The Lead Coffins Project

The study of three lead-encased coffins discovered at the Brick Chapel is one of the most fascinating and significant projects yet conducted at HSMC. Archaeology at the chapel site began with a surface collection and test excavations in 1983. Work continued from 1988 through 1996. The brick foundations were uncovered and mapped. In addition, over 250 burials were identified in the area around the building. The full extent of the cemetery and the total number of burials has not been determined.

In 1990, a large, gravel filled pit was discovered in the north transept of the Brick Chapel. Test excavations revealed three lead coffins and in 1992, as part of Project Lead Coffins, they were excavated and opened. A multidisciplinary research program was instituted, and it was determined that the coffins contained the remains of Philip Calvert, governor and chancellor of Maryland, his wife Anne Wolsley Calvert, and an infant son recently linked to Philip Calvert by DNA analysis.

Three lead coffins discovered in the Brick Chapel
Three lead coffins discovered
Lifting the lead coffins during removal for studyLifting the lead coffins during removal for study

Discovery

Early in the project, we used Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) to investigate the site of the cross-shaped Brick Chapel built in the mid-1660s. Undertaken by Bruce Bevan, the GPR indicated a large, dense “target” in the north arm of the brick chapel. D3By 1990, excavation had proceeded to the point that we had the entire foundation of the brick church exposed. In the north arm, or transept of the cross we observed a soil disturbance which coincided with the location of the dense radar “target.”

Excavation in the early winter of that year discovered three lead coffins in the north arm of the church. These were the first to be investigated by professional archaeologists in the New World. Rather than rush into investigating the coffins, it was decided to rebury them where they were until we could plan the best, most comprehensive investigation possible. These were the first to be investigated by professional archaeologists in the New World.

The Team

Logistics

Project

Analysis

Study

Identification

Future

Postscript: A Mystery Solved!

Learn more about how conservators, curators, and archaeologists worked together in all stages of Project Lead Coffins to ensure the proper care of the human remains, coffins, and associated artifacts.