On October 22nd, 2014, a 200-year-old building at 810 Royal Street collapsed, presumably a victim of neglect and termite damage. The collapse sparked conversations in New Orleans about the importance of historic preservation. It also offered a rare opportunity to access the layers of soil beneath it, undisturbed since 1801. The new owners offered University of New Orleans professor Dr. Ryan Gray and his students access to the site while awaiting permits for new construction. The artifacts found during two seasons of excavations in UNO’s summer field school in archaeology have given important insights into life in the colonial era city.
The first recorded owner of the lot is Francois Fiot, followed by Augustin Langlois and his wife, Marie Bourdieu, in 1731. Langlois was a Canadian trader and fur-trapper. A wide variety of Native American pottery sherds found in the early levels at the site indicate interaction and trade with the indigenous peoples of the New Orleans area, as do items like lead baling seals from France. By 1784 the property had changed hands multiple times, ending up with Antonio Boudousquier, but the Good Friday fire of 1788 burned down whatever structures stood on the lot then. The soot from this fire acts as a clear temporal marker in the ground. After this date, the history of the lot becomes intermingled with that of the corner lot, until, around 1801, it became part of Don Francisco Balthazar Languille’s corner residential complex at Royal Street and St. Ann. This was one of the first three-story buildings in the French Quarter, and the complex remained essentially unchanged till the 2014 collapse.
During the field schools, students uncovered numerous building features dating to different eras of development at the site, from the wall of a French post-in-ground structure from the 1730s to the foundations of the ca. 1801 complex. In addition, they investigated a brick-lined privy superimposed on a late-eighteenth-century cesspit. In a series of tightly dated deposits dating between the 1788 fire and the 1801 Languille construction, fragments of hundreds of vessels of English creamware and pearlware were recovered, including transfer-printed Liverpool creamware and hand-painted pearlware with Chinese motifs, intended to imitate Chinese porcelain.
Personal objects such as bone buttons, as well as marbles, smoking pipe pieces, glass costume jewelry, musket balls, and gunflints. The excavation also produced a rich assemblage of animal bone, including an abundance of fish bone, reflecting early residents’ foodways. This material is being incorporated into a larger project examining environmental change and coastal fisheries in southeast Louisiana.