Copyright ©2007 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

At the height of the housing boom, a rapidly developing part of Washington, D.C. was the scene of a discovery. Utility workers dug up a coffin a couple of years ago, and now they've learned the identity of the person inside.

Experts including Kari Bruwelheide opened it.

Dr. KARI BRUWELHEIDE (Physical Anthropologist, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution): They are opening the seal of the coffin. They're trying to separate the top lid from the bottom.

INSKEEP: We are looking at a coffin that's - it's in the shape of a body.

Dr. BRUWELHEIDE: It resembles - if you've ever seen an Egyptian sarcophagus. It kind of resembles that shape.

INSKEEP: That was back in 2005.

Doug Owsley led a Smithsonian Institution team that was seeking to identify the body.

Dr. DOUG OWSLEY (Curator, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution): We've got some sort of sheet-like affair that is nicely folded over the body. And underneath that, you can see a portion of pants. You can see a pocket on the left side.

INSKEEP: Today, experts say those were the remains of William T. White. Heart disease likely contributed to his death after a short illness in 1852. He was a prep school student, 15 years old.

When the school moved, it's cemetery moved, but the coffin was left behind.

The Washington Post reports that genealogical research found the youth's likely identity. Then, a DNA test matched William White with a living relative, a convenient store night clerk living in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

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