Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal repos­i­tory, dig­i­tal archive launched

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - STATE NEWS - By Ula Il­nytzky

Nearly 1 mil­lion an­tiq­ui­ties in­clud­ing ce­ram­ics, a bay­o­net, per­fume and medicine bot­tles — even a 200-year-old douche de­vice — have been un­earthed at con­struc­tion sites in New York City, ar­ti­facts that help shed light on lo­cal his­tory and the peo­ple who once lived there.

Ex­ca­vated from 31 sites across the city’s five bor­oughs, the ob­jects — fre­quently in frag­ments — had been stored for decades at 14 lo­ca­tions across the city — un­til now.

On Wed­nes­day, the city’s Land­marks Preser­va­tion Com­mis­sion un­veiled a cli­mate-con­trolled repos­i­tory where all the spec­i­mens are housed un­der one roof. It also launched an online data­base of the ar­chae­o­log­i­cal finds that have been cat­a­loged and pho­tographed in part­ner­ship with the Mu­seum of the City of New York.

The 1,400-square-foot ar­chae­o­log­i­cal repos­i­tory in the base­ment of an of­fice tower in mid­town Man­hat­tan is lined with shelves con­tain­ing more than 1,500 an­tiq­ui­ties-filled boxes and about two dozen ob­jects on view. The col­lec­tion will be open only by ap­point­ment to re­searchers, schol­ars and any­one in­ter­ested.

“They run the gamut,” said Com­mis­sion Chair Meenakshi Srini­vasan. “There are ar­ti­facts that go back thou­sands of years or you have more re­cent finds from the late 19th and early 20th cen­tury.”

The ar­ti­facts range from a hunter’s spear point used to kill an­i­mals from 8,000 years ago, ex­ca­vated in Col­lege Point, Queens, to an early 20th cen­tury toy teacup dis­cov­ered in Bat­tery Park in Lower Man­hat­tan.

What makes the repos­i­tory par­tic­u­larly fas­ci­nat­ing is that it con­tains ob­jects New York­ers used in their daily life, said Srini­vasan.

“These ar­ti­facts tell us about what peo­ple did at that time, what kinds of ob­jects they used. They tell you about their life­styles, about their eat­ing habits and oc­cu­pa­tions,” she said. They show “New York was ex­tremely di­verse.”

The project to move the ob­jects to a cen­tral lo­ca­tion started in 2014, when the city first an­nounced the cre­ation of an ar­chae­o­log­i­cal repos­i­tory named The Nan A. Roth­schild Re­search Cen­ter in 2014. It’s named af­ter an ur­ban ar­chae­ol­o­gist and pro­fes­sor of an­thro­pol­ogy at Columbia Univer­sity who has di­rected sev­eral New York City ex­ca­va­tions.

The ar­chae­o­log­i­cal col­lec­tions started in 1979 af­ter the city’s en­vi­ron­men­tal re­view law went into ef­fect, re­quir­ing any devel­op­ment to con­sider the im­pact on ar­chae­ol­ogy.

Among other ob­jects in the repos­i­tory are 19-cen­tury mar­bles, hand-rolled from clay or made from stone, found in City Hall Park, which then housed bar­racks, prisons and almshouses. There are “health and beauty” items from the 1800s found near the Van Cort­landt Manor in Van Cort­landt Park in the Bronx, likely dis­carded when the prop­erty was be­ing trans­formed into a city park in 1889. There are cold cream jars, a “hair in­vig­o­ra­tor” bot­tle and medicine bot­tles that con­tained high lev­els of opi­ates in an era of no reg­u­la­tory over­sight.


Nearly one mil­lion an­tiq­ui­ties have been un­earthed at con­struc­tion sites in New York City, ar­ti­facts that help shed light on the his­tory of the city and peo­ple who once lived there.

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