Tree removal at North Carolina church unearths centuries-old artifacts | CNN (2024)

Tree removal at North Carolina church unearths centuries-old artifacts | CNN (1)

Old and broken dishes were among the artifacts recovered from the site at Christ Episcopal Church in Elizabeth City, North Carolina.

CNN

When not leading sermons, the Rev. Daniel Cenciis quite the history buff.

Cenci’s two passions coincided when a plethora of centuries-old items were found June 20 in the yard of Christ Episcopal Church in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, where Cenci has served as rector since 2019.

He said the church’s construction crew was digging up a century-old magnolia tree when the mundane quickly turned into something extraordinary around lunchtime. The crew had hit something while digging up a pit for drainage underneath the stump.

When Cenci saw the almost dome-like shape of the structure the crew had hit, he thought it was a crypt or an unmarked soldier’s gravegiven the many battles fought in eastern North Carolinaduringthe Civil War.

Cenci enlisted the help of a nearby parishioner to poke around. Soon, the two had pulled out a bone that was eight inches long.

Tree removal at North Carolina church unearths centuries-old artifacts | CNN (2)

Excavation work is seen at Christ Episcopal Church in Elizabeth City, North Carolina.

“I thought, ‘Oh gosh, maybe that’s a crypt after all,’” Cenci told CNN.

After telling the construction crew to go home for the day, artifacts like pottery, old and broken dishes, glassware, bottles and more bones were unearthed from the loose, sandyterrainfilled with bricks.

With guidance and inspection from a local museum and a specialist in early porcelain dating, the items were roughly datedfrom the early 1700s up through the mid-1800s. The bones didn’t belong to human bodies but toanimals –includinga possible jawbone from a wild boar.

“The guess right now is maybe (the spot) is either a root cellar that was associated with an early home or a cistern for water storage, again associated with another early home in the city,” Cinci said.

TheNorth Carolina Office of State Archaeologyfrom the Raleigh and Greenville offices were called in to possibly further identify and date the items. Five days later, the ground was excavated, according toCNN affiliate WTKR.

After the state office agreed with the artifacts’ initial dating estimate, theywerelabeled and placed onplates in the church’s kitchen until they canbe sent away for further testing.

Cenci was told that either a team from the Raleigh or Greenville archeology offices may return to the site, a graduate student from a local university would be tasked with continuing the excavation or the churchcouldhire an outside archaeological firm.

Tree removal at North Carolina church unearths centuries-old artifacts | CNN (3)

The Rev. Daniel Cenci speaks at Christ Episcopal Church in Elizabeth City, North Carolina.

Due to the church being on private property and the lack of requirement for environmental review and permitting, the North Carolina Office of State Archaeology is not directly involved in the project past its initial assessments, Michele Walker, a representative for the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources told CNN in a statement Monday.

Christ Episcopal Churchwas founded in 1825but the building it currently occupies wasn’t built until 1856, according to Cenci.

From research done by church parishionersIan Lowry, Robyn Nix and Sam Moncla,who dug into deeds, wills and estate documents at the Pasquotank County courthouse, the group has discovered a Black man named George Davis used to own the property in the early 1800s that the church sits on – on two of the most premier lots in the city.

His daughter Charlotte was married in the Episcopal church in 1833, according to church records and as posted byLowry on Facebook.Nothing is confirmed yet, but some of the artifacts are thought to have been owned by Davis, Cenci explained.

Tree removal at North Carolina church unearths centuries-old artifacts | CNN (4)

Part of a wine bottle from France was excavated from the site at Christ Episcopal Church in Elizabeth City, North Carolina.

“We can safely say that Mr. Davis was living there, and we can also safely say that the bulk of artifacts found thus far fit into the time period of his occupancy,” Lowry wrote in an email.

“(Davis) did very well for himself based on the items that have come out of the excavation site,” Cenci said. “We’ve found bottles of French wine and we found imported porcelain from China … It seems we have uncovered the history of an early African American in our community that was quite influential (and) quite affluent in the town which I think is really interesting.”

Cenci said all he did was stop the construction; Lowry, Nix and Moncla are “really the heroes in this story as far as finding out what was in there and why it matters.”

With the church being founded in 1825, this discovery comes just in time for its 200th anniversary.

“As a Christian, I believe it’s God’s providential timing that it would happen right as we’re coming into our 200th anniversary,” Cenci said. “We’re gettingthis – almost like a time capsule –back to when the church was founded.”

Tree removal at North Carolina church unearths centuries-old artifacts | CNN (2024)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Maia Crooks Jr

Last Updated:

Views: 6620

Rating: 4.2 / 5 (63 voted)

Reviews: 94% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Maia Crooks Jr

Birthday: 1997-09-21

Address: 93119 Joseph Street, Peggyfurt, NC 11582

Phone: +2983088926881

Job: Principal Design Liaison

Hobby: Web surfing, Skiing, role-playing games, Sketching, Polo, Sewing, Genealogy

Introduction: My name is Maia Crooks Jr, I am a homely, joyous, shiny, successful, hilarious, thoughtful, joyous person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.