Archaeologists digging in two forgotten Baltimore cemeteries have found 186 skeletons and evidence that even the city's poorest citizens in the early 1800s were provided with coffins and Christian burials.
One of the graveyards found beneath the site of a new cancer center at Johns Hopkins Hospital was a 19th-century potter's field, where "we thought individuals would simply be shrouded and placed in a hole in the ground," said Louise Akerson, an archaeologist with the Baltimore Center for Urban Archaeology.
But in addition to evidence of simple wooden coffins, she said, "in all of the remains, the head was at the west." That suggests a Christian burial, anticipating that the dead would rise on Judgment Day and face the rising sun.
Under contract with Hopkins, Redd Funeral Services of East Baltimore is providing each set of remains with a new coffin and reburial at Oak Lawn Cemetery, off Eastern Avenue in Baltimore County. A public reinterment service for all the remains will be held at Oak Lawn at 10 a.m. Friday. A memorial plaque will be hung in the finished cancer center.
The excavations have cost the hospital between $200,000 and $300,000. The new coffins and reburials have added $200,000, said Carole Martens, Hopkins' project analyst.
The archaeologists learned something about burial customs during their dig. One of the skeletons was found with a corroded coin in each eye and an earring, Ms. Akerson said.
The earring might mean he was a sailor or a Greek, she said. Placing coins on the eyes of the dead is an ancient custom, rooted in Greek mythology, that is intended to pay the fare of the deceased into the afterlife.
The forgotten potter's cemetery at Orleans Street and Broadway was one of two rediscovered this year as the hospital prepared to start construction on its $97.7 million Comprehensive Cancer Care Center. The second cemetery belonged to Christ Church, a now-defunct Episcopal congregation.
The site had been a ground-level parking lot since 1961, and the discovery of human remains there surprised Hopkins officials.
Historians found that the cemeteries were established about 1800. The potter's field was organized to end the improper disposal of bodies of the poor and victims of epidemics. By the 1850s, both had filled up and were being vandalized. Christ Church sought to sell the property to developers.
Rowhouses were built over both cemeteries in the 1870s. Amid the rowhouse rubble, the archaeologists found an assortment of 19th- and 20th-century glassware, china and bottles.
The rowhouses were demolished by the city in 1959, and in 1961 the lot was paved for parking. The east end of the potter's field was destroyed in the 1960s by construction of a high-rise hospital parking garage.
The archaeological work was required by state law. The initial dig, which ended Nov. 17, revealed 417 grave shafts and the remains of 36 children and 150 adults.
More remains are likely to turn up when another portion of the cemetery property, now beneath a driveway, is excavated.