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Excavation Unearths 18th Century Artifacts Near Independence Hall

July 10, 1988

PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ Excavation at a construction site near Independence Hall has stopped while archaeologists examine a trove of pottery, glass and other artifacts unearthed from an 18th-century privy.

Archaeologists said they believe the site was honeycombed with other shafts into which the debris of everyday life in colonial Philadelphia was tossed, creating over the decades a layered time capsule of the 18th century.

Athough the extent of the find still is unknown, archaeologists are excited.

″I haven’t seen the artifacts. I just went down there and eyeballed the privy, and I was very much impressed with it. This could be quite significant,″ said John Cotter, former chief archaeologist for the National Park Service’s Eastern Region and curator emeritus of American historical archaeology at the University of Pennsylvania.

On Wednesday National Park Service employees alerted excavators to the presence of the privies - brick-lined shafts built beneath outhouses.

Eight privies and potentially thousands of artifacts in them were destroyed by the latest digging at the site, said Robert Giannini, assistant curator of cermics and glass for the park. But the top of one crumbling, dirt-filled brick shaft was saved when digging was halted Thursday.

A 140-bed hotel and 442-car garage, to be operated by Omni International, is being built at the site by developer Kevin F. Donohue.

He agreed to stop the excavation after park service employees saw the pottery shards and the privy shafts’ brick linings being lifted out by the construction crew.

Philadelphia Historical Commission members and the developer plan to meet to figure out how to remove the artifacts and allow construction to continue, said Richard Tyler, the commission’s preservation officer.

Cotter said some privy shafts of the 18th century were actually deep wells illegally used as privies. The area was residential in the 18th century, but in the 19th century was developed into a banking area. Construction of a bank on the site probably caused the razing of the outhouse structures and the destruction of the top of the shafts, Cotter said.

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