Archaeological dig underway at Madame John’s Legacy Museum on Dumaine Street

Madame John’s Legacy Museum on Dumaine Street | Reading Tom | CC Flickr

Archaeologists are conducting an excavation at the Madam John’s Legacy museum located at 632 Dumaine St. The museum is temporarily closed while repairs are done to restore the building, one of the oldest in the French Quarter, giving researchers a chance to see what’s under the construction site.

University of New Orleans researchers are leading the dig, which was reported by The Gambit earlier this month. The property itself is state-owned, but located in the Vieux Carre, which itself is designated a National Historical Landmark.

The paper cited Nathanael Heller, a senior research archeologist at the R. Christopher Goodwin & Associates firm, who said federal building projects following the events of Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill resulted a “golden age of archaeology for New Orleans.”

The reason, according to Heller, is because of a provision in the 1966 National Historical Preservation Act that requires an archaeological examination for all federally-funded projects to ensure historical sites aren’t damaged.

The oldest neighborhood in New Orleans is the French Quarter, where lots have been continuously re-developed for the last 300 years. Built in 1788 after a major fire that destroyed most of the city, the Madame John’s Legacy building is considered to be one of the best examples of French colonial architecture in North America — even though it was constructed during a period when the Spanish governed Louisiana.

Several other sites have been the subject of archaeological digs in recent years, including at 810 Royal Street after a 200-year-old building collapsed there in 2014 and Saint Anthony’s Garden behind St. Louis Cathedral.

All sorts of things were found found in those digs, including goat skulls, old foundations, religious jewelry and, according to The Gambit, raccoon penis bones:

At any given point in a stroll around the French Quarter, you could be walking on this five-foot “cake” of human history: bricks on top of French colonial pottery on top of raccoon penis bones used in Voodoo rituals on top of dominoes made of bones on top of Indigenous Peoples’ pottery. It turns out archaeologists learn a lot about us through our trash.

The Gambit