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Archaeological Investigations National Museum of the American Indian Site Washington, D.C.

What Is Going on Here?

This is the site of the newest Smithsonian Institution museum on the National Mall, the National Museum of the American Indian, scheduled for completion in 2001. Before construction for the museum begins, archaeologists will excavate the site, which was a mixed residential and industrial block from the 1850s to the 1930s.

In the early years of the capital city, Tiber Creek flowed through this portion of the Mall. By 1815, the creek was channeled into the Washington Canal, which ran along the north side of the Mall, and the creek bed was filled. Dwellings and industrial facilities, including a Washington Gas Light gas tank, a foundry, and row houses, were built in the 1850s. The row houses were occupied by skilled and unskilled workers and their families. Census records indicate that the neighborhood included family households of blacks, mulattos, and whites. Immigrants from the British Isles and continental Europe shared the neighborhood with residents born in the United States. By the early 1930s, the residential and industrial buildings had been razed for a temporary federal office building that stood in their place from the early 1940s through the late 1960s.

Archaeologists excavated several trenches on this site in December 1992. Below the rubble from the temporary office building, they found the remains of the row houses and artifacts used by the nineteenth-century residents. During the present phase of excavations, the archaeologists will examine several areas to recover household objects, such as ceramic tableware, glass bottles, shells and animal bones, buttons, and hair combs. The archaeologists will study the artifacts and historic documents to understand the daily life of the residents.

The Smithsonian Office of Design and Construction, in consultation with the Office of Architectural History and Historic Preservation, is managing these archaeological investigations to comply with the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, which requires federally funded agencies to take into account the effects of their projects on historic properties. The investigations are being conducted by John Milner Associates, Inc., under contract to Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates, Inc.