Corporeal Congregations and Asynchronous Lives: Unpacking the Pews at Spring Street

Author(s): Shannon Novak

Year: 2017


This paper seeks to expose the "fallacies of synchrony" that often accompany the analysis of human remains. In approaching a cemetery, for example, we all too easily think of the bodies there as a "community," even when they belong to different generations or geographic contexts. This simple point has major implications, especially for the bioarchaeology of urban landscapes. Here, chronologically disparate elements accumulate in vast mélanges, offering innumerable examples of the "non-contemporaneity of the contemporaneous," an idea developed by Karl Mannheim (1928) and Alfred Schutz (1967) and now extended to archaeology by Gavin Lucas (2015). To escape the fallacies of synchrony and explore the shifting rhythms of city life, I turn to the case of the Spring Street Presbyterian Church in Manhattan. When the church burial vaults (ca. 1820-1850) were unexpectedly unearthed in 2006, they seemed to represent a readymade "congregation." Yet Spring Street was actually a "catchment zone" of mingled and mangled temporalities. Though placed together in death, the bodies there had only occasionally crossed paths in life. By following some of their traces to and from the site, we may come to understand what it means to gather, work, and worship together in a society of strangers.

Cite this Record

Corporeal Congregations and Asynchronous Lives: Unpacking the Pews at Spring Street. Shannon Novak. Presented at The 81st Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Vancouver, British Columbia. 2017 ( tDAR id: 430642)


Spatial Coverage

min long: -80.815; min lat: 39.3 ; max long: -66.753; max lat: 47.398 ;

Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 14366