Woman found in 2nd coffin Skeletal remains well-preserved

November 12, 1992|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,Staff Writer

ST. MARY'S CITY -- She was lame and nearly toothless. And she was lovingly buried more than 300 years ago, her wrists tied together with ribbons and her body sprinkled with herbs.

These were among the first findings yesterday as scientists opened the second of three lead coffins believed to contain members of Maryland's founding Calvert family.

The first coffin, opened Monday, held the skeleton of a child, perhaps 6 months old, who evidently suffered from severe nutritional deficiencies that left its skull perforated and its ribs deformed.

The condition of the remains in the second coffin drew raves yesterday from scientists.

"It's a beautiful skeleton," said Dr. Douglas Owsley, a forensic anthropologist with the Smithsonian Institution's Museum of Natural History.

Fewer than 100 European burials from the 17th century have ever been studied in the United States, he said. And this is the best-preserved so far. He judged the bones tentatively to be those of a woman, based on the delicacy of the skull. Other points of reference on the skeleton were not immediately visible.

The skull, unusually long and low by modern standards, was intact, he said. A sculptor and computer graphics expert will work independently to reconstruct images of the woman's face.

"The artist will have a lot to work with," he said.

The excellent bone preservation may also yield abundant dietary information.

Forensics experts also found signs of dried tissue in the brain area. That could yield additional biomedical information and genetic data to help determine the relationships of the people in the three coffins.

The coffin opened yesterday also revealed brown hair on the head and pubic area of the skeleton. The ribbons were silk, or grosgrain, tied in neat bows. They appeared to have held the woman's hands together over her abdomen. Another ribbon was found at her knees.

Only one tooth -- a molar -- could be seen in the upper jaw. Seven or eight others were found later on the floor of the coffin. Most of her molars and premolars were lost during her life.

Dr. Owsley said the tooth loss was typical of wealthier people in the 17th century because they ate more sugar and a richer diet that led to tooth decay.

Combined with arthritic changes and some fusion in her spine, the woman's tooth loss suggests an age "at least older than 50," he said.

Plant material found sprinkled over the body appears to be rosemary, according to Susan Hanna, a conservator with Historic St. Mary's City Mary.

"Rosemary was the herb of remembrance" in 17th century England, said archaeologist Dr. Timothy Riordan, co-principal investigator on the project. "Or, it may have been used for the smell."

Dr. Henry Miller, chief archaeologist on the project, said the remains could be those of Anne Wolseley. She married Philip Calvert in England in 1656, came with him to Maryland soon after, and died here in 1681 in her late 40s or early 50s.

Philip Calvert, who died in 1682 at age 56, was the first chancellor of the colony and its governor briefly in 1660-1661. He is thought to be the most likely occupant of the third and largest of the lead coffins.

The large coffin was scheduled to be hoisted from its resting place and opened tomorrow, and may prove to contain the best-preserved remains of the three.

Dr. Owsley said it is likely the woman in the second coffin was lame, the result of a fractured right femur that kept her right leg pointed sharply inward.

When scientists lifted the coffin from its resting place beneath the Great Brick Chapel and pried open the lead covering, they found a remarkably well-preserved wooden inner coffin, its lid still basically sound.

"Wood! Hallelujah!" said Betty Seifert, Maryland's chief archaeological conservator, who will be responsible for preserving it.

Meanwhile, more information became available about the child's coffin opened on Monday.

Terri Schindel, a fabric expert and conservator from the South Pass City State Historical Site in Wyoming, said the baby's coffin contained a dozen copper shroud pins, and a clothing hasp found beneath the baby's skull. Philip Calvert had no children, and archaeologists ventured no guesses as to who the child might be.

Dr. Owsley, said he was 70 percent sure the child was a little girl.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.