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Source: Metro
Date: July 31, 2007
Byline: Josh Cornfield

Recovering the city's uncovered past

(Photo: Rikard Larma/Metro)
Jed Levin, supervising archaeologist for the President's House dig, talks about the significance of George Washington's house and the slave quarters that were also unearthed.

INDEPENDENCE MALL. Around 250,000 visitors — tourists and locals alike — watched as archaeologists sorted through the President's House site at Sixth and Market streets over the past few months.

The site will be covered back up today with dirt to protect the findings from the elements as a task force debates how to integrate the history of slavery found at the site into a planned memorial.

Jed Levin, the National Park Service's supervising archaeologist for the project, spoke to Metro about why the findings need to be covered up and what Philadelphia has gained from seeing its history uncovered.

Why does the site need to be covered back up with dirt?

It's a preservation measure. The archaeological ruins cannot be left exposed to the weather for any length of time, otherwise they will begin to disintegrate, decay. Things like heavy rains will cause erosions, which could undercut foundation walls and lead them to collapse. Very dry weather could [hurt] the ... mortar used in the 18th-century walls, which could lead it to decay. When the freezing weather comes, [it could] cause the foundations to basically crumble.

What has Philadelphia gained from this dig?

I think that the country has gained something by getting closer to an important part of our history, one that's often neglected or we have not often talked about: the inter-twined nature of slavery and freedom in our history. I think it's given people a new appreciation of how historic this city is. The stories here are not always pleasant, are not always feel-good stories, but they're always important. The fact that our first president brought nine enslaved Africans to what was the equivalent of the White House is something that's very important that many Philadelphians didn't know. I think it's an important part of this city's history, even if it is disturbing.

What is the timeline for the task force to recommend what should be done to memorialize the dig?

Mayor Street would like to move ahead expeditiously. ... While everyone wants to move ahead with all due speed, we also want to make sure we get it right. ... At this point there's not an arbitrary deadline, but a sense of urgency to do it the right way, but as quickly as possible.


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