Historic human remains unearthed from Old City construction site

- Residents and workers in Philadelphia's Old City neighborhood flocked to an Arch Street construction site Thursday morning after construction crews unearthed more than 30 colonial-era coffins during excavation for an apartment tower.

"Surprising, but not really for this neighborhood," said Kathy Getz, an employee at a hair salon across from 218 Arch. "There's so much history, and who knows what was there prior. Probably was a cemetery."

In fact the site served as a Baptist church cemetery from 1707 to 1859.

The cemetery was moved that year, but clearly not all of the bodies made the trip.

Human bones were previously discovered by crews last November, and several 18th century coffins were unearthed last month.

In all, remains of more than 50 men, women and children are being painstakingly dug up by archeologists and anthropologists from the Mütter Institute and Rutgers University - Camden.

"The goal is to learn something," said Kimberlee Moran, a forensics expert at Rutgers. "I mean, this is a wonderful opportunity to really have a window into some of the earliest citizens of Philadelphia. Who they were, what their lives were like."

Among the most heartbreaking finds was a tiny coffin, no doubt built for a toddler or even an infant.

By law, the owner of this site, PMC Property Group, is not obliged to do anything special with the remains, but the company has pledged to allow experts at Rutgers and Mütter to analyze them. Then PMC will pay to have the bones reinterred at another location.

"You usually don't think too much about what's under your feet," said Rick Chillot, who also works in Old City.  "But I guess there's a whole other world down there just waiting to be unearthed."

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