For my internship this summer I participated in a cemetery removal near Jackson, Mississippi. At the beginning of the project, it was estimated that there were approximately 70 marked and unmarked burials to be removed. After doing both ground penetrating radar and magnetometry surveys on the area, the project directors realized that there were over 300 burials at the site. The entire site was excavated over a three-month period. The cemetery dated from the mid-1800s to mid-1900s and was being moved for a construction project.
We started each day by meeting in the parking lot at 5:45am and then proceeding to site. This meant that we could avoid working during the hottest part of the day: very important during a summer in southern Mississippi. There was also frequent rain that caused some flooding issues, and caused us to be unable to work for several days. On average, we worked for 10 hours a day for six days a week in order to remove the entire cemetery in the allotted time.
Most of the work involved monitoring our large excavator to identify burials as they became visible and excavating the burials as their locations were identified. Each group was in charge of removing one burial per day. We exposed each burial, recorded them, and collected all remains and artifacts for analysis and later reburial. For well-preserved burials, this pace was a struggle and required lots of teamwork.
The human remains were poorly preserved, but many artifacts were well preserved. A number of individuals were buried with glass bottles, ceramics, jewelry, dentures, and hair accessories. While all of these things were interesting, the iron caskets were the most fascinating. Most of the iron caskets that were found were still sealed. In those cases, the caskets were documented and then sent for immediate reburial.
Working on a large phase 3 CRM project was an incredibly enlightening experience and affirmed for me that CRM is the career path that I want to enter. I enjoyed the fast pace, creative solutions to the problems that arose every day, and working with like-minded people.
Bioarchaeology MA student