Archaeologists have unearthed what they believe is the crypt of members of Maryland's founding family, the Calverts, from beneath the ruins of a 323-year-old Catholic chapel.

The find was described as one of the most significant discoveries in Maryland history.Wielding a gold-colored trowel, Gov. William Donald Schaefer ceremoniously scraped the last bit of earth from the largest of three coffins hoisted from the ground.

The casket is believed to be the final resting place of Philip Calvert, the former British colony's first chancellor, who died in 1682.

"He is the one man who died in Maryland, of sufficient wealth and stature and a Catholic, to be buried in the church, and in a lead coffin," Henry Miller, chief archaeologist on the dig, said this week.

The two smaller caskets may contain the remains of two grandsons of Cecil Calvert, who was Philip's half-brother and the first Lord Baltimore, archaeologists said.

"In terms of religious and political significance, it ranks extremely high," state archivist Edward Papenfuse said of the find. "It's probably as important as any Maryland site so far."