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Archeologists dig into future NGA site's past

(Maria Altman, St. Louis Public Radio)
Archeologists have found several structures from the 1800s, including cellars, cisterns and privies. Here they're digging at the corner of 22nd and Market Streets within the future site of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency's western headquarters

A 100-acre site in north St. Louis will be home to the sophisticated, high-tech National Geospatial Agency facility in few years.

At the moment, archeologists are trying to find out how people on the site once lived.

"The whole idea is to understand what people’s lives were in past and get a better feel for that," said Joe Harl, principal investigator for Archeological Research Center of St. Louis.

The work began shortly after the NGA officially named north St. Louis as its choice for its new western headquarters. A track hoe is helping make quicker work by digging down several feet before archeologists start fine-tuning their search.

Harl said they’ve found quite a few structures:

"Several privies, several cisterns, several buildings and just the other day found a building torn down in the 1890s probably a business," he said.

The archeologists also are finding objects used in the businesses and homes, including medicine bottles, porcelain and even jewelry.

A bottle from around 1900 that reads "Lydia Pinkham's Vegetable Compound." It was used for medicinal purposes by women, but its main ingredient was alcohol.

The 100-acre site is much too large to cover completely, so the team did extensive archival research to find the best places to look. They’ve selected 25 places that will give them about 5 percent of the land, including the former sites of three churches and several schools.

Harl said they’re mostly finding evidence from the late 1800s when this was a neighborhood of German and Irish immigrants. Archeologists are hoping to find evidence or earlier residents.

"We’re taking this down almost 10 feet in some places and sometimes even deeper because we’re looking for pre-historic remains or anything earlier than 1800s," Harl said.

All objects found will be cleaned, researched and archived by the group. Harl said eventually it will all be available for use by teachers, museums and researchers.

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Maria is the newscast, business and education editor for St. Louis Public Radio.
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