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

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14 Scopus citations


This article 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] 1952) 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 ready-made “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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)236-252
Number of pages17
JournalAmerican Anthropologist
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2017


  • Manhattan
  • cemetery
  • generation
  • life course
  • temporality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anthropology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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