For the second time in seven years, human remains have been unearthed in the 3300 block of Q Street NW. In 2005, masonry workers removing part of a Q Street rowhouse’s brick foundation found a jaw, some ribs and several joints. Experts later determined that they had been there at least 100 years, most likely placed in a grave lost to history.
This time around, five sets of remains have turned up. On Sept. 10, workers repaving a driveway and building a garage discovered two sets of human remains after hitting a skull. On Sept. 20, two more skulls, along with another set of remains, were discovered by construction workers in the back yard of the home and an excavation began.
“We were lying on our bellies, just using our arms to excavate the burial,” said Ruth Trocolli, an archaeologist with the District’s Historic Preservation Office. She, David Hunt, a forensic anthropologist from the Smithsonian, and her team — including one staffer, two volunteers and her husband, a retired archaeologist — spent 48 hours working to remove the remains.
“I definitely underestimated the amount of time,” she said of their weekend’s worth of work.
Trocolli and Hunt, who are called in when it’s clear that remains have been someplace awhile and the circumstances do not appear to be suspicious, said it is likely that more remains will be found — and not just in Georgetown.
With tractors revving up and businesses and homeowners once again looking to build or renovate, they said there’s no telling what — or who — might turn up. That’s why Trocolli is working to create a database of the discoveries. She hopes to make a comprehensive list of where the bodies are buried.
There are lots of historic burial sites in the District, some that the city knows about and others whose whereabouts have been misplaced, Trocolli said. Over the past few years, she and her team have been using a geographic information system, which stores, edits and analyzes data to show trends or patterns. The system allows Trocolli and her team to create an interactive mapping system of known burial sites.
Many of the first burial sites logged into the database came from Washington cemetery historian Paul E. Sluby Sr.’s book “Bury Me Deep: Burial Places Past and Present in and Nearby Washington, D.C.” Sluby’s book is an alphabetical guide to some of Washington’s oldest burial sites and is considered by experts as the most extensive archive of this information.
Sometimes the work can be tedious, Trocolli said, like attempting to put together the scattered parts of a 100-piece puzzle. Burial records are not kept in a uniform database. Churches that have cemeteries on their land often keep records of burial plots, but over time that information can become hard to find.