New photos from one of the two vaults found underneath Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village this week show what appear to be century-old wooden caskets.
The photos, released Friday by the city's Department of Design and Construction, give a new glimpse at the two 15-by-18-foot crypts that were discovered this week by workers upgrading water mains underneath the popular park. The vaults are thought to be part of a Presbyterian church cemetery, according to archeologists and officials.
The newly released images show dozens of coffins, apparently undisturbed and in remarkably good shape for their age. Some of the coffins appear to be popped open.
The other vault appears to have been disturbed, with the skeletons and skulls of between nine and 12 people pushed into a corner.
The vaults were probably built in the late 18th century or early 19th century and belonged to one of two area Presbyterian churches, according to Chrysalis' Alyssa Loorya, the project's principal investigator. Members of her team will search old newspapers, death records and church archives to identify the buried — if possible.
"You never know what you can find beneath the city's streets," she said at the site in Greenwich Village. "You bury people to memorialize them and these people were forgotten."
Anthropologists and archaeologists have hung lights in the excavated area and will use digital cameras with zoom lenses to take pictures of the coffin plates in the hopes of identifying the buried. And because New York City policy is to leave burial grounds undisturbed if possible, project engineers are planning a new route for the water main.
Loorya's firm was contracted to work on the three-year, $9 million project because Washington Square Park adjacent to the excavation work was a Potter's Field for yellow fever victims in the early 1800s, officials said. The tombs' brick roofs were discovered Tuesday by workers just 3 ½ feet under the street with utility cables running on top of them.
The discovery is not the first time officials have discovered historical artifacts in the course of planned upkeep projects to replace old pipes and water mains.
Eighteenth century houses and wells along with Revolutionary War buttons worn by soldiers who marched in the Battle of Brooklyn were found during construction work beginning in 2005 in lower Manhattan's South Street Seaport area, Loorya said.