The sidewalk contractors at Annapolis's Church Circle have been seeing dead people.
Unfortunately for Hollywood, that hasn't included mummies, ghosts or legions of undead zombies. But the bones of Annapolitans buried as many as 300 years ago have been seeing the light of day recently, courtesy of the skeleton crew in charge of replacing the sidewalk girdling St. Anne's Church, one of the city's most prominent landmarks.
It started in January, when city crews churning up the old concrete sidewalk found, on the first day of the dig, fragments of a centuries-old juvenile human tibia and another, unidentified bone. The discovery brought the project to an immediate halt, and the word went out: Send in the archaeologists.
The find surprised no one. St. Anne's used to be where most Annapolitans were buried, particularly during the city's earliest days. The church still has several marked tombs, including those of Daniel Dulany Sr., a notable city lawyer who passed away Dec. 5, 1753, and his second wife, Rebecca, who, the weathered stone notes, "led an unblemished life."
Records say Dulany owned at least 10,000 acres, 187 slaves and 563 gallons of wine. For those less wealthy, and perhaps less bibulous, it was cheaper to be buried anonymously. A plaque on the side of the church asks visitors to pray for those whose graves were unmarked, noting the years 1696 to 1789.
The sidewalk workers are trying to show due respect for the dead. The dig got back underway this month, and since then the workers have been carefully plowing their way around the circle, uncovering bits of bone and other artifacts along the way. Among the two more notable finds are a corner of a buried brick crypt and a piece of an old trolley sign that had bits of a wood coffin embedded in it. They've also found dinner plates, pieces of Chinese porcelain and white salt glaze stoneware dating from 1740 to 1800.
And, of course, there have been the bones, usually only the smallest fragments, lying in the dirt.
On a recent visit to the site, lead archaeologist Christian D. Davenport of R. Christopher Goodwin & Associates was carefully troweling the dirt in a trench as the city's own archaeologist, Jim Gibb, looked on. (All this expertise come at a price: The cost of the project has increased from $137,000 to about $190,000, but Maryland's first lady, Kendel Ehrlich, has been attempting to raise money for the work.)
Davenport, known to those in the business as "the bone guy," declined to comment for this report, saying he'd be fired if he did. But he found it difficult to suppress his enthusiasm as he crawled around the trench looking for old artifacts, especially human ones. His work clothes were covered with the damp dirt.
Coming across one bit of bone, he told Gibb: "I don't know what it is. Pelvic or femur." There were plenty of other pieces, too small to identify, sprinkled about the ditch.
Gibb explained what they would do with the bones. "We map its location and do zone drawings, so we know what it is we have before we bury it," he said. Then, in most cases, it is covered with a cloth -- to preserve the bones but allow moisture to come through -- and then with gravel.
If they find a complete skeleton -- which hasn't happened yet -- the procedure is a bit different. The body is exhumed, examined and carefully reinterred, Gibb said.
"We don't pour concrete on anybody," Gibb said.