Smithsonian: Georgetown Human Remains are 'Obviously Historic'
Bones found on Q Street last week likely belonged to an adult male, aged approximately 35 years.
During routine construction last week, contractors accidentally discovered human remains buried four or five feet below the foundation of a Georgetown home. An expert from the Smithsonian Institution told Patch in an interview that the discovery was not forensic, i.e. related to a crime, but rather the bones were "obviously historic in nature."
The remains of a wooden coffin and an intact skeleton were found during construction on the home at 3333 Q St., NW. The contractors were digging a grade for a driveway between 3333 and 3329 Q St., NW when their equipment struck the skull of the skeleton. Contractors then notified police when they realized the bones were likely human.
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In some instances the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME) works with Smithsonian forensic experts to examine remains to determine their age and any historic information that might be helpful in identifying whose bones they are, Sharlene Williams, a spokeswoman for OCME, told Patch last week.
Dr. David Hunt, a museum specialist in physical anthropology in the Department of Anthropology at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History, was called to assist in the Q Street discovery. He told Patch that several factors helped him reach the conclusion that the body had been buried in that location long before the home ever existed.
Hunt said the compacted soil around the burial shaft and the depth at which the body was buried—four of five feet below the original foundation—both suggest the home was built on the site years after any burial would have taken place.
Additionally, Hunt explained that the body was not placed in relation to the foundation; the outline of the exterior of the house bisected the length of the skeletal legs.
The mostly-deteriorated wooden coffin, the rust and corrosion on nails found near the body and the initial evaluation of the state of the bones, suggest the individual had been buried for possibly 150 years, he explained.
All the signs point to something "very consistent with what you would expect of a long-term burial, not something that's of recent occurrence."
Though Hunt had not been able to perform a full biological profile on the bones to determine the full ancestry, he said his initial evaluation revealed the body of a 35-to-40-year-old male.
Hunt said there had been some speculation by neighbors that the bones may have belonged to Yarrow Mamout. Mamout, whose portrait is displayed in the Georgetown Neighborhood Library, lived in that area of Georgetown. However, Hunt said the bones found last week belonged to a person who died much younger than Mamout, who lived to an old age.
The fact that the bones were found beyond the historic boundaries of the former Presbyterian cemetery did not surprise Hunt. He said several years ago another nearby home discovered the buried remains of a young woman who was of African decent.
Hunt explained that up to and even after the Civil War it was common practice for black cemeteries to be conjoined to, but separate from, an established white cemetery. But the black cemeteries may have been more "clandestine" in nature and lacked records of plots, etc. He said it is possible that the body discovered last week was one such burial.
Hunt plans to further examine the remains to identify more information about to whom they may have belonged.
Jerry McCoy, Peabody Room special collections librarian at the Georgetown Branch Library, told Patch last week that he would be interested in having the remains for the Peabody Room collection if there is no other rightful claim to them. OCME considers letters from interested parties such as historic organizations and churches with a "clear tie" to the remains.