Philadelphia Underground
October 5, 2009 8:08 AM   Subscribe

Native American Sites in the City of Philadelphia is a superbly illustrated exposition of the historical development of Philadelphia, with a focus on those few surviving Native American sites which lie under the urban fabric. Lots more excellent Public Archaeology is available from the Philadelphia Archaeological Forum. Bonus link: Philly's lost creeks and streams.

"Nay, it is very possible, that on the very site of Coaquanock, by the margin of the Dock Creek, on which their wigwams clustered and their canoes were sheltered, — on the very spot where Henry, Hancock and Adams since inspired the delegates of the colonies ... with nerve and sinew for the toils of war, — there may have been lighted the council fires of wary Sachems, and there may have pealed the rude eloquence of Tamanend himself, — and of the Shingas, Tadeuscunds and Glikicans of their primitive and undebauched age!"

–John F. Watson, Annals of Philadelphia and Pennsylvania in the Olden Time (1857), Vol 1: 41
posted by Rumple (12 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
cool stuff.

See Also this post, which is an interactive look at the development of Seattle.

and this post, about San Francisco.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 8:20 AM on October 5, 2009

Very interesting, thanks for posting!
posted by carter at 8:34 AM on October 5, 2009

More buried history: Los Angeles River, whose concrete banks have been seen in numerous movies and music videos. The Friends of the Los Angeles River are working towards getting the massive waterway restored to some semblance of its natural form. If this happens, I'm sure there will be quite a bit of archaeological information uncovered.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:45 AM on October 5, 2009

Fantastic post, Best of MeFi.
When the first European settlers came to this area they found an environment that was anything but the flat, featureless landscape we now see around us. At that time, Philadelphia consisted of a rolling topography of forested uplands that was crossed by numerous incised stream valleys, and fringed by low-lying marshes. With a rich supply of wild game, plant foods, and other necessary raw materials, Native Americans would have found this an attractive place to live, and established their camps, hamlets, and villages on well-drained ground near sources of fresh water — on the margins of the Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers and alongside the area's many interior creeks and runs.
I love this stuff. Too bad so much history was destroyed without even being investigated and recorded.
posted by languagehat at 8:46 AM on October 5, 2009

That was fascinating, thanks for posting it. One part that struck me, in the section on the Bookbinder's Site:

"In the end, archaeologists were only able to perform limited testing of exposed shaft features/privies and to closely examine a very small patch of the preserved original ground surface (the dark band of soil shown here). In this tiny sliver of soil, measuring about twenty feet by one foot in total area, evidence of a previously undisturbed Native American encampment was discovered."

It goes on to say they found forty artifacts in that small area. Too bad they didn't have more time at that site.
posted by marxchivist at 8:52 AM on October 5, 2009

Agreed that this is awesome. This paragraph from the lost streams site is pure poetry:

"There have been great changes in the face of [Philadelphia], in its levels and contour, and in the direction and beds of its water-courses since the days of the Swedes and the early Quakers. Some streams have disappeared, some have changed their direction, nearly all have been reduced in volume and depth by the natural silt, the annual washing down of hills, by the demands of industry for water-power, the construction of mill-dams and mill-races and bridges, the emptying of manufacturing refuse from factories, saw-pits, and tan-yards, and by the grading and sewerage necessary in the building of a great city. In this process, old landmarks and ancient contours are not respected, the picturesque yields to utility, and the face of nature is transformed to meet the exigencies of uniform grades, levels and drainage."
posted by The Straightener at 9:15 AM on October 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Great post and great added links. I am teaching a course this quarter title "Research Methods in Local History" and this stuff is gold. Are there other examples of websites that explore the native foundations of modern American cities?
posted by LarryC at 10:55 AM on October 5, 2009

When William Penn first surveyed Philadelphia he found European settlers living in caves along the Delaware river, and after the founding of the city settlers continued to live there until the caves were eventually forbidden by law (seen as places of vice) and filled in. No doubt these settlers displaced previous native inhabitants of these same natural caves, and no doubt surveys would find a wealth of artifacts both of the early Europeans of the area of the pre-Columbian inhabitants.

Of course now there's a highway built over the piers and landfill that covered up the caves 200 years ago. Those sites are pretty much lost forever.
posted by deafmute at 11:39 AM on October 5, 2009

Are there other examples of websites that explore the native foundations of modern American cities?

The Sept. issue (I think) of National Geographic featured a group that is working to reconstruct maps, interactive and otherwise, of Manhattan and what it used to look like before the conquerers got hold of it. (Boy, talk about removing streams and rivers.) Can't remember the group's own website, but they're featured on NG here. (Their own website has much more information.)
posted by Melismata at 11:47 AM on October 5, 2009

Ah! Here it is. Nifty, nifty stuff.
posted by Melismata at 11:49 AM on October 5, 2009

LarryC -- not sure about websites (though I guess you know of the Seattle site linked upthread - note the links to the West Point site there). You might be interested in two books from Canada
Victoria Underfoot
Underground Halifax.
Both of these are biased towards historical archaeology but if they were websites they would fit your bill I think.

If there is a city in North America that has seen a disproportionate share of urban archaeology it is Quebec City, but there the water is muddied by a real ideology of Quebecois nationalism and indeed a fear that validation of aboriginal history through archaeology will relativize the colonial experience of Quebecois at the hands of the Anglos.
posted by Rumple at 12:38 PM on October 5, 2009

Are there other examples of websites that explore the native foundations of modern American cities?

I'm pretty sure it's been covered here on the blue, but there's
The Mannahatta Project
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 4:44 PM on October 6, 2009

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