Under a hot July sun, droplets of water drawn from the Nile soothed baked Philadelphia clay at the bottom of a great pit at Sixth and Market Streets — a blessing for the earth and for the dead. Riverwater was followed by ancient Nile sand, glistening grains of the African continent trickling down onto the hard New World.
The libation yesterday was part of a ceremony marking the formal close of the President's House excavation, an archaeological undertaking that captured the public imagination and wouldn't let go.
For four months, archaeologists have sifted through Independence Mall soil, uncovering evidence of the home where slave-owning George Washington and anti-slavery John Adams lived and launched American democracy and where Washington held nine Africans in bondage.
Archaeologists uncovered the rear foundation of the house about a month after the dig began. Then, in quick succession, remnants of a great bow window Washington installed, the kitchen where his slaves toiled and an underground passage used by slaves and servants were also uncovered.
More than 300,000 visitors watched the process from a public viewing platform and discussed the now-visible relationship between freedom and slavery.
The site will now be temporarily re-covered with earth while the city, the National Park Service, and the public try to determine what the next step will be.
Joyce Wilkerson, Mayor Street's chief of staff, said a decision should be forthcoming by early September, if not sooner.
"We didn't expect to find any of this," she said yesterday, referring to the bow window, thought to be a precursor of the oval-shaped rooms in the White House, and the kitchen and passage foundations.
"It is so powerful, particularly the [proximity] of the kitchen and the bow window."
The libation ceremony, conducted by Ayoka Quinones and Mukasa Afrika, particularly honored the nine slaves held by Washington at the site — Hercules, Oney Judge, Paris, Richmond, Austin, Moll, Joe, Giles and Christopher Sheels.
Small brass plates, donated by the city's Fire Department and bearing their names, were placed inside the kitchen foundation and sprinkled with earth; two 2007 quarters, one bearing the image of Washington, the other of Adams, were placed near the bow window and given the same ceremonial sprinkling.