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Urban Archeology

Think of a city, and the image conjured up is likely to be of sidewalks and streets full of people from all walks of life moving swiftly by. Cities are known for their bustle, their diversity, and especially for how fast they change. Oftentimes moving forward pushes the stories of residents and neighborhoods into obscurity. Today, archeological inquiries help us to remember the people who influenced the city’s character.

City archeology usually takes place ahead of construction projects. Archeologists use city maps and historical documents to anticipate what they will find, then dig in with backhoes and cranes to remove overlying fill deposits and construction rubble. Change often seals in the past, revealing surprisingly intact evidence of cultural traditions, communities, and everyday life. Visit sites and museums across the nation to learn more.

California

San Francisco: The Presidio, Golden Gate National Recreation Area

Visit the Presidio to learn about its archaeological past, spanning from Native American sites dating back more than 1,200 years, through the Spanish and Mexican periods from 1776 to 1846, and through the U.S. occupation.

Sacramento: Sacramento Museum of History, Science, Space and Technology

Walk through time in the Central Gallery! Sacramento's Buried Past highlights four historic sites discovered in the city block between I & J - 8th & 9th block in downtown Sacramento, currently known as Plaza de Caesar Chavez Park.

Sacramento: U.S. Courthouse

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Archeologists working ahead of construction at the courthouse recovered fascinating evidence of the city's 19th-century Chinatown. Visit the exhibit to find out about the people living in this community.

District of Columbia

Washington, D.C: District of Columbia Archaeology Tour

Take this brochure as your guide around the underground history of our nation's capital. Find out what archeologists have learned about medicine, housing, crowded living spaces, and what people did for work and play in the downtown business district.

Florida

City of St. Augustine: St. Augustine

The story of this Spanish colony among the Timucua Indians is told in an exhibit full of artifacts and history. A great deal of what we know about their often difficult daily lives comes directly from the excavated objects that people made, used, lost and discarded over the centuries.

Pensacola: Colonial Archaeological Trail

Follow this trail to visit a series of outdoor exhibits that feature Pensacola's colonial past, including the ruins of several structures associated with the colonial military during the American Revolution. Also visit the partially reconstructed remains of the British Fort George near the city's downtown.

Indiana

Indianapolis: Ransom Place Archaeology

Now a historic district, African Americans have lived in Ransom Place since the 1840's, as has almost every European immigrant group that came to Indianapolis in the nineteenth century. Visit the archeological investigations May through June, house museums, and other buildings.

Maryland

Annapolis: Historic Annapolis

Follow a walking tour to learn about African American lifeways and folk practices, landscape archeology, and colonial life. Be sure to peer through the floor at the Calvert House to see an underground heating system for the "orangerie."

Massachusetts

Boston: Big Dig

This massive salvage project had unexpected results when archeologists discovered the evidence of a number of past communities, from Native American occupation through the historic periods of European immigration. The City Archaeology Program also offers tours of the collections facility.

Michigan

Detroit: Archaeology of Early Detroit

See the ancient history of modern Detroit in a series of exhibits at Wayne State University.

Minnesota

Minneapolis: Urban Archaeology

Archaeologists working along the river front have revealed layer after layer of industrial and technological change. These findings tell the story of the changes that enabled Minneapolis to grow.

New York

Brooklyn: Weeksville

Weeksville was named for James Weeks, an African American who purchased land there in 1838 from Henry C. Thompson, another free African-American. Visitors can follow tours through the houses and listen online to an archeologist talk about the dig.

Manhattan: African Burial Ground and African Burial Ground National Monument

In 1991, the remains of more than 400 Africans living in New York City during the 17th and 18th centuries were discovered during construction of the Foley Square Project federal building. Archeologists recovered human remains and cultural information from the graves, sparking intense scrutiny and debate in the process. Visitors can today see a number of memorials. An interpretive center is underway.

Manhattan: Five Points

Five Points was notorious as a center for vice and debauchery throughout the nineteenth century. Adding to its undesirable characteristics were smells and dirt from thriving local industries. For the families living there, however, it was home. An exhibit is currently on view at the Foley Square Courthouse at 500 Pearl Street.

Manhattan: Seneca Village

In the early 1800s, the landscape of what is now Central Park West was largely wasteland and open fields. Several prominent African American clergymen and entrepreneurs bought land in the 1820s to build homes and establish a community. Over time, this area on the urban frontier became a culturally-diverse place of freedmen, Irish, and other groups. Today, above-ground archeology and testing in Central Park enables us to know something about Seneca Village, which was destroyed to make way for the park.

  • (NPS Photo) A black and white image of the Presidio as the neighborhood looked in the 1880s.
  • A visitor peers through the glass floor at an archeology exhibit. (Discovery Museum)
  • (source?) A stoneware container found in Washington, D.C.
  • (St. Augustine) A colorful ceramic Majolica piece from St. Augustine.
  • (U. of Indiana) A black decorative button found during excavations at Ransom Place.
  • (source?) Signage interprets an open excavation unit along the Colonial Archaeological Trail.
  • (Maryland State Archives) A black and white image of the Brice House in Annapolis as it looked in 1865.
  • (Massachusetts Historical Commission) A side view of a wigged man pressed onto a ceramic plate found at the Big Dig.
  • (Institute for Minnesota Archaeology) Bird's eye view of Minneapolis,ca. 1891.
  • (Barbara Little) The African Burial Ground at Foley Square.
  • (Historical Society of New-York) This 1856 map shows the layout of Seneca Village.

TSM/MJB