Archaeologists Discover Burial Vaults Beneath Washington Square Park

The vaults are believed to be part of a 19th century church cemetery yard.

— -- 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.

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.

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.