Archaeologists Discover Burial Vaults Beneath Washington Square Park

PHOTO:The second burial vault is located south of the first burial vault with wooden coffins likely dated to the 19th century.PlayNew York City Department of Design and Construction
WATCH Burial Vaults Uncovered Beneath NYC's Washington Square Park

An archaeological discovery at Washington Square Park has brought to light skeletons that may have been in the dark since the 19th century.

The New York City Department of Design and Construction (DDC) unearthed two burial vaults on Tuesday and Wednesday while upgrading trunk and distribution water mains within the park, the DDC said in a statement provided to ABC News today.

A contractor came across the first vault on Tuesday while performing the upgrades, the DDC said, and the second was discovered Wednesday south of the first vault. It had wooden coffins that the DDC said “likely dated to the 19th century.”

Chrysalis Archaeological Consultants was able to determine that the first vault was a burial hall “because of the shape and construction,” president and principal investigator Alyssa Loorya told ABC News today.

“There were several disarticulated skeletons that would have originally been in coffins at some point,” Loorya said.

PHOTO:The second burial vault is located south of the first burial vault with wooden coffins likely dated to the 19th century. New York City Department of Design and Construction
PHOTO:The second burial vault is located south of the first burial vault with wooden coffins likely dated to the 19th century.

Although Loorya said there was “clearly some disturbance” to the first vault, the second was still intact and the skeletons were still in coffins with name plates.

Loorya said she and her team have not identified any of the remains yet but will be using high-resolution photography to try and identify the skeletons based on their coffins and nameplates. One thing they were able to determine, though, is that these vaults were part a church cemetery yard.

DDC Commissioner Feniosky Peña-Mora said in a statement that the DDC stopped work surrounding the vaults so that the Landmarks Preservation Commission, the Office of Chief Medical Examiner and onsite archaeologists and anthropologists can further evaluate the area.

PHOTO:DDC Commissioner Pena-Mora, Assistant Commissioner Shah Jaromi (Manhattan-Infrastructure)
and onsite Archaeologist Alyssa Loorya at the construction site.New York City Department of Design and Construction
PHOTO:DDC Commissioner Pena-Mora, Assistant Commissioner Shah Jaromi (Manhattan-Infrastructure) and onsite Archaeologist Alyssa Loorya at the construction site.

He added: “Since the findings, we have been diligently working with our Engineers and construction project team members to redesign the work to accommodate findings, while minimizing the impact to the construction schedule.”

It is New York City policy that if any human remains are discovered on site they must remain in place, Loorya said, but her team will continue to do research to identify the descendant church.

PHOTO:The second burial vault is located south of the first burial vault with wooden coffins likely dated to the 19th century.New York City Department of Design and Construction
PHOTO:The second burial vault is located south of the first burial vault with wooden coffins likely dated to the 19th century.