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Philly laborers breaking ground on a major construction project didn’t imagine that an encounter with the dead would grind their workday to a halt.

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The “City of Brotherly Love,” known to history as America’s one-time capital, had dozens of centuries-old coffins buried in its midst, workers at apartment complex construction site discovered.

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According to CBS Philadelphia, the coffins were “part of the First Baptist Church Burial Ground established in 1707, when Benjamin Franklin was just a year old.”


Yes, that means some of these are as old as one of the nation’s most influential historical figures.

The coffins were supposed to have been moved to Mount Moriah Cemetery in 1860, but it never happened. One historian speculated that the job went undone because of money.

“It’s a business unfortunately and sometimes it’s cheaper to cut corners in a business,” Dr. Lee Arnold of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania said.

The 18th century coffins, some deteriorating, contain both adults and children.

Perhaps the most intriguing thing of all is what will be learned of Philadelphia’s earliest citizens. Lab analysis of the 300-year-old bones could fill out some family trees.

“We’ll try to find out anything that these bones can tell us about who these people were in life,” Kimberlee Moran told CBS Philadelphia. Moran is a associate professor at Rutgers University and the director of its forensics center.

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“This is a rare opportunity to learn as much as we can about the earliest residents of Philadelphia. Ultimately, we want to reinter them at Mount Moriah Cemetery with the rest of the remains from this time period,” she added. “If there are any living descendants, we are going to try to identify them.”

The odds are good that these aren’t the only hidden remains in Philadelphia of our fellow travelers in time.

Matt Naham About the author:
Matt Naham is the Weekend Editor  for Rare. Follow him on Twitter @matt_naham.
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