The Buried Past: An Archaeological History of Philadelphia

By John L. Cotter; Daniel G. Roberts et al. | Go to book overview

12

A Prospective View:
Directions for Future Research

ARCHAEOLOGICAL RESOURCES OF THE DELAWARE RIVER: SUBMERGED SITES AND SHIPWRECKS

TRANSPORTATION NETWORKS

INDUSTRIAL SITES

A CONCLUDING NOTE ON THE FUTURE OF PHILADELPHIA'S ARCHAEOLOGY

The history of archaeology in the City of London recalls the story of the Siby-
line Books. Knowledge is offered to each generation at a price—and is destroyed
when the price is not paid. The price rises for each generation ... and the
remaining store of information diminishes. None has yet been prepared to
pay in full.... If ever a generation arises that is prepared to pay the full
price of a total scientific excavation over whatever area is then available,
complete pages of the book will be won. By that time very few pages indeed
will remain
.

—Ralph Merrifield, 1965, quoted in Biddle, Hudson, and Heighway
(1973)

A good many pages of Philadelphia's archaeological record have been won. A good many have been lost; before the implementation of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 and the National Environmental Protection Act of 1969, the wholesale disturbance or destruction of archaeological sites was not uncommon. But despite such losses and the constant building and rebuilding Philadelphia has experienced over the years, a considerable amount of the material evidence of the city's past no doubt still lies hidden and buried, awaiting salvation or destruction.

Anyone inclined to dismiss the archaeological potential of a historic site because of the construction that has taken place on it should heed the lesson afforded in the summer of 1988, when no fewer than seventeen artifactladen pits appeared on a tract of land previously judged so disturbed as to be not worth a preliminary archaeological survey. The tract, at the northwest corner of Fourth and Chestnut streets, had during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries accommodated massive buildings with deep basements. * Because of the likelihood that the deep basements had destroyed all archaeological resources, the construction of the new Omni Hotel and parking garage began without the usual documentary research. As it turned out, six of the seventeen pits uncovered as bulldozers started digging below the old foundations contained an extraordinarily rich collection of eighteenth-century artifacts. The collection included some of the most interesting eighteenth-century ceramics ever found on a Philadelphia site, among them pieces of stoneware and heretofore unrecognized examples of black manganese decorated earthen

____________________
*
Among these buildings was the Provident Life and Trust Company, designed by Frank Furness and James Windrim.

-460-

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