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Monthly Archives: December 2010

Always the choice of last resort, there are times when a cemetery has to be moved in order to preserve and protect the remains. How this is done is often established by state law.  In addition to the law and the guidelines they establish, a great deal of care is taken by mortuary archaeologists employed to remove the remains so that none of the opportunities to learn from the recovery is lost. These individuals are trained in the excavation and analysis of skeletal material and are able to recognize different coffin fragments, handles, clothing, and other remains that might be preserved and interpreted.   This is particularly important when the individual identities of the deceased are unknown.


In the case of the Avondale Burial Place, actual recovery was completed in July 2010.  Since that time, the remains of the 101 individuals recovered have been temporarily housed at New South Associates as a new burial site was sought.


Once a final count of individuals to be relocated was determined, a search for the new location for the remains began.  Several alternatives have been considered including nearby churches and public cemeteries.  Because the burials within Avondale Burial Place were arranged in what appeared to be family clusters, one goal is to reinter all remains together in one place and with the cluster arrangement intact.    Taking this arrangement and number of burials into account, it is estimated that less than 0.05 acre will be needed for reburial.


After recovery was completed and several churches were approached, an established church cemetery with sufficient space was located approximately 10 miles from Avondale Burial Place and negotiations began.  Details such as access, maintenance, and location within the already established site must be worked out and agreed upon.  At this time, GDOT is continuing to work with the church to negotiate a possible driveway to access the new burials, avoid disturbance to existing burials, establish maintenance capabilities, and determine the aesthetic of the markings for the relocated burials.



In school, we learned the subject of history by reciting a series of events—explorations, battles, economic shifts, and social upheaval.  But it is easy to lose the real meaning of history if the ordinary individual is not studied.  This project gives us an opportunity to investigate ordinary lives and conditions at a particular place and time….and then place these individual stories within the larger context of social issues, pressures, and problems of the day.

Since their removal, the remains of the 101 individuals recovered from the Avondale Burial Place have been temporarily housed at New South Associates as the new burial site is being prepared.  The remains have been weighed and measured, and the artifacts studied and catalogued.  In addition, some material was removed during recovery with the intention of conducting DNA analysis (see Matt’s post dated October 25, 2010).  

GDOT has been approached by a graduate student at Georgia State University with a request to conduct additional research on the remains.  The name of the process being suggested is multi-isotopic analysis.  In combination with what is already known about the region, location of the burial site, the artifacts, and the individuals recovered (approximate ages, sex, date of burial, ethnicity, etc.), multi-isotopic analysis could reveal variations within the group, such as the presence of non-local individuals as well as variations in diet.  The variations in diet could be related to differences between males & females, social status, or immigration. This information would be made available to future researchers and could provide the potential descendent community with more information regarding the origins and health of the individuals laid to rest at Avondale Burial Place. 

In order to conduct this analysis, a tooth sample would be needed from each individual studied, and these samples would be taken from teeth already broken (since there is no point in disturbing a whole tooth if there is no need). The researcher would also be making resin replicas of each tooth to preserve exact copies of the teeth as a form of record. These replicas could either be used for future study of wear patterns on the teeth related to diet or returned for re-interment with the rest of the remains. 

We plan to pursue this additional research in the hope that more is learned about the individuals and their place in American history, the history of segregation, and the history of the Great Migration.