4. An 18th-Century Cemetery when Digging for a New Orleans Swimming Pool
In 2011, Ryan Gray was conducting a test dig in the French Quarter in New Orleans, Louisiana. It was in preparation to install a pool, and on the last day of digging, Gray hit a piece of wood: a coffin. That coffin was the first step towards rediscovering the St. Peter Street Cemetery, the city’s first formal burial ground.
Thirteen coffins and two standalone bodies were lifted from the site and sent to a forensics lab at Louisiana State University, where they discovered that the 15 skeletons were all of different ages and genders. They also found the oldest dental filling in Louisiana in one of the males. The fascinating discovery, however, was that every person buried was of African or Native American descent.
While excavating for housing development, Fernando Acevedo and Donato Martin España discovered a 2500-year-old court used for a ball game that played a central role in religious and royal ceremonies for the Mayas.
The ball court was about 70% intact, and the game itself was common to several Mesoamerican cultures, with the earliest dating back to 1500 BC. The housing development plans are now being adapted to accommodate the existing ball court.
In February 2016, archaeologists unearthed a rock-carved church in the central Turkish region of Cappadocia, in Nevsehir. They discovered it during excavations and cleaning operations; painters decorated the church with frescoes depicting Jesus’ ascension, the Final Judgement, Jesus feeding the multitudes, and portraits of saints and prophets.
Because of the humidity in the soil covering the walls, they paused the work, and archaeologists had to wait until spring before removing the dirt to avoid further damage to the frescoes. Some walls had already collapsed because of snow and rain but were later repaired as part of a restoration project.
During a routine excavation on a farm in Wellington, Somerset, archaeologists found quite a surprise. Though they had already performed a routine dig as required by law and did not expect to find anything of value, they uncovered a string of hidden structures from medieval times. Of course, this discovery is quite significant, especially as they could find no formal records of the existence of these structures. The structures were aligned as though they were a medieval manor for a wealthy household, and it also included a church. Findings also included glazed ceramic roof and floor tiles, which proves the theory of the home belonging to a well-off family.
Construction sites usually require several types of specialists on-call. They rarely, however, need a paleontologist. This site was an exception to that rule. In February 2014, paleontologists were called to a place when construction workers found a fossilized mammoth tusk measuring around 8.5 feet long.
The tusk is estimated to be approximately 60,000 years old and is on display at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture in Seattle, Washington. One of the Vice Presidents of the construction project has also confirmed that the planned building schedule will be pushed back, as the significance of the discovery is more important than the building project.
9. A 2,000-Year-Old Body Under a Main Road in Florida
Apparently, finding teeth at a construction site is not cause for concern. When they saw a toe, however, they knew they were onto something big. When they realized the toe was connected to a foot, a bio-archaeologist was called in on an inspection mandated by state law. Within a week, he and his team had uncovered an entire woman’s body. The woman’s skeleton was almost entirely intact, except for a few broken bones. She was only 5 feet tall and no older than thirty years old, with no indication of foul play for cause of death. Per Florida’s strict conservancy laws, they will move her remains to an unspecified location.
In 1960, they placed a time capsule in the cornerstone of a new high school building with the intent of opening it during a 2009 celebration commemorating the 50th-anniversary of the district’s 1959 consolidation. When the keeper of the district’s history started planning the 50th-anniversary event and asked where the capsule was, no one knew. The cornerstone holding the time capsule had been removed during a 2004 construction project and was thought to have been thrown away in the debris.
That summer, as construction continued, the cornerstone and capsule were found during the demolition of a storage building.
11. Iconic Apple Discovers a 15th-Century Hospital
Apple had made countless technological discoveries, and it apparently hires construction teams that make discoveries too. In July 2013, construction was underway on a new Apple store in Madrid, Spain, when they uncovered the remains of a hospital from the 15th-Century.
The hospital played a considerable role in the care of plague patients, though it was decommissioned and destroyed in 1854, then paved over. Four years previously, they discovered the remains of a church right next to it when a new railway station was being built. A viewing window was constructed around the ruins to preserve them and allow onlookers to see them. Following suit, Apple did incorporate some of the historic finds into its newly constructed building.
12. Inca Walls Found During the Construction of a New Hotel in Peru
The city of Cuzco was preparing to welcome the construction of a new Marriott hotel when they halted plans due to the discovery of ancient Incan walls. They believed that the planned hotel site was formerly a farming area, but the map of the city would now have to be altered because the walls found were consistent with urban Incan civilizations. In addition to the walls, they also found ceramics, flooring, bones, and coal on the site.
Marriott has confirmed that they would strengthen and incorporate the walls into the architecture of the hotel instead of demolishing them or moving the hotel’s location.
As we’ve seen in this list, some construction workers have been unfortunate enough to find some very unpleasant things on their work sites. What happens when they find some of the most beautiful things in the world: diamonds? This construction crew found a pile of diamonds during a renovation of the former Warner Company Jewelry Store in December 2013.
Tim Jones, the owner at the time, had purchased the building in 2010, which had belonged to Casey Stephenson previously. She had passed six years earlier, and her family gave the business up. When her family heard about the diamonds, they, of course, wanted them back, but lawyers say it depends on the contract of sale and what it stipulates about property left behind. Either way, one of them has come into a nice little bit of money!
14. An Entire Cemetery Under a Philadelphia Apartment Building
Construction workers on an apartment building in Philadelphia’s historic district were certainly not expecting to encounter coffins and fully intact human remains. The site near the Betsy Ross House was supposedly a decommissioned burial ground for the First Baptist Church. They found as many as 60 individuals, and they took the remains to a forensic-osteology lab for documentation, cleaning, and analysis.
There is no state or city regulation on how to handle unearthed bones except if they are at a government site, so the company had no legal obligation to turn it over to an archaeological dig or to pause construction; however, the executive Vice President did acknowledge the need to be respectful and wanted to allow the process to run its course.
Construction workers uncovered a time capsule from 1894 under a bridge near Kingussie, in Scotland’s Cairngorns, while working to replace the bridge’s main structure. In the box, someone had placed a folded newspaper from 1894, a paper scroll, and a bottle. The bottle is believed to contain none other than whiskey, of course. They donated the capsule to a museum in Newtonmore.
A nearby school, the Kingussie Primary School, was inspired to create their own time capsule, in the hopes that it would “last just as long.”
In 1991, a construction project for a 34-story federal office tower began, and preliminary archaeological research excavation found intact human skeletal remains located 30 feet below the city’s street level. During survey work, they discovered a six-acre burial ground containing upwards of 15,000 intact skeletal remains of enslaved and free Africans who lived and worked in New York. It had burial dates ranging from the 1630s – 1795, making it the earliest and largest African burial ground rediscovered in the United States.
They turned the burial ground into a national monument with an interactive visitor center and outdoor memorial.
In 2011, a working crew found a well-preserved mummy in what they described as a “brown liquid” underneath a modern road in China, in the city of Taizhou, in the Jiangsu Province. The mummy, a five-foot woman, is believed to be a member of the Ming Dynasty and was dressed in silk finery with robes, slippers, and jewelry, with her hair and eyebrows still intact. The director of the Taizhou Museum, Wang Weiyin, estimated her preservation period to be about 700 years old, and she is currently on display at the museum.
Weirdly enough, we have another mammoth-related story. During a football stadium expansion project, construction crews uncovered large bones believed to belong to a mammoth from 10,000 years ago. Fortunately for all involved, Oregon State University has an archaeologist faculty member in-house who was able to head the examination. He and his students planned to comb through the pile of soil and bones to establish relevance and historical value – something that is quite enviable in the field! The students will have hands-on experience with carbon-dating and identifying extinct animal bones. According to the professor, there is no indication of human involvement with the remains.
A man’s severed head was found in a Bedfordshire quarry, in Cambridgeshire, on May 16, 2016. The victim was believed to be between the ages of 30 to 50 and might have accidentally been hit by a train, according to the police. Furthermore, the head was thought to have been undisturbed for over a decade – and possibly from the 1960s – before the construction at the bridge structure loosened it.
Anthropologists and forensic dentists worked with the police officers to identify the man, scouring DNA databases, and missing person report from the National Crime Agency.
On February 14, 2019, many people were thinking of Valentine’s Day. This construction crew had other things on their mind: the human remains they had just discovered at the housing development they were working. The bones were found during excavation the previous day. The Colorado State Archaeologist assumed responsibility for the remains and the location site, and Necrosearch, a field team that assists with international site investigations, was on-site to help with a series of non-invasive methods. The body is believed to a male, likely over a thousand-year-old Native American.
During excavation for a new hotel site project in Old Town Alexandria, they unearthed a partial hull of a ship. The boat is large and imposing, believed to be from the late 1770s. Oddly enough, they made another historic discovery just two months prior on the same one-block site! Workers had discovered a building foundation from 1755 from a warehouse that was believed to have been the city’s first public building.
Naval archaeologists carefully dismantled the ship in search of any identifying characteristics that would tell us where it sailed or what it carried. There is no documentation of the ship’s existence, which makes it all the more exciting for those working on it!
22. Pablo Escobar’s Home Demolition Unearths a Safe
Workers demolishing a waterfront mansion once owned by the infamous drug lord Pablo Escobar discovered a safe in one of the remaining walls. Though the safe’s contents are unknown, many have contemplated that it contains cocaine or cash. They took the safe to an undisclosed location, and they will probably never show it to the public. Oddly enough, or perhaps not so strangely, considering Mr. Escobar’s lifestyle, this is not the first safe to turn up at a property he owns. Just a week previously, one was discovered and mysteriously vanished, with no word on its whereabouts.
Oakbrook Terrace sounds like a sleepy little neighborhood, so they probably were quite surprised when the construction site next door dredged up tombstones and caskets. Condos were being built on the construction site, right next to Chapel Hill Gardens Cemetery. One Oakbrook Terrace resident called journalists to report the issue, who did a bit more digging. As it turns out, they moved the cemetery, and the owners claimed that all bodies along with it. The headstones were explained to be duplicate grave markers left from when the bodies were laid to rest there initially. Thankfully, they did not discover any human remains on the property.
Usually, replacing your driveway seems like a straightforward task. It is less direct if you find a den of otters when replacing your driveway. That’s precisely what happened in Titusville, Florida. When they found them, the adult otter – presumed to be the mother – ran off and didn’t return. The Florida Wildlife Hospital and Sanctuary took over the care of the three otter pups. They were around three weeks old at the time. Typically, if you notice otter pups in the wild, it is best to leave them alone; their mom is probably nearby and will return, but, in this case, she did not. The cost of raising each otter pup is around $2,300.
Construction takes planning. Surprises tend to be a bad thing in the field, and workers were not prepared for the shock of a 33-foot long anaconda slithering out from a Brazilian cave. This 881-pound snake was unfortunately killed in an explosion when workers were detonating inside the cave in preparation of work on the Belo Monte Dam. If you have a fear of snakes, this discovery probably makes you slither away from your desk in disgust.
26. Ancient Church Found under Site for Shopping Center
As construction workers dug through the earth with a bulldozer in Palestine Square in downtown Gaza, bystanders took pictures and videos of the archaeological findings laid out in front of them. The project, formerly going to be a shopping center, was now turned into excavations for more historical pieces of what was previously a church from the Byzantine period. Unfortunately, the historical ministry’s budget is extremely limited in Palestine, and this site would require millions of dollars to carry out proper excavation for extraction and analysis, so there is a valid concern that some of the information it carries will be lost.
Construction workers laying pipes in Seville, Spain have unearthed 600 kilograms, or 1300 lbs, or Roman coins, stored in 19 amphoras. The coins are bronze and silver-coated and spread across the 19 amphoras, 10 of which were intact, and just one meter underground. The currency was believed to be newly minted and used to pay soldiers or civil servants. The amphoras were extremely heavy, and they could not transport them easily. The coins bear the images of emperors Constantine and Maximian, the likes of which the Seville Archaeological Museum had never seen before. Of course, the regional cultural department has halted construction work in the park while archaeologists investigate further.
28. An Old Grenade Found in a Boston Construction Site
Bomb threats are taken very seriously, as they should be. So when construction workers found a grenade at their worksite in May 2016, it’s safe to say they took it very seriously. The workers were excavating a dirt embankment to build a concrete retaining wall along Queen Anne Road when they found a rusty metal grenade with white lettering along the side. One worker called his boss, who promptly told him to call the police. No one touched the grenade, which is the safest thing to do when you’re staring a missile in the face.
Boston State Police was able to identify it as a rifle grenade and removed it for disposal out of town. They said it was probably a device for training purposes now.
When Ericka Karner was having her home renovated, construction workers found a small coffin under the garage. There were no identifying marks, so they nicknamed the girl in the coffin “Miranda.” They believed burial took place around 120 years earlier. She was thought to be left behind when the Odd Fellows cemetery moved away. When Ericka wanted to help bury her, the city wouldn’t allow it because she didn’t have a death certificate, so an organization called Garden of Innocence, which provides burials for unidentified children, stepped in to help determine Miranda’s identity. After nearly a year, they were able to identify her as Edith Howard Cook, who died on October 13, 1876, as a result of a protein deficiency, which would be easily curable today.
Until Edith’s burial was adequate, Ericka and her husband, in addition to the construction workers, said they heard toddler footsteps on the second floor. Now, Edith and her coffin rest peacefully in Colma’s Green Lawn Cemetery.
Civilians first discovered fossilized dinosaur eggs in Heyuan in a construction site and mistakenly thought they were stones. Eggs have been found at multiple construction sites, like the batch of 43 eggs, with 19 of them intact. The project was then halted to see how many more were in the opening and how many they could preserve. The city calls itself the Home of Dinosaurs and has over 17,000 fossilized dinosaur eggs. Other dinosaur-related discoveries in Heyuan include dinosaur bones, skeletons, and footprints.
Construction crews working on single-family homes in the Santa Cruz mountains have discovered whale remains believed to date back to four million years ago. The construction site, located in Scotts Valley, now has a small team of paleontologists working to completely free the whale, estimated to be around 25 feet in length. The scientists have covered the bones in plaster to hold them in place and protect them during excavation. Not only is it the first whale of its age, but it is also the first mostly intact whale, which is what makes it so unique, says paleontologist Scott Armstrong.
These contractors were lucky not to have to deal with human bones – instead, they discovered dozens of fossils from the Ice Age. Cornerstone Communities, a San Diego area contracting company, was developing a 636 unit subdivision in Carlsbad, California when they stumbled upon these ice age fossils. They’ve discovered skulls and partial skeletons from a bison, a woolly mammoth, an antique horse, and an antique turtle. California law does require a paleontologist be on-site when large amounts of dirt are being moved in case they find a fossil, so they quickly addressed the process in this situation.
Before construction even began on this project, archaeologists were brought on for an archaeological survey to clear the way. It quickly became apparent that there was more than met the eye at this particular site. By the time they finished, they had found more than 4,000 tools created over 10,000 years ago. Some of the devices even revealed traces of the food the users were eating, like bison, deer, bear, sheep, and salmon! The project was initially set to restore the salmon habitat in Bear Creek, but they delayed it as they attempt to protect and preserve the remaining artifacts.
The City of New York knew it could encounter human remains, which is why the group worked with archaeologists from the beginning of its project to install a water main. As workers dug near Washington Square Park, they found two burial chambers housing crypts thought to be over 200 years old. From 1797 to 1825, the area served as a public burial ground, which easily explains the dozens of bones found remaining in the field to this day. City officials worked to revise their construction plan to avoid any impact to the burial vault, which likely included changing the course of the subterranean pipes.
35. Pre-1906 Earthquake Chinatown Artifacts Found in Subway Construction
The Central Subway project, a line that would ultimately link Chinatown and South of Market in San Francisco, led to the discovery of what turned out to be 19th-century industrial sewing machines. They believed these sewing machines were used in the basement of a Chinatown factory that likely burned down or collapsed in the 1906 earthquake and ensuing fire. Sonoma State University was one of several archaeological consultants hired to assist with the excavation and analysis.
A sealed glass time capsule that bears the hand-written note “Please do not open until 2957 AD,” has been found on the MIT campus by workers building the new nano-building. It contains a letter to the people of the next millennium and historical artifacts from the year 1957 when they initially buried it. Its design reflects that of the Westinghouse Time Capsule, buried at the 1939 World Fair.
According to MIT, this is one of eight time capsules the university has buried to commemorate various events, like the 1939 time capsule buried to celebrate the installation of a new cyclotron. They meant to recover the capsule in 1989, but they forgot about it under the 36,000-pound reinforced concrete slab.
In August 2015, while digging on Route 61 in Schuykill County, construction crews discovered a decade-old mass human burial site believed to have belonged to victims of the Spanish Influenza. Approximately 1,600 locals died in one month from the virus, and it was not uncommon for people to be buried in large unmarked graves like this one, as grave diggers could not keep up with the demand for individual graves.
They conducted DNA tests on the remains and gave proper burials to the individuals in the graves.
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