Touring Gotham's Archaeological Past: 8 Self-Guided Walking Tours through New York City

Touring Gotham's Archaeological Past: 8 Self-Guided Walking Tours through New York City

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by Diana diZerega Wall, Anne-Marie Cantwell

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This pocket-sized guidebook takes the reader on eight walking tours to archaeological sites throughout the boroughs of New York City and presents a new way of exploring the city through the rich history that lies buried beneath it. Generously illustrated and replete with maps, the tours are designed to explore both ancient times and modern space.
On these tours,


This pocket-sized guidebook takes the reader on eight walking tours to archaeological sites throughout the boroughs of New York City and presents a new way of exploring the city through the rich history that lies buried beneath it. Generously illustrated and replete with maps, the tours are designed to explore both ancient times and modern space.
On these tours, readers will see where archaeologists have discovered evidence of the earliest New Yorkers, the Native Americans who arrived at least 11,000 years ago. They will learn about thousand-year-old trading routes, sacred burial grounds, and seventeenth-century villages. They will also see sites that reveal details of the lives of colonial farmers and merchants, enslaved Africans, Revolutionary War soldiers, and nineteenth-century hotel keepers, grocers, and housewives.
Some tours bring readers to popular tourist attractions (the Statue of Liberty and the Wall Street district, for example) and present them in a new light. Others center on places that even the most seasoned New Yorker has never seen—colonial houses, a working farm, out-of-the-way parks, and remote beaches—often providing beautiful and unexpected views from the city’s vast shoreline.
A celebration of New York City’s past and its present, this unique book will intrigue everyone interested in the city and its history.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"An indispensable and exciting guide to a whole new world of history."—Kenneth T. Jackson, Jacques Barzun Professor of History and Social Sciences at Columbia University and editor of The Encyclopedia of New York City

Library Journal
These two books, both written by anthropologists, tour old and new New York City. The third edition of Artwalks, substantially revised and updated with seven new walks, leads readers through various sections of the city, highlighting what the authors consider to be public art, whether seen outdoors or within the confines of museums and other buildings. With directions on how to get there by subway and car, plus excellent and easy-to-read maps, Artwalks has much to offer the art lover, including off-the-beaten-path suggestions like the Chinese Scholar's Garden at Snug Harbor on Staten Island ("not to be missed") and the Ukrainian Institute of America on East 79th Street. A helpful section, "Choosing an Outing," lists walks by subject, such as parks or flower gardens. Touring Gotham's Archaeological Past takes a similar approach, offering tours that are all walks (e.g., to the Wall Street district) except the harbor tour, which ferries readers to several islands where digs have uncovered artifacts from windmills to a sunken ferry. Photographs of artifacts, houses, and buildings, plus a general bibliography and bibliographic sources for each tour, complete the guide's coverage. Both titles are recommended for large public and academic libraries.-George M. Jenks, Bucknell Univ., Lewisburg, PA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

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Yale University Press
Publication date:
Edition description:
New Edition
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5.00(w) x 9.00(h) x (d)

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Touring Gotham's Archaeological Past

8 Self-Guided Walking Tours through New York City
By Diana diZerega Wall Anne-Marie Cantwell

Yale University Press

Copyright © 2004 Yale University
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-300-10388-5

Chapter One

Tour 1 The Harbor Islands

This tour (fig. 1.1) is the only one that goes by boat. We planned it to be taken in conjunction with a visit to two of the nation's best-known attractions: the Statue of Liberty, on Liberty Island, and the Immigration Museum, on Ellis Island. These two islands are in the middle of New York's Upper Harbor. To their east is Governors Island, and bounding the southern margin of the harbor is Staten Island. The harbor itself, one of the finest in the world, has enormous historical significance. It was through here that Henry Hudson sailed on his famous voyage, a passage that led to the arrival of the first European colonists, and it was through here that millions of immigrants sailed on their way to start their new lives in the United States. The size and sheltered position of this splendid harbor helped New York become the nation's largest city and primary port, positions that it held for well over a century.

On this tour, you will see the harbor and its islands as they were thousands of years ago, when the harbor was dry land wheremastodons roamed. You will learn about the first New Yorkers, discover thousand-year-old fishing and hunting camps, and see the burial places of those who once stayed on the islands. You will sail past the earliest-known remains of the city's Dutch settlement and visit some of the forts that protected the harbor. You will also see the final resting place of the ferry that carried thousands of immigrants on the last leg of their journey to the New World. Archaeologists working for the National Park Service (NPS) excavated many of these harbor sites.

Site 1. Castle Clinton

The tour begins at Castle Clinton National Monument in Battery Park in lower Manhattan. Take the 1 or 9 subway train to South Ferry, the 4 or 5 subway train to Bowling Green, or the N or R subway train to Whitehall Street, and walk south through Battery Park to Castle Clinton at the tip of Manhattan. There you can buy tickets for the ferry to Liberty and Ellis Islands. The ferries operate on a loop, beginning at Battery Park, stopping first at Liberty Island and then at Ellis Island, and finally returning to Battery Park. For visiting hours and information on the islands, call 212-363-3200 or visit for Liberty Island and for Ellis Island; for information about ferry fees and schedules, call 212-269-5755 or visit While you are here, be sure to explore the old fort and see the exhibit on its history.

Designed by engineer Jonathan Williams, who also designed other fortifications of New York Harbor, Castle Clinton was built in 1808-11 to protect the city and guard access to the Hudson River. Although today it is located on Manhattan Island, it originally stood 200 feet o shore, in 35 feet of water, on an artificial island made just to support it-a remarkable engineering feat for its time. The fort, in effect a nonflammable "stable boat" made out of stone, was unsinkable. After it was decommissioned in 1823, it had a checkered history. First, the city turned it over to entrepreneurs who transformed it into Castle Garden, the popular entertainment center where P. T. Barnum presented Jenny Lind, the "Swedish Nightingale," in 1850. In 1855 the state took it over and turned it into its Immigrant Landing Depot, the predecessor to the federal Ellis Island Immigration Center. By 1870, the landfill expanding Battery Park had enveloped Castle Clinton, connecting it to the island of Manhattan. The depot closed in 1890 and was soon replaced by the new federal center at Ellis Island. In 1896 the old fort began a third life as the New York Aquarium. When Robert Moses, the New York City Parks Commissioner, closed the aquarium a half century later, he wanted to demolish the fort, which he described as a "large red wart." But the castle became a cause célèbre for the city's preservationists, who brought a lawsuit to save it. Finally, the State Supreme Court ruled that the building be spared. In 1950 the castle was transferred back to the federal government, which designated it a national monument and gave it to the NPS to restore and run.

Castle Clinton's first connection with archaeology begins elsewhere, at the corner of Greenwich and Dey Streets in lower Manhattan, where the World Trade Center once stood. There, in 1916, construction workers excavating for a subway tunnel along the old Hudson River shore encountered the keel and ribs from what many believe to be the Tijger, a ship, captained by the Dutch explorer Adriaen Block, that had burned in the Hudson River in 1614 (fig. 1.2). Workers arranged for the eight feet of the ship that intruded into the tunnel to be removed and taken to the seals' pool in the aquarium at Castle Garden. The remains, immersed in water to preserve them, stayed there until the aquarium closed. The ship then went to the Museum of the City of New York, where it remains to this day.

In the 1950s and 1960s, several NPS archaeologists excavated at the fort as a prelude to its restoration. In 1963, one of them, William Hershey, took advantage of the fact that construction workers had removed much of the superstructure of the overlying aquarium and explored a fairly wide area beneath it. He discovered that the fort where you are now standing was not built according to Williams's design. The foundation walls that he uncovered showed that the casemate (the chamber behind the openings where the guns were placed) was much shorter than originally planned: although Williams had designed a 28-foot-long casemate, Hershey saw that it was in fact only 18 feet long, with a flagstone walkway making up the 10-foot difference. But Hershey also discovered that supports for the casemate wall had been built as if the original plan, with its 28-foot casemate, were going to be constructed. It looked as though the builders' decision to shorten the casemate had been made after the infrastructure to support the original casemate had already been put in place (fig. 1.3). The infrastructure must have been incredibly expensive and time-consuming to build, and he wondered why the plans had changed after that work was already completed. But he was never able to figure out why. Years later, William Griswold, another NPS archaeologist, became absorbed in the problem and was able to solve it when he came across some letters about the building of the fort that an NPS historian had discovered.

In reading the old correspondence, Griswold discovered that there had been problems with the fort's construction from the start. It was originally designed as a multi-tiered castle (or "casemated tower"), similar to Castle Williams at Governors Island (see site 2), to be built quite close to land, in only 15 or 20 feet of water. But city regulations required that it be placed 200 feet from shore, where the water was 35 feet deep. As a result, the fort's foundation had to be redesigned and made much more substantial than originally planned. As the project ran over budget and behind schedule, Secretary of War Henry Dearborn and later his successor, Williams Eustis, criticized Williams. They wanted the fort simplified to be just one tier tall. But Williams was adamant in wanting a second tier, so that the fort could accommodate 56 guns (instead of only 28) and quarters for enlisted men. Williams finally gave in and, discouraged, went back to West Point, leaving a subordinate in charge of completing the fort's single tier. But the excavations showed that much of the infrastructure for building a second tier had already been put in place, although many features had to be modified when the plans for the second tier were canceled.

Site 2. Governors Island

As the boat leaves Battery Park to cross the harbor toward Liberty Island, look at the island on your left. This is Governors Island, by far the largest island in the Upper Harbor. The European colonists who first settled New Amsterdam called it Nutten Island, presumably because of the many nut trees that grew there, memorialized today only by the presence of a single walnut tree. In the early 1620s the Dutch West India Company set up a trading post and built a windmill there. In the 1690s the island was set aside for the use of the governor of the province of New York, and in the 1750s it was transferred to the military, which has used it almost continuously ever since. The army was there first, and in the 1960s the U.S. Coast Guard took it over. In 2003 the federal government transferred the island to the State of New York.

As you sail by, note the round, cheese-box-shaped sandstone structure on the island's northwest end. That is Castle Williams, named for its designer, Jonathan Williams, and built before the War of 1812. In the center of the island (and out of view) is Fort Jay, which was expanded and reconstructed from early fortifications built in 1755, during the French and Indian War.

In the 1980s and 1990s, archaeologists from the firms of Louis Berger and Associates and the Public Archaeology Laboratory, Inc. (PAL), worked on the island and discovered the remains of the long Native American and European presence there. While testing in an area of a golf course where construction workers were planning to dig a trench for an electric line, the Berger crew found the remains of a powder magazine that had been built before the War of 1812. Later, the Coast Guard called them back because workers excavating a trench through a parking lot had uncovered the graves of seven people. It turned out that the interred were probably all men and that their remains probably dated to the late eighteenth or early nineteenth centuries. They could have been British soldiers stationed on the island during the Revolutionary War or American soldiers held as prisoners of war there.

While carefully excavating the graves, the team noticed that the soil used to fill in several of the grave shafts had Native American artifacts in it, including Late Woodland pottery (dating from 1,000 to 400 years ago) and some stone flakes, debris left over from making stone tools. Evidently, when the graves were dug in the late eighteenth or early nineteenth centuries, they were placed in an area where there had once been a Late Woodland camp. In addition, near the burial area, also in disturbed soil, the Berger crew discovered a spear point that could date to the Late Archaic, around 4,000 years ago. So at least one hunter was probably hunting there thousands of years before the Late Woodland peoples stayed on the island.

More recently, when the U.S. Coast Guard was preparing to transfer ownership of the island, it had to follow federal law and identify important archaeological sites located there. As part of that effort, James Garman and Paul Russo led a team of PAL archaeologists in a study of the original part of the island -that is, the island as it had been before it was almost doubled in size by the addition of 79 acres of landfill in the early twentieth century. As they were exploring the eastern side, they made an amazing discovery. They gradually uncovered a circular stain, about 35 feet in diameter, which surrounded the remains of a series of squared-o wooden posts that had been stuck in the ground and that were also set in a circle (fig. 1.4). The posts had been carbonized, showing that they had burned. The team also found hand-wrought nails as well as debris from making stone tools in the soil that made up both the post holes and the stain. The nails' presence dated the posts to a time after the Europeans had arrived in New York.

Looking back at the history of the island, Garman and Russo realized that they could well have found the remains of the wind-powered sawmill that the Dutch West India Company had built there in 1625-26 and which the company continued to operate until at least 1639. By 1648, when the windmill was in ruins, the company ordered it dismantled or, if that was not possible, burned down, so that the iron from the structure could be salvaged. Iron was in short supply in the new colony and could not be wasted. The charred remains of the posts show that the decision had been to burn the sawmill.

When the archaeologists began to research Dutch windmills, they discovered that the wind-powered sawmill was invented in the 1590s (fig. 1.5). Looking at drawings of these mills, they realized that the post holes and the encircling curved stain that they discovered could well be from the smock that had housed the trestles on which the windmill sat. They sent some of the wood from one of the posts to be identified, and learned that it was from a white oak tree. They also arranged for radiocarbon dating on the same wooden sample. The results showed that the tree from which the post had been made had probably been cut down between 1570 and 1630-a time frame that fits the Dutch windmill well. All in all, these remains do appear to be from the Dutch West India Company's windmill and, as such, they represent the oldest Dutch remains that have ever been found in what is now New York City.

Near the windmill, the archaeologists discovered a Dutch glass trade bead (fig. 1.6). Beads like this have been found in upstate New York, where most of the fur trade with the Native Americans took place, at sites that date to sometime before 1635. This bead is the sole possible piece of evidence for the trading post that the Dutch West India Company is reputed to have set up in the early 1620s. It is also one of very few items ever discovered in the city relating to those early years of contact between the Native peoples and the newcomers.

The PAL archaeologists also learned that the windmill had been built on top of another Native American Woodland site. Despite all the disturbance caused by the windmill's construction and more-recent activities, the archaeologists were able to identify what may have been two trash or storage pits and a number of artifacts, including twenty sherds from cooking or storage pots, from the earlier Indian settlement. They also located traces of a third Native American site, including some discarded sherds and other trash, in an area adjacent to one of the forts. These sites, astonishingly, survived all the construction that had gone on on the island. They are now protected from further disturbance.

Site 3. Liberty Island

Disembark at Liberty Island, home of the Statue of Liberty, one of the most famous American icons. As you visit the sites and enjoy the views of the harbor, bear in mind that the present park sits upon a rich buried past. On the west side of the island, archaeologists found traces of a thousand-year-old Native American site, which was overlain by a midden, or trash heap, dating to the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century.

In 1985, workers who were excavating a utility trench as part of the island's restoration discovered the site by digging right through it. With limited time and funding, NPS archaeologist Dick Hsu was able to explore the traces of this Native American shellfish-gathering station and hunting and fishing camp. He managed to sample part of the shell midden and excavate the contents of a large trash pit he discovered underneath it. The pit contained fish scales, bird bones, hickory nuts, charcoal, some pottery, and a spear point typical of Woodland times. Hsu had samples of the charcoal radiocarbon-dated; the dates averaged around 970 years ago, fitting in well with the date of the spear-point style. But because of lack of funding, he was not able to finish his analysis of the finds; he stored them carefully away.


Excerpted from Touring Gotham's Archaeological Past by Diana diZerega Wall Anne-Marie Cantwell Copyright © 2004 by Yale University. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author

Diana diZerega Wall is professor of anthropology at the City College of the City University of New York. Anne-Marie Cantwell is professor of anthropology at Rutgers University.

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Touring Gotham's Archaeological Past: 8 Self-guided Walking Tours Through New York City 1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Too damn expensive