Friday, October 28, 2011

Archaeology at the Eustis Street Fire House



One of the biggest challenges HBI encountered during construction at the Eustis Street Fire House was excavating next to a historic cemetery that contains many unmarked graves.  Although we made every effort to minimize digging, there was no way of avoiding it altogether, since we were building a new addition behind the fire house on the footprint of the earlier stable addition, which collapsed 20 years ago.   Our new addition would not include a basement, but it needed a foundation and footings, so some excavation was unavoidable.   

Historical research revealed that the land beneath the fire house had once been part of the Eliot Burying Ground.    Further, town records stated that when the fire house was built in 1859, a “large number of human remains were thrown out in excavating for the cellar.”   It was a little shocking to learn that our predecessors would simply “throw out” the remains they encountered, and it was not clear where they would have put them – but hopefully not where we needed to excavate. 


A lot has changed since 1859, including attitudes about appropriate and respectful treatment of human remains.    The Massachusetts Historical Commission required that HBI conduct a thorough archaeological survey in the areas we needed to dig to make sure that we would not disrupt burials.  If graves were encountered, we would either need to work around them or determine a plan for removing and re-interring the individuals elsewhere.  Neither would be easy.  

We hired UMASS Amherst’s Archaeological Services to conduct the dig.  We were told that we would certainly find “disarticulated remains” (which are bones and bone fragments that would have come from earlier grave disruptions) as well as archaeological artifacts.  We hoped NOT to find intact burials.  As it turned out, we did find a couple of graves in the area where we had planned to place footings, but thanks to our architect and structural engineer’s creativity, we were able to relocate the footings and span over the graves, leaving them undisturbed.   The excavated soil was screened by Boston’s City Archaeologist and volunteers for artifacts and disarticulated remains.  During construction, we were required to hire an archaeologist to observe any digging and set aside any remains encountered.  The final steps in this process are to gather all of the remains, separate human from animal bones, and reinter the human bones together in a small box behind the fire house. 

All of the bones were recently examined by anthropologist Harley Erickson.  To a layperson, most of the animal and human bones look the same, but Harley was able to quickly and effortlessly separate one from another.  When asked how she tells the difference, she shrugged and explained that she has spent many, many hours studying human skeletons.  Not only can she identify which fragments are human, but she can often tell what type of bone it is.  She also was able to identify types of animal bones we found, which included both wild and domestic, and some that had been butchered (perhaps discards from a fireman’s meal?)

The fifty or so human bones uncovered are now in the possession of the cemetery department awaiting reburial.  After reburial in the Eliot Burying Ground, a marker will acknowledge the remains.

22 comments:

  1. Yes, we were aware that the current boundaries of the Eliot Burial Grounds exceeded its current footprints and extended out to Eustis Street. Street repair work in Eustis Street revealed human remains, but I am not sure what happen afterwards with them?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Wow! What a cool post it is. I really like you gallery of sunsets very much.

    ReplyDelete
  3. thank you very much for providing this website

    ReplyDelete
  4. hey there and thank you for your information

    ReplyDelete
  5. you are really a good webmaster. The web site loading speed is amazing. It seems that you are doing any unique trick. Moreover, The contents are masterwork. you've done a great job on this topic!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Super-Duper website I am loving it!! Will be back later to read some more. I am bookmarking your feeds also

    ReplyDelete
  7. thanks for any advice or info is very interesting and here I find info about a very nice and useful, his article also its unmatched good of the many I have read this article. pulau tidung , wisata pulau tidung , paket wisata pulau tidung , agen wisata pulau tidung , ke pulau tidung

    ReplyDelete
  8. I am happy to find your website and can join to comment
    I think is very valuable to be able to read your writing, and on this occasion will I use for my reference source
    Thank you so much for sharing, I hope you continue to write spirit next topic
    alat bantu wanita | alat bantu pria | alat bantu | obat perontok bulu | obat pembesar penis | vimax | obat kuat | vimax asli

    ReplyDelete
  9. thank you very much for providing this website

    ReplyDelete
  10. Simple, I hope this information that merits special na become a simkuring umuna shrimp for everyone

    ReplyDelete
  11. Thank you for your post. i will sharing in the next moment.

    ReplyDelete