NEW ORLEANS — The first archaeological dig at one of the nation's oldest cathedrals turned up a mix of new finds in the heart of the French Quarter. Discoveries behind St. Louis Cathedral include a small silver crucifix from the 1770s or 1780s and traces of previously unknown buildings dating to around the city's founding in 1718.
The crucifix might have belonged to Pere Antoine, a Capuchin monk who was rector of the cathedral which dominates Jackson Square, lead archaeologist Shannon Lee Dawdy said.
Pere Antoine came to New Orleans under the Spanish Inquisition as the Rev. Antonio de Sedella and lived in a hut behind the cathedral, where he was rector from the late 1700s until his death in 1829.
Dawdy, an assistant professor at the University of Chicago, and eight students spent a month excavating St. Anthony's Garden, a fenced area behind the cathedral. They concluded their work earlier this week.
Until now there has never been an archaeological excavation anywhere on the property, said cathedral spokeswoman Nancy Averett. After Hurricane Katrina toppled the garden's live oaks and sycamores in August 2005, the cathedral secured a Getty Foundation grant to restore the garden and dig into its history.
Finds have included clay pipes, children's marbles, remains of china dolls and bits of what may be some of the first Indian trade goods in Louisiana.
Dawdy said the most significant find is probably the foundation of a hut where archaeologists uncovered a mixture of French artifacts from the early 1700s and fragments of Native American pottery, some painted red and others tempered with crushed shells.
The walls don't line up with the street grid set in 1724, so the hut probably was built before that and may be from the settlement's very start, Dawdy said.
"This site is by far the richest and most interesting one I have worked on yet in New Orleans and the excellent preservation of the frontier phase of the city's founding makes it the 'Jamestown' of the Lower Mississippi Valley," she said.