St. Anthony's Garden Archaeology Project
St. Anthony's Garden is the name given to the green space located behind New Orleans' iconic St. Louis Cathedral in the heart of the French Quarter.
No site quite like St. Anthony’s Garden has ever been excavated in the state of Louisiana. In just three small areas opened in the 2008 field season, the site exceeded expectations in its ability to reveal how the early city was constructed -- from the form of its earliest temporary architecture (ca. 1717-1726) and the meals that Governor Bienville’s pioneers were eating, to the unexpected presence of Native Americans and their cultural influence on the early town, indexed in pottery, decorated pipe bowls, and a hut with probable palmetto thatch wall. The team returned to the site in 2009 to extend the excavation of what is the richest colonial-era archaeological site yet investigated in New Orleans.
St. Anthony's Garden preserves a dense palimpsest of urban life in New Orleans. The space has served as a campground, a kitchen garden, a colonial era market, a busy streetscape and domestic space, an antebellum pleasure garden (complete with ice cream stand and flower market), a children’s playground, and a garden for quiet contemplation and religious observances.
The tells a fascinating story about the informal and largely unrecorded practices that helped establish the city, feed and shelter its people through periods of disaster and poverty, entertain its denizens and visitors, and provide comfort and perspective on the bustle of life. These are practices that are imminently (and sometimes only) visible in the archaeological record. This project has also brought to light how St. Anthony’s Garden was frequently the site of political struggles over the use of public space in the heart of the French Quarter and which ‘public’ was deserving of its protected space. Perhaps no site in the city better reveals the competing economic, social, and ideological forces informing transformations of urban space.
Many people do not realize that the French Quarter has very little of its French heritage left in architectural form. The Ursuline Convent (ca. 1745-1752) is the only standing structure from the French period that survives in New Orleans today due to two devastating fires that struck the city in the Spanish colonial period in 1788 and 1794. Therefore, the kind of information that material culture can provide on the processes of colonization and creolization in the French period lies almost entirely below ground in the form of archaeological deposits.
The St. Anthony's Garden dig is one stage of a multi-year project to investigate the economic and ecological factors that helped shape New Orleans' unique creole culture. How and when did African, Native American, and European colonial residents exchange knowledge about plants, medicines, and foods? Or share technical know-how regarding architecture or other material aspects of daily life (how to tan a deer hide, or how to make a ceramic pot)? In what situations were these exchanges most likely to occur?
To learn more about what we found during excavation and are learning from our ongoing analysis, go to Research.
13 University of Chicago students and over 20 local volunteers assisted with the excavation. The central location of the site made it a perfect opportunity for project members to engage in public archaeology and interface with locals and tourists on a daily basis. Over 300 visitors toured the site during an open house on July 1, 2008, and the project was followed by local media and national media (to go Links). Public talks on the project were presented in 2009 and 2010, as well as conference presentations by various team members.
In 2009-2010, field and lab work was made possible by grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Science Foundation. NEH support continued in 2010-11 and 2011-2012.
In 2009-2010, doctoral student and collaborator Lauren Zych was awarded a grant by the University of Missouri Research Reactor for Neutron Activation Analysis and in 2012-2013, a National Science Foundation Dissertation Improvement Grant. Her dissertation focuses on hand-built pottery in Southeast Louisiana to try to determine where and by whom this pottery was made.
- Getty Foundation Conservation Survey Grant (collaborator with St. Louis Cathedral), 2008-2009
- National Science Foundation Award # 0917736. 2009-210:
"Grounding Creolization: Ecology and Economy in Colonial New Orleans"
- National Endowment for the Humanities Grant # RZ-50992-09, 2009-2012:
"The Roots of Creole New Orleans: Archaeological Investigations at St. Louis Cathedral and Ursuline Convent"
Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this website do not necessarily reflect those of the National Endowment of the Humanities.
Update of April 2014:
Volumes 1-3 of the St. Anthony's Garden (16OR443) Archaeology Report have been completed and are available for download here.