was the center of American government and commerce and the second-largest city in the British Empire.
Lead archaeologist Thomas Crist said the dig also unearthed the remains of a log cabin where freed blacks or Indians may have lived in the early 1700s.
Also found was a large collection of beads, suggesting residents traded much more frequently with Indians than was previously known and at a time, 1600 to 1750, when Europeans and Indians were first making contact. Also found were Indian tools made from the shards of European ceramics.
"They would take a bowl and nub it down like they would with stone tools, fashioning it down to a point," Crist said. "We don't have any previous record of this in Philadelphia."
The first artifacts were found about an hour after digging began on June 7, 2000, Torsella said. The earliest items, dating to the early 1600s, were found about 10 feet below street level, while material from the 1950s was a couple of feet down.
"In almost every other site in Philadelphia, there was a building constructed previously," Crist said. "Here there's been a park for the past 50 years so there was literally a layer of soil as preserving the historical record.
"Basically, it's as if we sealed all the old trash in your back yard and now can look at it as it happened," he said.
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