Even as the grim recovery work at Ground Zero continues, another casualty of the World Trade Center terror attacks has emerged: the controversial African Burial Ground project.
Officials say that some 100 boxes of burial ground artifacts were recovered from a laboratory in the basement of 6 World Trade Center, which was destroyed in the attacks. But it is unknown how many more relics are missing.
Meanwhile, on the back burner, again, is the much-delayed plan to rebury remains of Colonial-era black New Yorkers and their artifacts — personal items found on top of coffins and scattered around the burial ground — at the lower Manhattan site from which they were excavated 10 years ago.
The artifacts recovered Oct. 12 from 6 WTC make up “a sizable portion” of the collection, but it is unclear how much of the total the 100 boxes recovered represents, said Cassandra Henderson of the General Services Administration, the agency responsible for the project.
She said recovery workers got into the ruins a month ago and collected artifacts, files filled with documents, thousands of photographs and computers used by archeologists in analyzing and conserving the artifacts. The recovered material must be cleaned up, studied and catalogued again — and searches done on the files contained in the recovered computers — to determine exactly how much was lost and how much was found, she added.
Construction workers clearing a site for a federal office building at Broadway and Duane St. in 1991 found skeletons and remains determined to be those of hundreds of enslaved African-Americans who lived in that part of Manhattan and buried their dead there from 1712 to 1794.
Agency Under Fire
Despite having spent $20 million to research the remains and artifacts, the General Services Administration has angered activists and community groups who charge that the agency dragged its feet in scheduling a reburial of the unearthed remains.
Charles Barron of the Committee of Descendants of the Afrikan Ancestral Burial Ground says the agency reneged on a promise to rebury the remains Aug. 17, the anniversary of the birth of back-to-Africa activist Marcus Garvey.
“All those artifacts and the remains would have been buried by now,” he said. “Instead, much that is valuable may now be lost, or damaged.”
The agency said it never promised an Aug. 17 reburial. Henderson insisted it wants “to focus totally on the African Burial Ground and honor the remains.” But she conceded it “will be very difficult to do that right now in New York City, with all the concerns we have.”
Barron was not buying that.
“I believe in nothing the GSA says. If they are concerned about all of that, those bones would have already been reburied by now,” he said.