Archaeological dig planned for Germantown Potter’s Field site

A pre-Revolutionary War Era burial ground beneath a shuttered high-rise site in Germantown will be excavated by hand in the coming months.

The Potter’s Field, created in 1755, sits directly below and beyond the current footprint of Queen Lane Apartments. The hulking Philadelphia Housing Authority property is slated to be demolished and replaced with 55 new rental units.

PHA officials have vowed to preserve the African-American burial ground which, according to the Philadelphia Preservation Alliance, was created for “all strangers, Negroes, and Mulattoes as die in any part of Germantown forever.”

Further investigation needed, again

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The exact boundaries of the Potter’s Field, however, remain unknown.

Enviroscan, a Lancaster-based geophysics company, searched the site in April using a technology known as ground-penetrating radar. The surface scan revealed three on-site “anomalies” that merited further exploration and may result in the site’s boundaries being expanded.

“Anomalies are anything in the ground that can’t be easily explained,” said Mary Tinsman with Cultural Heritage Research Services, Inc., a company hired by PHA. “It could be tree roots. It could be a burial. It could be foundation from a building.”

Tinsman, who spoke during a Thursday night community meeting at Mt. Moriah Baptist Church, said a team of archaeologists will dig at least three feet below the concrete to determine the true identity of each anomaly.

Machines will strip the concrete to allow access to the soil below.

“We might find nothing. We might find a lot. We just don’t know at this point,” said Tinsman, who noted that, if discovered, “no human remains are going to be disinterred” during the exploration.

Schedule pending

The work itself won’t start for at least another four to six weeks.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which oversees all PHA projects, must approve the excavation. A company must also be awarded the contract to carry out the digging.

The results of the excavation will be part of a currently incomplete environmental review of the site.

Future PHA plans in limbo

The Section 106 Agreement must be executed and approved by HUD before the 57-year-old property can come down for new development.

If the anomalies result in an enlargement of the burial ground, PHA’s plans for the site could be compromised.

“If we can’t do 55 units on this site, we’ll have to look at other options,” said Michael Johns, PHA’s general manager of community development and design.

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