A backhoe operator working near Annapolis Elementary School made a macabre discovery in the Colonial capital: a human skeleton in a small burial site that likely dates back to the 18th century.
The construction crew was building a 120-foot-long retaining wall near the school on Green Street on Monday afternoon when the worker unearthed what appeared to be a human leg bone and other bone fragments.
Police shut the site down and the medical examiner's office removed the remains, determining later that they were at least 50 years old.
Anne Arundel County archaeologist Al Luckenbach said they're a lot older than that. He examined the site yesterday afternoon and said the backhoe had opened a grave and revealed a skeleton - part of which was under the sidewalk. At the end of the 1-foot-deep trench was evidence of a second grave, which was undisturbed, he said.
"It appeared quite old and had some sort of brick lining. It may have been a brick vault," he said. "The grave had about a foot of 19th-century trash on top of it - bottles, pottery, dirt and soil - but there was no evidence of wood from the coffin."
The grave probably didn't belong to a slave; the brick construction implies that it belonged to someone of means.
Luckenbach said the remains were likely buried in a private cemetery belonging to one of the prominent Annapolis families who lived in the area - either the Carrolls or Ridouts. Determining just which family member is an almost impossible task.
George T. Brown, who lives on Duke of Gloucester Street adjacent to the construction site in a Georgian townhouse built in 1774 by John Ridout, initially thought the burial ground was a crime scene. A closer look, however, revealed the markings of a grave, he said.
"It could well be a descendant of someone who owned my house," he said, explaining that Ridout's mother-in-law, Anne Ogle, lived there.
"I don't know if that's where she's buried," he said. "I hope it's not, because now she's really mad and our happy house may turn into a not-so-happy house."
Such a find - an intact skeleton - is rare even in the historic city, where students in the University of Maryland's Archaeology in Annapolis program have been digging since 1982, finding wells, kitchen tools, pottery and random bones, said Mark P. Leone, the head of the program. Most of Annapolis' centuries-old dead, he said, are in the St. Anne's Church cemetery.
The latest discovery didn't have much impact on the school, which was built in 1896. The remains were excavated near a portable classroom closed to students since work began on replacing the old retaining wall. Work resumed yesterday, but the gravesite will be marked to ensure that no further work is done in that area, Luckenbach said.
The medical examiner's office will turn the remains over to the Maryland Historical Society, and then they will be reburied.
"We'll get the bones back in the ground so it is mostly still undisturbed and intact," Luckenbach said. "Whoever is there will rest not so much in peace but in whatever peace they can still have."