Dead Men Do Tell Tales: Comments on the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet’s Grave Relocation Procedures

By Charles M. Niquette, Nancy Ross-Stallings and Jeffrey G. Mauck
Contract Publication Series 94-64
© 1996-2018 Cultural Resource Analysts, Inc.

Table of Contents / Document Links

Historical Overview of a Cemetery on the Elbert Pennington Farm
Treatment of Historic Cemeteries in States Other than Kentucky
Important Information Derived from Cemetery Studies
The Inadequacies of the Written Record
Headstone Studies
Conclusions and Recommendations
Proposed Policy for the Treatment of Human Remains
Phase One Data Recording Procedures for Historic Cemeteries
Phase Two National Register Evaluation of Historic Cemeteries
Advisory Committee for the Treatment of Human Remains
Phase Three Guidelines for the Archeological Excavation of Historic Cemeteries
Site Specific Recommendations for the Adair County Cemetery
References Cited
Appendix: Bibliography of Funeral and Burial Practices


The following report was prepared in response to the questions raised by Mr. John Mettille of the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet with regard to an historic cemetery encountered in Adair County, Kentucky (Appendix A). This document was written with the help of Dr. Jeffrey G. Mauck and Dr. Nancy Ross-Stallings but in that the lead author has edited, changed and added to the work provided by both Mauck and Ross-Stallings, and they have not been privy to the final version of this report, he alone accepts responsibility for its content. We have attempted to provide the Transportation Cabinet with information relevant to the single historic cemetery encountered on the Kentucky Route 61 survey. Nevertheless, this particular cemetery is only a symptom of a larger issue and therefore, a more “broad brush” approach was required. The following commentary is organized into sections. These are as follows:

  • archival and informant data pertaining to the Adair County cemetery;
  • an interstate summary regarding cemetery treatment alternatives;
  • important information that can be obtained from archeological study of burial grounds;
  • comments relating to the inadequacies of the archival record with regard to cemeteries;
  • reasons why the Transportation Cabinet’s current procedures are inadequate;
  • a discussion relating to headstone studies; and finally,
  • conclusions and recommendations.

The final section embraces a recommended procedure to be followed for the treatment of human remains. It also contains recommendations regarding the level of documentation that should be expected for historic cemeteries at the phase one, two and three levels. It includes recommendations for the creation of an Advisory Committee for the Treatment of Human Remains, a committee whose membership should have review and approval power over all cemetery studies (historic and prehistoric) that involve archeological recovery of human remains. Finally, it includes site specific recommendations for the Adair County cemetery that prompted the writing of this report.

At the outset it should be stated that I agree with Mr. Mettille’s characterization of cemeteries as spiritual, holy places. Like Mr. Mettille, I believe that such places should be avoided whenever possible. Nevertheless, it is not possible to avoid cemeteries by construction activities in some instances, and in other cases the cost of avoidance is neither prudent nor feasible. At issue here is whether the Transportation Cabinet should (1) continue to treat threatened cemeteries as a right-of-way issue and as such to have professional cemetery relocation companies remove and reinter the remains, or (2) recognize cemeteries as legitimate subjects of scientific study that are frequently eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places for their scientific content pursuant to criterion “d” of the National Register criteria. I believe both approaches to the issue recognize the sensitive nature of cemeteries and the paramount authority that should be given to the wishes of the next of kin to the deceased.

Historical Overview of a Cemetery on the Elbert Pennington Farm

In January 1993 a field crew from Cultural Resource Analysts conducted an archaeological survey of the proposed route of realignment of Kentucky Highway 61 in Adair, Cumberland, and Metcalfe Counties, Kentucky (Creasman 1993). In the process, Creasman identified an historic cemetery on the property of Elbert Pennington just southwest of Breeding. Dr. Jeffrey G. Mauck, under contract with Cultural Resource Analysts, Inc., later completed a second phase of research on the cemetery in October 1994. Specifically, the archival research was completed in an attempt to determine the origins and history of the cemetery and, if possible, ascertain who was buried there. The results of informant interviews and historic research provide an historical context in which to view this particular cemetery and further, demonstrates a solid effort to locate a caretaker and/or next of kin. In fact, no one with authority or contraol over the cemetery could be found.

Research for this project was completed in early October 1994. The Pennington farm was visited and interviews were completed with local residents. The cemetery and area history were fully researched at the following institutions:

  1. The Filson Club Historical Society, Louisville.
  2. The Ekstrom Library, the University of Louisville.
  3. The Kentucky Collection at the Louisville Free Public Library.
  4. The Kentucky Historical Society, Frankfort.
  5. The Kentucky State Archives, Frankfort.
  6. The Adair County Public Library, Columbia, Kentucky.
  7. The Adair County Courthouse (annex), Columbia, Kentucky.

The first component of the archival study centered upon research into the early nineteenth-century history of eastern Metcalfe and western Adair Counties, the region in which the cemetery is located. Since one of the graves was marked with a stone dated in the 1820s, it was hoped that the owner/ owners of the burial ground for the period from about 1810 to 1840 might be identified. Unfortunately, compared to many regions of Kentucky, published historical sources on Adair County are sparse and of rather poor quality. A range of genealogical aids, which consisted mainly of information gleaned from county records, were located, but none of these shed light on the history of the cemetery.

Onsite visits to the cemetery and research completed at the Adair County courthouse and library in Columbia, Kentucky, were completed during the first week of October. Local histories at the library proved of limited use but, nevertheless, a reprint was obtained of a short, early twentieth-century county history, John Avroe Steele’s Notes on Adair County. This publication provided some regional overview material.

The primary sources at the Adair County Courthouse proved more useful. The majority of the Pennington farm lies in Adair County, but it straddles the line into neighboring Metcalfe. Its property history, however, appears in Adair County deed books. No problems were encountered in running the deed back into the 1890s. Each deed mentioned the previous deed and the search consisted of simply checking the records for the details. The ownership of the Pennington farm for the past century runs as follows:

  • Elbert Pennington purchased the 19 1/2 acre farm from Gladys Reese on May 5, 1989. (Adair County Deed Book 169, p.377)
  • W.T. and Orphelia Reese bought the same 19 1/2 acres from J.W. Reese on March 25, 1932. (Adair County Deed Book 51, p. 631.)
  • J.W. Reese purchased the 19 1/2 acres from W.E. Rowe of Little Rock, Arkansas on February 1, 1915. (Adair County Deed Book 48, p. 511)
  • W.E. Rowe bought the 19 1/2 acres from P.B. Rowe on February 20, 1906. (Adair County Deed Book 20, p. 576)
  • The 19 1/2 acres was apparently part of a 30 acre tract P.B. Rowe purchased from John M. Smith on May 21, 1895. (Adair County Deed Book 9, p. 348).

The agreement between Smith and Rowe did not, however, mention the previous deed. We were unable to locate a John Smith, or any Smith for that matter, as a purchaser of property in the area of the Pennington farm. Therefore, we met a dead end in this line of research.

At this point, we reversed course and attempted to identify the early owners of the Pennington farm, and to move forward through the 1840s. This also proved difficult; in part because the headwaters of several creeks converge near the site, making it difficult to attach a large tract–presumably from which the present 19 1/2 has been carved– to a specific watershed. The Pennington farm is clearly closest to the Casey’s Fork of Harrod’s Fork of Crocus Creek. To confuse matters, there is a Casey Creek in the eastern part of the county.

Despite these difficulties, we were able to ascertain that the area near the Pennington farm was probably first settled by a Virginian, George Breeding (1772-1857). Breeding purchased 100 acres from Gholson Stapp, probably an absentee land owner, in 1802. The village of Breeding rose on the site, in which the Breeding family later located their cemetery (Adair County Deed Book C. p. 403; Rennick, 1984: 35; Marilyn Sparks, 1994 personal communication). The description of the Breeding property in the deed is typical of early Kentucky:

a certain tract of land lying in Adair County containing 100 acres it being part of a thousand acre survey on the waters of Harrod’s fork of Crocus Creek surveyed and patented unto Johnson and Roberts, bounded as followeth, towit, beginning at a black ash gum & beech & dogwood, thence north 127 poles to a poplar beech and dogwood, thence east 127 poles to a beech, poplar, and mulberry, thence south 127 poles to two beeches & a poplar thence west to the beginning.

It would appear, then, that the cemetery on the Pennington farm was probably not associated with this first settler, whose land did not extend that far south. Further research in the deeds revealed no new information. In short, we were unable to determine just who were the first Euro-American owners and/or developers of the Pennington farm.

Dr. Mauck visited the cemetery which is situated on a low ridge on the south side of the Pennington farm. He noted that most of the stones consisted of creek rock, but one was engraved. The worn lettering appeared to read:


The current land owners on whose land the cemetery is located, the Penningtons, knew nothing about the origins of the cemetery, nor has anyone shown any interest in it in recent years. Mr. Pennington once counted the graves and thought there to be well over 20.

While in the community of Breeding, Dr. Mauck met Mrs. Marilyn Sparks who lives just north of the Penningtons on Highway 61. She phoned the only person in the neighborhood who might have some knowledge of the site, Mrs. Viola Fudge (age 87). Mrs. Fudge said that as girl she always walked by the cemetery on the way to school, and that her grandmother had told her it was a African-American cemetery. This was also the common belief in the community at that time. This local tradition constitutes the bulk of our knowledge about the cemetery (Marilyn Sparks, personal communication). There is not a resident black population in the vicinity of Breeding, Kentucky, today.

Treatment of Historic Cemeteries in States Other than Kentucky

In an effort to determine how other state transportation agencies and SHPO offices dealt with historic cemeteries, a telephone survey was conducted. Those contacted included the Section 106 review personnel and some DOT representatives in the southeastern states (including Texas) and all other states included a few states located outside of that have borders in common with Kentucky. In addition, the sample the southeastern United States but whose terrain could be characterized mountainous and were experiencing development and population pressures. These states were Arizona, Connecticut, Colorado, and California. The purpose of this exercise was simply to determine how other states handled historic cemeteries that were threatened by construction and development activities, and in the course of doing so perhaps to gain some insight into how to improve the current approach used in Kentucky.

In all states contacted, cemetery relocation was regarded as a method of last resort, only to be exercised if there was no reasonable way to relocate the road or other structure. The most extreme case of cemetery avoidance was noted for Connecticut. No construction project in Connecticut has ever resulted in the relocation of an historic cemetery. Nevertheless, in some cases the Connecticut DOT spends very large sums of money to reroute new construction around cemeteries. This extreme approach is not limited to transportation projects. For example, one company that was building a pipeline discovered a family cemetery in the right of way for the project. In this instance, they used a ground penetrating radar to locate the grave shafts. Since bedrock occurred at a shallow depth, the bedrock was drilled below the cemetery and the pipeline was installed through the bedrock. After the perimeter of the cemetery was breached, the pipe was once again buried at a normal depth below ground surface.

In Colorado , no old cemeteries have been impacted by a DOT project. We did learn that one mountain highway was moved over slightly to avoid one, and the cutbank adjacent to the cemetery was heavily reinforced by the DOT so that no coffins would erode out of the cutbank. In other instances, the highways have been narrowed to avoid cemeteries or they have been rerouted around the cemetery, in some cases, at considerable expense. In 1992, an unmarked, unknown graveyard was discovered on the grounds of the Colorado Mental Health Institute in Pueblo during preconstruction work for a new building. Over 130 bodies were hand excavated, dating from 1880-1900. Paleopathological analysis is being conducted on the skeletons. Many are of historical and medical interest, since some represent examples of a variety of malformation syndromes and victims of mental retardation.

Projects in Arizona are done on a case by case basis. Since 1990, Arizona has had a state law that protects burials on private land. Avoidance of cemeteries is considered the best option. Prior to 1990, a Mormon Cemetery (1870-1900) began eroding out of a road cut and the DOT erected a strong retaining wall. At that time, the cemetery was not considered in terms of the National Register criteria. If this happened now, it would have been recommended for treatment as an archeological site under the new law. A pioneer cemetery in downtown Phoenix was tested and it was determined that no grave shafts were located outside of the cemetery fence. The adjacent area was subsequently cleared for construction.

Two other Arizona cemeteries were threatened by DOT projects in the recent past. Both were located on Native American land, and so the Native American communities were dealt with directly. In the first case, the cemetery had Pima and Maricopa interments. These groups wanted the paleopathology and historic documentation done. The preservation was so good that newspapers and fabric were intact. The groups wanted to see if the osteologists could determine which were Maricopa and which were Pima. This was not possible to do from an osteological standpoint.

The second cemetery was also a Pima cemetery, but it was controlled by a different group of Pima. The latter wanted the interments relocated but not scientifically examined. These agreements were each worked out with the interested Native American group and carried out according to their wishes.

Four of the states, California, Georgia, Indiana, and Ohio have not yet had to move cemeteries; however, historical documentation and hand excavation by archaeologists would be required in the event that a DOT project threatened a historic cemetery and if that grave yard could not be avoided. Paleopathology would be required on the human remains recovered from such projects in all of these states. Indiana and Ohio would develop the excavation strategy on a case by case basis. Indiana has good laws protecting graves and cemeteries. However, Ohio has an old law which has been on the books for a century.

The state law of Ohio suggests that if an interment is over 125 years old, it is not “human.” If the body is still in a corpse state (flesh on) it is considered a human interment. If the interment is just skeletal, the authorities cannot prosecute someone for digging it up. The basic idea is that the remains must look “human enough” for the average man on the street to recognize it as a human body. Efforts have been made on the part of the Ohio SHPO and various Native American groups in the state to amend the law. However, since township trustees and coroners have jurisdiction over cemeteries, they have, as a group successfully lobbied the Ohio legislature to leave the law as it is, maintaining that if it was changed, they would have more work to do than they could handle.

California and Georgia have formal protocols in place that outline in detail the requirements for research proposals, and the archaeological investigation and research that would be done with the remains. California had a near miss recently when a road was to be widened and improved. Historical research indicated that a family cemetery had at one time stood in the roadway. However, intensive investigation determined that all of the graves had apparently been destroyed by the construction of the original road. This is the closest the California protocol came to being used for a DOT project to date.

Alabama, Louisiana, Tennessee, Florida, Virginia and Texas have had instances where cemeteries needed to be relocated. In all of these states, archaeological hand excavation is required, at least in some instances.

In Texas , if the last interment is 50-75 years or older, then archaeological excavation is required, with paleopathological investigation. If the cemetery is a modern, platted, dedicated cemetery, morticians become involved in grave relocation. While multiple instances of cemetery relocation for road projects have occurred in Texas, the most extensive cemetery relocation project to date is in its final phases of completion. This is the Lemmon Avenue-North Central Expressway grave removal in Dallas. Over the past 4 1/2 years, 1500 black interments from an old freedman’s cemetery just to the north of downtown Dallas have been hand excavated by archaeologists and then relocated. Paleopathology, and historic documentation has been done on all of the interments. In addition, the black community allowed archaeologists to curate samples of cloth fragments, buttons and other items of interest, with the exception of rings, other personal jewelry or items such as rosaries. These remained with the deceased at reinterment. The report will be published in about another year. This project cost nearly $6 million over and above road construction costs.

It was noted that the state cemetery code in Texas is an antiquated document. Every two years, efforts are made in the state legislature to change it, but every time, lobbyists for perpetual care cemeteries fight the proposed changes because they don’t want legislators or other people telling them what they can and cannot do. Recently, the state cemetery code, unaltered, was moved into the Texas Health and Safety Code, as the result of a surprise move in the legislature that took place in a midnight session. No one was notified that this was going to happen.

In Virginia , hand excavation by archaeologists is required if the cemetery is deemed historically significant. The Virginia burial laws allow two options. (1) If the cemetery is found by the SHPO to have historical interest, an archaeological permit is needed, and the development of a research design is required, as with any other mitigation. (2) If the cemetery is not found to be historically significant, then the graves are relocated by funeral directors. It was noted that in Virginia, highway construction has not impacted as many of the historic cemeteries as subdivision construction. In the last five years, nineteen burial permits for excavation of a cemetery have been granted, and most of these were for subdivisions.

In Tennessee , the burial statute does not discriminate between prehistoric and historic cemeteries, and cemeteries are considered as archaeological sites. Currently, a DOT project is impacting a small family cemetery, with a half dozen interments. The cemetery is being hand excavated, after a backhoe stripped all the topsoil off, exposing the grave shafts. The determination to do paleopathology is done on a case by case basis for each cemetery. The remains can be held out of the ground for up to six months for scientific analysis, before reinterment.

Florida has strong statutes for protection of historic and prehistoric grave sites. If graves are going to be impacted, hand excavation is required. In one case of road widening in an urban area, ground penetrating radar was used to make sure that no interments were outside of a modern fence surrounding an old cemetery. No grave shafts were found outside the fence, and the road was widened. In a second case, an old military cemetery in Ft. Myers, Florida which had Civil War era and possibly Seminole War dead in it was being impacted by a DOT project. Extensive testing was done on this cemetery, as well.

In Alabama , there is a complex permitting process that has to be conducted before a cemetery can be moved. There are a dozen public health laws that have to be satisfied before the project can begin.

Recently, a DOT project in northern Alabama was impacting an unmarked African American cemetery which may have had some Russian immigrants interred in it as well. The estimated number of graves is 200. The DOT contracted with an archaeological firm to write a scope of work for hand excavation, 100% recovery of artifacts, screening of dirt, and osteological analysis. Currently, this project is still being examined by the DOT personnel.

The Elko Switch Cemetery (circa 1850-1920), a black cemetery near Huntsville, Alabama was partially impacted by the construction of a highway interchange in 1987-88. This cemetery was hand excavated, with historic artifact analysis and paleopathology done on the remains. Historic and archival research was also conducted in connection with the cemetery.

In Louisiana , an unmarked burial law was passed in January of 1993. If a cemetery of any type can’t be avoided, Louisiana requires archaeological data recovery.

Examples of some past Louisiana projects include a Corps of Engineers (COE) project which would have impacted an unmarked cemetery. The COE opted to relocate their project around the cemetery. At the Terre Bonn Cemetery in Shreveport, the DOT delineated the cemetery boundaries and conducted testing to see if there were graves in the project boundaries. None were found. The most extensive cemetery excavation in Louisiana to date has been the Charity Hospital/Cypress Grove II cemetery project that was begun in 1986. The widening and resurfacing of Canal Street in New Orleans necessitated the project be done. The interments covered the time span of 1849-1929. While the artifacts were analyzed by the University of New Orleans, the skeletal remains were taken to the Division of Physical Anthropology at the Smithsonian Institution. While most coffins held only one person, some held up to 10 people. The total number of excavated remains was 271 individuals.

The DOT in Arkansas has thus far been able to reroute road projects to go around cemeteries. County judges have jurisdiction for small family cemeteries. The decision to require excavation of an historic cemetery is made on a case by case basis. Arkansas has an unmarked graves law, but it is designed primarily for prehistoric cemeteries. It could be stretched to cover pauper graveyards, since these tend to have no identifying markers. The most significant archaeological excavation of an historic cemetery to date in Arkansas is the Cedar Grove Cemetery in Lafayette County, which was a Corps of Engineers Project. A total of 79 interments from this historic black cemetery were being threatened by the revetment construction along the south bank of the Red River in 1982. Each grave was hand excavated and the artifact and skeletal data were recorded before reinterment. The interments all dated from 1890-1927.

North Carolina has not had a DOT project impact a historic cemetery to date. The DOT has been able to reroute the roads. Currently the North Carolina SHPO is attempting to record all the abandoned cemeteries in the state so people will know where these cemeteries are. In addition, all cemeteries which have had a last interment for at least 15 years or longer are considered archaeological sites and should be recorded. One of the main criteria for considering if a cemetery should be excavated would be if a cemetery could be considered National Register eligible. In the 1981 unmarked human skeletal remains act, it is the State Archaeologist who is charged with defining what constitutes an “unmarked grave,” as noted in the act. The SHPO has asked the DOT to develop research protocols for historic Scots-Irish cemeteries. To date, this protocol is not complete.

The state of South Carolina does not have a burial law. The DOT has tried very hard to stay out of both historic and prehistoric cemeteries. The usual procedure is not to do data recovery if a cemetery is impacted, but the decision is made on a case by case basis. However in the case of one road project, a cemetery was in the corridor, and it was believed to be a black cemetery. Limited data recovery was done in the cemetery, and it was found instead to contain whites. None of the skeletal material was sent to the lab for extensive analysis. The Piedmont has very bad bone preservation, and the Coastal Plain tends to have very good preservation. The geographic location of an impacted cemetery would also have an influence on decisions made about it. Currently, there is tremendous public interest in preserving family cemeteries in South Carolina, and two state representatives are working on draft legislation. There may be some formal protocols developed in the next 18 months or so.

In West Virginia , the decision to develop a research design and excavate an historic cemetery is done on a case by case basis, and is done on the basis of National Register eligibility. If the cemetery is determined to be not eligible, it is passed to the circuit court, which handles relocation by funeral directors. The West Virginia DOT encountered an unmarked early to middle 19th century black cemetery on a project about five years ago in the panhandle. The press had a field day. Cemeteries in project areas since then have had research protocols developed for them. Near Weirton, West Virginia, there were four interments identified and the SHPO and DOT archaeologists were on site when they were hand excavated. Notes were made on the condition of the graves. In Mingo County, a cemetery with a history of Chinese immigrants who had worked on railroad construction being interred in it was going to be impacted. The SHPO recommended that archaeological monitoring be done, and the remainder of the protocol had not been developed when the DOT decided to avoid the cemetery entirely.

The state of Mississippi has a strict burial law that protects prehistoric and historic human interments, even if they are on private property. The law was designed primarily to protect unmarked, prehistoric remains. Unless a burial permit is obtained from the SHPO, it is a criminal offense to excavate human remains. But, modern cemeteries are not under the jurisdiction of the SHPO. If an old cemetery is going to be impacted by the DOT, but it is marked, and the headstones have dates on them, its disposition is up to the county judge and the DOT. The standard procedure is to locate the family. If the family is no longer around, the judge has final say on the relocation. The most difficulty to date with unknown small family cemeteries has not been with highway corridors, but with borrow sites. Generally, the damage, if any, is repaired as much as possible and fill is obtained from another site.

Missouri has one burial law for marked interments and one law for unmarked interments. These laws drive the procedures that are used in the state for the disposition of marked and unmarked cemeteries. If the cemetery is marked by headstones, standard DOT procedure is to locate the family and then contract with an undertaker to remove the graves. This requires a court order. If the interments are unmarked, whether historic or prehistoric, archaeological investigation is conducted on the remains. The remains may be retained for up to one year for scientific study before reinterment.

In the recent past, a road construction project impacted a pauper’s cemetery in St. Louis. The title to the property was at one point owned by the City of St. Louis. There was no known living family member for any of the interments. The cemetery became the focal point of a lawsuit between the DOT and the SHPO. The DOT is currently working with the SHPO to do minimal osteological study of the remains.

The construction of a metro link caused the need to relocate a large established cemetery in the St. Louis area. Archaeologists were also called in to assist in the excavation of this cemetery.

Currently, a runway approach at the Lambert-St. Louis International Airport is encroaching on an established cemetery that is eligible for listing on the National Register. A Memorandum of Agreement between the Federal Aviation Administration, the State of Missouri and the Federal Advisory Council on Historic Preservation has been established. Approximately 3000 interments will be excavated using archaeological techniques and then submitted for osteological analysis over the next three years.

In summary, the approaches taken in the nineteen states that were contacted vary to a great extent. This is based on the fact that state laws in place before the Section 106 legislation was enacted were unique to a region or to the political situation in each state. Once the federal legislation was passed, the states have responded according to the construction and development pressures unique to a given state. The influence of special interests ranging from funeral directors, coroners, judges, county commissioners, township trustees, historic preservationists, and organized ethnic groups have also made a mark on legislation which has been passed or has been blocked. The trend, however, appears to be moving in the direction of having at least some cemeteries which will be impacted by construction excavated utilizing archaeological techniques and the remains and associated artifacts examined by historical archaeologists and osteologists.

Important Information Derived from Cemetery Studies

The reasons that the historic record is inadequate to document important biological and cultural data many and varied. From a biological perspective, historic records found in courthouse records or elsewhere are considered wholly inadequate largely because medical diagnosis and treatment during the colonial period and up into the 20th century was deficient, and in many cases it was inaccurate. As a result, people died from medical conditions of which physicians had no knowledge, or they were dying from illnesses that had been misdiagnosed. Some of these purported causes of death can be rather amusing. For example, a death certificate filed in the state of Kentucky in the early 20th century lists cause of death as “ate too many green apples” (Yvonne Beam, Kentucky Department of Vital Statistics, Personal Communication, 1994). When osteological analysis of excavated cemeteries has been conducted, researchers have quickly found out that even in organized church cemeteries with parish records, cause of death is rarely noted (Saunders et al. 1993:184).

Illnesses that had a social stigma attached to them (such as sexually transmitted diseases) or causes of death associated with pregnancy (particularly illegitimate ones), including induced abortions and childbirth were frequently recorded on death certificates with deliberately inaccurate causes of death. This was done by the family physician so that surviving family members could “save face” in the community. For example, at least one Colorado death certificate from the 1920’s gives cause of death as “flu,” but the actual cause of death, according to oral interviews with surviving family members, was death from a botched abortion. The physician who induced the abortion was also the one who filled out the death certificate (Paul Morris, Genealogist, Personal Communication, 1992).

A prime example of inaccurate reporting of sexually transmitted diseases in an historic slave cemetery (ca. 1660-1820) occurred on a plantation in Barbados (Handler et al. 1989, Jacobi et al. 1992). Two forms of treponemal diseases, syphilis and yaws, were present in Barbados during that time period. In their advanced stages both of these diseases leave distinctive pathologies on bones (Ortner and Putschar 1981:180-218; Powell 1988:163-167; Ross-Stallings 1989:1-16). In addition, syphilis can be acquired congenitally, leaving distinctive pathology on the developing dentition and skeleton of a child (Jacobi et al. 1992:145-158; Ortner and Putschar 1981:198-210). During the course of excavation of the slave cemetery on the Barbados plantation, it was found that in addition to acquired syphilis, 10% of the burials in the cemetery reached adolescence or young adulthood before succumbing to congenital syphilis. Babies and small children were underrepresented in the cemetery (Jacobi et al. 1992:155). Interestingly, even in the first half of the twentieth century, the mortality rate in the United States for an infant with congenital syphilis was 25-50%, and the stillbirth rate was 25% (Moore 1941, and Curtis and Philpott 1964, in Jacobi et al. 1992). In addition, the Barbados slave populations were suffering from a high rate of infertility (Dirks 1978 in Jacobi et al.), which could have been in part, due to syphilis. The historical records for the plantation in Barbados do not mention yaws or syphilis as a cause of death for the slaves. The diseases are discussed only as chronic problems about the plantation. Many of the listed causes of death in the plantation records, (consumption, convulsed, dropsy, fever, fits, inflammation, invalid, joint evil, leprosy, merasmus [sic], rheumatism, scrofula, sore throat, teething, and worms) could fit symptoms of acquired and congenital syphilis (Jacobi 1992:155). While obviously not all the slaves died of syphilis, the osteological evidence indicates that a significant number of them did. Obviously, historical documents would have presented a distorted picture regarding causes of mortality at the plantation.

It is interesting to note that Jacobi et al. (1992) state that while historians have discussed slave mortality as a direct consequence of poor nutrition, poor living conditions, and infectious disease load for adults. Neonatal tetanus, malaria, respiratory diseases and malnutrition are implicated in the very high infant mortality, but now congenital syphilis must also be added to the list of causes (Jacobi et al. 1992:155).

Indications of congenital syphilis in a black sharecropper’s cemetery in Arkansas (Rose 1985), and from a black cemetery in Alabama (Shogren et al. 1989) was documented. Both of these cemeteries dated from the mid-19th Centuries through the 1920’s. This is in direct conflict to the assertion by the biomedical historian F. Swados (1941:471) who wrote that “Like tuberculosis, syphilis was a ‘white man’s disease’ unknown to the Africans when they were first brought here.” Ironically, tuberculosis, which also leaves lesions on bone in advanced stages, was found in both the Arkansas and Alabama cemeteries, as well as the First African Baptist Church Cemetery (ca.1823-1842) in Philadelphia (Parrington and Roberts 1990:161).

In other articles relating to the excavation and osteological analysis of the Barbados cemetery discussed above, it was noted that historical sources provide only variable information on household life of Barbados slaves. For example, almost no information exists regarding age at weaning of slave children, and those sources consist of a phrase or two from mid-19th Century sources at the very close of the slave holding period. Osteological analysis of the skeletal material revealed that weaning most likely occurred late, at ages 3-4, based on the development of enamel hypoplasias on the teeth (Corruccini et al. 1985:701,705). This time of late weaning also has implications for the health of the mothers of these children, since prolonged lactation under less than optimum nutritional conditions is a health hazard to the mother. While corporal punishment of slaves on the part of masters and overseers is well-known in popular literature as well as more scholarly publications, excavation of this cemetery allowed a look at not only the prevalence of trauma, particularly blows to the head, but also a chance to look at healed injuries and injuries which were most likely fatal (Corruccini et al. 1982:456).

While one cemetery has been used thus far as an example of why the historical record is inadequate from a biomedical perspective, osteological analyses from other historic cemeteries have provided a treasure trove of information about nutrition, physical sizes of past populations, illnesses, exposure to chemicals, the state of medical and dental treatments from various centuries, and the appearance of advanced cases of diseases which today are controlled or curtailed before they affect the skeleton. Also, class and ethnic differences in illnesses, nutrition, access to medical care, can be quantified, and in some cases, the findings are at odds with historical interpretations. Examples of these studies include the fact that while evidence of access to dental care was found in the sharecroppers’ cemetery in Arkansas (Rose 1985), no evidence of access to dental care was found in the Alabama sharecroppers’ cemetery from the same time period (Shogren 1989). An examination of why people with similar economic status, living in the same time period would utilize dental care differentially is thus merited.

Additional analyses at other cemeteries, such as the Weir Family Cemetery in Virginia (ca. 1830-1907), and the Belleview Plantation Cemetery in South Carolina (ca. 1738-1756) demonstrated the differential dental care over time, but only in the upper classes (Rathbun and Scurry 1991 and Little et al. 1992). Both cemeteries were small, with under 25 individuals in each one. In the Weir Family Cemetery, out of 35 teeth with dental caries, 19 of the teeth were filled with gold or gold and amalgam (Little et al. 1992:404). The authors noted that this percentage of filled teeth is unprecedented in the literature for any historic period cemetery of comparable age to date, even when compared to other cemeteries containing wealthy individuals. A review of historical sources may reveal what was being offered in the way of medical and dental services, but what it won’t tell researchers the patterns of use for these services. Ironically, the only other cemetery, out of a group of 22 excavated cemeteries reviewed for comparative purposes, that contained an individual with a gold filling was an interment in a poorhouse cemetery (1992:409).

While stature for various recruits is well-documented in historical sources for soldiers from the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and on into the 20th Century, little is written in historical literature regarding stature and robusticity for the rest of the population of North America during the same time periods. Civilian clothing was not mass-produced until relatively recently, and from a commercial perspective, information regarding the size of children of various ages, and women, as well as males who were not in the military was probably not very important. Since apparel was handmade, it was constructed to fit a specific person, and then altered if it was handed down, if the person grew taller or gained weight. Social mores for virtually all of the time periods in question were not conducive to having women and children measured by strangers, simply to find out how tall they were or how long their limbs might be. Since document clothing for all time periods and across all social classes and ethnic groups is rare or nonexistent, the only way to determine temporal changes in statures of both sexes in various ethnic groups is to analyze the skeletal material from an osteological standpoint, and determine ranges and means for stature and robusticity.

Once these are attained for the time periods in question for the populations of interest, comparing these data in relationship to nutritional indications on the skeletal material, and historical and archaeological documentation of foodstuffs available to the groups, a picture then emerges regarding growth patterns, health, and nutrition in different population groups. This is certainly more adequate than reading 18th or 19th century newspapers to determine what foods were being advertised, or examining plantation records or tax rolls to see what may have been grown. In cases like this, differential access to the available foodstuffs can only be estimated. Analyses such as these can present some surprises as well. For example, an early 19th century poorhouse cemetery (extant from 1828-1863) was excavated in Rochester, NY. Virtually all of the interments were white. No references in historic sources regarding the cemetery existed, the graves were unmarked, and the coffins were of the cheapest construction with no hardware (Steegmann 1991:262). The researchers hypothesized that the statures of at least some of the individuals would be significantly reduced since they were probably undernourished and highly stressed, from a biological standpoint, by poverty. This was not found to be the case with the males. They were found to compare in height with the anthropometric measurements taken from Revolutionary and Civil War period soldiers (Steegmann 1991:264). The data for the women was much more difficult to compare, since the researchers could find no anthropometric studies done on contemporaneous populations. Data from other excavated historical populations were utilized to compare the females, and to provide more comparisons for the males.

With more data on statures and other physical characteristics in cemetery populations of various ethnic backgrounds, and of different socioeconomic status, questions about the variables of genetics, nutrition, illness, and climate, and their effects on historic populations can be answered. This reflects a time period that was long before vaccinations, vitamins, and 20th century distribution systems homogenized diets and access to modern medical care. These questions are part of what the late anthropologist Lawrence Angel of the Smithsonian characterized as “lifestyles” of groups under study. For him, lifestyle incorporated demography, bone and dental pathological conditions, and nutritional and occupational indicators. His recognition that pathology was often the result of lifestyle, and that coping with health problems was a facet of life for so-called healthy adults, is what anthropologists try to discover (Owsley 1990:180).

One of Angel’s areas of interest, occupational stressors, which leave their marks as pathologies on bones and teeth, can often illuminate the effects of a lifetime of working at now virtually extinct professions, such as blacksmithing, ship trimming, stone mining, longbow use by archers, net casting, weaving, mining by hand digging, shoemaking, and handsewing by tailors and seamstresses (Kennedy 1989:138-153). The Catoctin Iron Furnace, Maryland cemetery, where 16 slaves working in the furnace were interred, was a treasure trove of the evidence of occupational stress. Laborers pounded pig iron and hand dug ore from embankments. It was found from patterns of arthritic development and hypertrophy of bone in areas of muscle attachments that it wasn’t just adult male slaves who were doing hard physical labor. Apparently teenagers of both sexes and young adult females were working alongside the men (Kelley and Angel 1987:207).

In addition, now extinct or nearly extinct lifestyle choices such as extended periods of horseback riding (Kennedy 1989:151) or the effects on rib cage and vertebral morphology through the lifetime use of a corset can be studied and documented by analysis of historic skeletal material. Interestingly, the different shape of the 18th century woman versus the 19th century woman as dictated by fashion and standards of modesty caused the construction of the corsets from the two centuries to be different. As a result, the permanent effects of the corsets on the ribs, vertebrae and sternum were different in the two centuries (Kennedy 1989:140-141).

The use of chemical analysis of human bone in historic contexts can further illuminate actual dietary intake of an individual, outside of examining the skeleton for evidence of nutritional deficiencies and the ingestion of large amounts of starchy or sugar filled foods, as evidenced by dental caries. While chemical analysis of prehistoric bone has been used for a number of years to try to determine, for example, when corn was being ingested in large amounts and if it was being consumed differentially by sex or social class, there is no reason it cannot be used to answer questions regarding the diets of historic period people. For example, at a rural Piedmont South Carolina unmarked cemetery with fifteen interments, bone preservation was such that only one skeleton, that of an immature female, was complete enough for extensive study. The cemetery was dated, through coffin hardware and morphology, to the last half of the 19th century and possibly to the early 20th century (Joseph et al. 1991). The interment exhibited high strontium levels, indicative of a diet rich in vegetable foods. This finding compares well with a tested sample of other rural whites from the Mt. Gilead cemetery in Georgia (Joseph et al. 1991:220).

Lead ingestion, through tin vessels with lead soldering, pewter plates and vessels, from lead glazes on storage vessels, plates and dishes, and possibly from water pipes in later populations, can be measured in historic populations through chemical analysis. Studies have yielded some interesting social class differentiation in the same cemetery. Some examples of these studies include Aufderheide et al. 1981, Kelley and Angel 1987, Rathbun and Scurry 1991, and Reinhard and Ghazi 1992. Rathbun and Scurry found in a cemetery located at Belleview Plantation in South Carolina, that whites had a significantly higher bone lead content than the blacks (1991:162). At the small Cactoctin Furnace Cemetery, female slaves had three times the lead content as the males, indicating differential access to food vessels and foods contaminated with lead. Probably this reflects the domestic servant status of the female slaves (1987:209).

Aufderheide et al. (1981) found differing lead levels in the analysis of a small (N=16 individuals) Colonial Plantation cemetery in Virginia that was extant from 1670 -1730. The cemetery contained the remains of owner/planters, white indentured servants/laborers, and slaves. The planters had bone lead content more than fivefold greater than the black and white laborers, with two exceptions. These skeletons were those of two young black females, aged 18 and 26 years respectively. Their lead content was twice that of the other laborers, despite the fact that they were considerably younger than many of the male laborers at time of death (1981:289). Since lead accumulates in bone through life, these women were ingesting marked amounts in less time than the lead being ingested by the males. Aufderhiede et al. (1981:290) suggest that the reason for this discrepancy was that they were domestic servants. As such, they had more access to the subsistence base enjoyed by the owner/planters than did the field hands; and that as servants in the big house, it seems likely that they probably eat off the same dinner ware and drinking vessels as did their owners.

While autopsy was being carried out in the 19th century and earlier, chances to examine the techniques utilized by early investigators are few and far between. Evidences of autopsy and amputation were found in a few of the excavated cemeteries to date, affording anthropologists and physicians chances to examine firsthand how this was being carried out. Some of the cemeteries yielding this information have included the Cypress Grove Cemetery in New Orleans (Owsley et al. 1990), the First African Baptist Church Cemetery in Philadelphia (Parrington and Roberts 1990, and Angel et al. 1987), and the Elko Switch Cemetery (Shogren et al. 1989:84).

The chance to examine skeletal material with advanced cases of untreated diseases is also possible with excavation of both historic and prehistoric cemeteries. While some diseases still have no cure, diseases which modern medical technology has been able to arrest or to retard now more rarely leave their marks on bone. Some of these diseases, in addition to syphilis and tuberculosis mentioned above, have been found on excavated historic skeletal material. Examples include metastatic carcinoma, found on a medieval skeleton from Canterbury, England (Anderson et al. 1992), two cases of Pagets disease (a metabolic bone disease occurring after age 40) found on medieval skeletons from England (Aaron et al. 1992), advanced iron deficiency anemia (Jeter et al. 1989:351, Rose et al 1985, Owsley et al. 1990, Shogren et al. 1989, Parrington and Roberts 1990), and rickets (Ortner and Putschar 1985:273-286).

Physical and forensic anthropologists also find that additional valuable data can be taken from historic period skeletal material. Examples of these data include examination of tooth formation rates in the interred children, and then using these as a way to not only verify the age of the interments themselves, but also use the data to derive means and ranges of tooth formation rates to use for the identification of age in modern, skeletonized forensic cases. The cemetery used in this particular study was the St. Thomas Anglican Parish Cemetery in Ontario (ca. 1821-1874) (Saunders et al. 1993).

Another cemetery population that has contributed data for forensic and bioarchaeological purposes is the First African Baptist Church Cemetery population in Philadelphia. With this cemetery population, researchers were able to utilize microscopic bone aging techniques that had been developed from largely white research populations in the past, and apply them to a black population (Ericksen and Stix 1991). These microscopic aging techniques are used in a forensic context to aid in the aging of unidentified skeletal material (Ross 1992).

The determination of the sex of a child’s skeleton can be extremely difficult, since many of the standard sexing techniques in adult material depend on the development of secondary sex characteristics in the skeleton. An unique study of skeletons from interred children from Christ Church, Spitalfields, London allowed researchers to examine identified children, of known sex and age, and note differences in the skeleton between the sexes at ages 6 months up to 11 years. New sexing techniques which were found to be accurate 70-90% of the time were developed from this 19th century historic cemetery sample (Schutkowski 1993).

It must be stressed that people of different ethnic backgrounds vary as to skeletal characteristics, tooth eruption sequences, and other developmental traits. For example, data derived from prehistoric Native American material, when applied to a 20th century white or black forensic case, would have significant deficiencies. Thus, the opportunity to gather data from as many individuals of different ethnic backgrounds as possible can add immeasurably to the knowledge base for anthropological and forensic purposes.

Cultural information and knowledge of past lifeways which can be obtained from historic cemeteries represent a treasure trove of information, which in many cases was never written down by the people practicing the mortuary treatment. In other instances, what was assumed to be the case or what was written in historic treatises has been found to be in error after historic cemeteries have been examined. For black cemeteries, excavation has been particularly illuminating.

In the First African Baptist Church Cemetery, considerable data was made available regarding early 19th century black burial practices. West African burial traditions were found to have carried over. Eight interments were found with a single coin, usually a penny, near the head. The practice of putting coins over the eyes of the dead has been recognized as a fairly standard “old fashioned” burial practice; however, in West African folk belief, death represents a journey to the spirit world and a single coin in the grave may be the fee for the spirit to return to the African homeland (Parrington and Roberts 1990:150). Six of the interments had a single shoe placed on the coffin. At first glance, the shoe can be interpreted as a help for the journey. Nevertheless, according to black folk belief, shoes also are associated with power, and they were believed to keep the devil away (Parrington and Roberts 1990:150).

Two of the interments at the First African Baptist Church Cemetery were found with ceramic plates in the coffin, resting on the stomach of the deceased. Several interpretations of this cemetery tradition exist. Almost inevitably, the association of salt being in the plate is made. One belief is that the salt was to keep the body from swelling after death. Another explanation was that the salt was to keep the devil away from the deceased. In West African tradition, this practice was to prevent the spirit of the dead from harming the living through the presence of the “energy” or “essence” of the deceased in the plate (Parrington and Roberts 1990:150-151).

Excavation of two other African American cemeteries, Elko Switch in Alabama, and Cedar Grove Cemetery in Arkansas has contributed to the data derived from the First African Baptist Church Cemetery. The former two cemeteries revealed that belief systems hinted at in the earlier First African Baptist Church Cemetery persisted in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries in at least two locations in the South. For example, the following items were found contained in the coffins of some of the interments at Cedar Grove Cemetery. A clear glass patent medicine bottle was found with a young black male interment. This may relate to a tradition where medicine bottles were placed upside down in graves with corks loosened so the medicine could soak into the grave (Rose 1985:41-42). Egg shells were found in the coffins of a 30+ year old female, a 55 year old female, a 40+ year old male, and a 10 year old child. One folk belief is that an egg should be buried with a person who has passed away mysteriously. It was believed that by the time that the eggshell cracked, the cause of death would have been determined. Eggs are also known to be used in conjuring and goiter. A bowl placed on the thoracic area containing an egg that would be surrounded by a ring of salt was often enclosed with a drowning victim. This was to keep a person’s stomach from bursting open from the water that had been ingested (Rose 1985:43). Interestingly, among the historic Navajo, there was a taboo against touching someone killed by drowning, tornadoes or by lightening. In such cases, there was no burial of the body of any type, unless a non-Navajo could be found who would agree to inter the remains (Ward 1980:8).

A fifteen month old Cedar Grove infant was found interred with a black rubber comb, and two coins. While they may have been used to keep the eyes closed, it was noted that coins were sometimes put into the ears to keep ghosts and haunts out (Rose 1985:61). Two interments, a 45+ year old female and a 30+ year old female, were found with perforated coins in the chest area. The coins may have been sewn onto garments. Rose noted that the coins were thought by blacks to ward off indigestion and also conjuration (1985:75). While a male aged 40+ years had eggshell in his coffin, a talcum powder can was also found to the right of the cranium. Talcum powder was not only used for infant care in the early 1900’s but was recommended for a number of other minor illnesses. Since it was also used by perfumeries and in face powder, it is unknown if it was actually a possession of the decedent, or inadvertently left behind by the undertaker (Rose 1985:93). A 50+ year old female had a coin in the left eye orbit, and a saucer under the left pelvis. No evidence of salt was found (Rose 1985:96).

At the contemporaneous Elko Switch Cemetery, artifacts found with the interments were quite comparable to those described above. A saucer was found in the thoracic region of Burial 7, a 40-60 year old black female. A small, clear glass bottle that was believed to be a patent medicine bottle was found in the coffin of a 9-15 month old infant. This infant also had two coins placed in the coffin. They were recovered from the thoracic area, but it is believed that they probably were originally in place over the eyes (Shogren et al. 1989: 31,183, 186). The Elko Switch Cemetery yielded 56 interments, while the excavated number of interments at the Cedar Grove Cemetery was 80. It would appear that in terms of unusual coffin artifacts, the frequency was higher at Cedar Grove.

Position of the body in the coffin is generally on the back in historic cemeteries; however, there was one instance of a prone, middle aged male interment in the First African Baptist Church Cemetery (Parrington and Roberts 1990:154). The Elko Switch Cemetery had no prone interments, but the Cedar Crove Cemetery contained the grave of one 30+ year old female who was placed face down in her coffin. She most probably was interred in a shroud (Rose 1985:59-60). Interestingly, she appeared to be a black-Native American admixture, with more Native American characteristics. But she was not the only Black-Native American interred in the cemetery, and this is an important component of the southwest Arkansas black gene pool (1990:144). Face down interments, as cited in Parrington and Roberts (1990:154), may reflect the ethnographically documented coastal Bantu trait of burying anyone thought to have supernatural powers face down, and thereby disorienting the ghost of the deceased.

Coffin morphology and hardware offer interesting status and economic reflections of the deceased and their families. These items also are excellent markers for when the interments occurred, particularly in cases when the graves are unmarked. Coffin hardware changed over the years, and coffins with glass viewing ports are also tight markers of time of interment (Bell 1990; Joseph et al. 1991; Little et al. 1992; Parrington and Roberts 1990:154; Shogren 1989:34). In the Weir Family cemetery, it appears that adult women tended to have a less elaborate burial than the adult men, despite the fact that the family was quite wealthy (Little et al. 1992:414). In an unnamed South Carolina Piedmont white family cemetery, adults were afforded more elaborate coffins than the infants, teens and children (Joseph et al. 1991:219).

At the Cedar Grove Cemetery, infants and children tended to have the least expensive coffins, while adolescents and young adults received full mortuary treatment. Middle age adults received full mortuary treatment and had the most items buried with them (jewelry, ornamental hair combs), and while the elderly received full mortuary treatment, they tended to have less jewelry and other personal possessions (Rose 1985: 135-136). At Elko Switch, the earlier interments were probably slaves, while later ones were tenant farmers. The pattern of coffin hardware usage increases with time, but this was not only because of the increased status of the people, but also that coffins became more ornate as the late 19th century progressed. In general, it seems that Elko Switch echoes Cedar Grove in that adult interments were more elaborate than subadults (Shogren et al. 1989:188).

At the earlier First African Baptist Church Cemetery, virtually all the interments were dressed in shrouds, as evidenced by copper alloy shroud pins, and some also wore very simple clothing (Parrington and Roberts 1990:156). These would be in keeping with the occupations of these individuals. An 1837 survey of black members of the church showed that 66% of the men held unskilled jobs and all of the occupations required hard physical labor. Almost 50% of the women were listed as washerwomen. Osteological analysis afforded an excellent comparative base for the wear and tear on the body that the historical documentation suggested (Parrington and Roberts 1990:160-161).

Not surprisingly, the unmarked mid-19th century poorhouse cemetery in Rochester New York contained only coffins that had no hardware at all. These coffins would be of the cheapest known construction. A total of 300 individuals were excavated from this cemetery in a salvage project (Steegmann 1991:262). It would appear that almost no mortuary ritual was followed in this case; interment, rather, was based on the necessity of removing and interring the corpse.

Another factor of cemetery arrangement which can only be noted by excavation in unmarked cemeteries is whether burials tended to cluster by ethnicity, age, sex or status. In almost every instance, some clustering of one type or another is noted. It has been observed that southern cemeteries tend to have family clusters, and tend to be compartmentalized by race, if the cemetery contains more than one family and/or racial group (Jordan 1982:31). In some unmarked cemeteries, clusterings have been observed, which may reflect family groupings (Aufderhiede 1981:285). Clusters based on age are sometimes present and while this question was not addressed in the Elko Switch Cemetery report, the Cedar Grove Cemetery displayed two separate clusters of infant graves. One was along the northwest border adjacent to the levee, and the other was in the southwest corner. However, infant interments were also scattered about the cemetery. Another noted cluster was the north central area, which had a very orderly arrangement of graves; these usually contained plaques on the coffin. It is unknown if this was a family group or possibly the work of one mortician (Rose et al. 1985:135).

In the much older Newton plantation slave cemetery in Barbados, it was noted that the number of infants and small children was greatly underrepresented in the cemetery. Historical sources about slave burial practices are limited to adult interments, and are silent about mortuary treatment of infants and children. It is clear from an archaeological standpoint that infants and small children were being interred elsewhere in large numbers. African ethnographic sources indicate that in West African cultures, small children and infants were usually buried apart from adults or their bodies were cast into the bush. Since the Newton Slave Cemetery encompasses the years 1660-1830, it is possible that disposal of infants and children usually followed West African tradition. However, not all of Newton Cemetery was excavated, and it is also possible that the infant section was not found, or another now unknown cemetery was where these younger people were buried (Corruccini 1982:455).

The analysis of human skeletal material is also useful for environmental reconstruction. As recently as October 27, 1994, the Lexington Herald Leader carried a story regarding Viking tooth enamel and the so-called Little Ice Age that occurred between A.D. 1300 and 1850. Henry C. Fricke and James R. O’Neill, University of Michigan, presented a paper at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of American that was held in Seattle. The researchers tested the teeth of Vikings uncovered in Greenland and found that the oxygen-isotope ratios did not change over time, thus confirming a cooling trend in the local environment. This particular research technique will prove valuable in measuring climatic changes that affected human populations all over the world and through time.

The Inadequacies of the Written Record

Historical document search regarding the cemetery and the people buried there should be done as intensively as possible. In many cases, the historic documentation will be inadequate, or lost for cemeteries. For example, even though an intensive historic document search and oral interviews were conducted, no record whatsoever of the Elko Switch Cemetery could be found and the identity of the interments could not be determined. A thorough deed search of the property was conducted, and all of the landowners were white; many were merchants and planters. Some of the deed records for the property indicate that slaves were conveyed along with the property. In the 1895-1924 time period, the property around the cemetery was in cultivation and probably renters or tenants lived and worked on the farm (Shogren 1989:244-247). It is possible that this cemetery began as a slave cemetery, with later interments being made by black tenants/sharecroppers. In the Rochester poorhouse cemetery, no historic documents could be located that mentioned the cemetery. A total of 300 interments were excavated, and this represented only the portion of the cemetery needed to make improvements for a park (Steegmann 1991:262). These examples, which are all too common occurrences, underscore the inadequacy of the historic record.

In Kentucky, the Department of Vital Statistics did not begin requiring that in the case of death, an official death certificate be filed with the state until 1911. Prior to that time, a few deaths were filed, but these were primarily from Louisville, Covington, and Lexington. An earlier attempt to file deaths in the state had been made by a physician in Georgetown, and at least some deaths by county had been filed in the state from 1852 until 1861. The Civil War halted this reporting. Despite the requirement in 1911 that all counties report all deaths by filing death certificates, the Department of Vital Statistics is finding that until the time of World War II, filing was still done in a haphazard fashion, particularly by authorities in the eastern Kentucky counties. As a result, even a large number of deaths after 1911 were never officially recorded (Yvonne Beam, Department of Vital Statistics, 1994: personal communication).

Combined with the fact addressed earlier that old death certificates often contain erroneous causes of death, reliance on historic documents is often ineffective. Not all people have wills, and of those who do, even fewer are ever recorded in court house will books or deed books. Dependence on old newspapers for obituaries is also risky, since many newspapers started in the 19th century have gone defunct. Also, not all citizens may have had an obituary printed for them, or the obituaries may contain inaccurate information. Minorities and short-term residents would probably be very underrepresented in older newspapers. Libraries often have an incomplete series of old newspapers, particularly the small county libraries which often depend on donated copies. In the case of Jessamine County, for example, a fire in the early 1880’s destroyed the Jessamine Journal building, and all of its back issues. Prior to that time, a number of short-lived newspapers had come and gone in that county. This is a pattern which is repeated in counties all over Kentucky.

Family Bibles and genealogies make nice adjuncts for historical research, but not all families have such materials. Church records are sometimes available for religious cemeteries, but they are only as good as the record keepers and are prone to the same problems as the obituaries. Many cemeteries, however, do not have systematic records. Certainly, the small family cemetery is the most endangered of all, particularly if the land has been sold and the family has left the area. As a result, it can be seen that historic documentation is less than complete, and unsatisfactory as a sole source of information about a cemetery.

The Inadequacy of the Transportation Cabinet’s Grave Relocation Procedures

Given the subject matter of this report, it should be clear that the Transportation Cabinet’s Grave Relocation Procedures (Official Order 92440) are not sufficient for documenting the cemetery in question or any historic cemetery which needs relocation (Appendix B). Photography of only “special or unusual monuments or anything that may become controversial” is inadequate documentation of the historic cemetery (pg 91). While hand digging is the proper way to excavate an historic grave (pg. 99) little else in this Order is adequate. The Order contains no provisions for historic document searching or oral interviews, outside of attempting to contact the next of kin. No provisions are made for archaeological examination of the cemetery area to make sure that all graves have been located. No archaeological excavation, analysis or documentation is called for. No paleopathological analysis by a competent, experienced physical anthropologist with a graduate degree in physical or forensic anthropology is required for the skeletal material, despite the fact that for unmarked graves, this is the only chance to determine at least some information about the decedent. No archaeological and ethnohistorical analysis is required by the Order for any grave goods, casket or coffin materials, or other items associated with the grave. No requirement to register the cemetery as an archaeological site is noted by the Order.

Continued utilization of only a licensed mortician for the task of grave relocation guarantees that a portion of the archaeological and historical record is being destroyed and can never be reconstructed. If Section 106 specifications are being followed by the Transportation Cabinet, then cemeteries that are over 50 years old are potentially eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places, especially under criterion “d” (Potter and Boland 1992). If cemeteries that meet this age criteria are not being recorded and adequately evaluated, this constitutes a violation of Federal law and regulation.

Headstone Studies

The literature regarding headstone studies through time, epitaphs and other above ground features of cemeteries has not been addressed here, since these are studies that can be accomplished without disturbance of the cemetery. References such as Benson (1985), and Jordan (1982) are good sources to begin with, and in a cemetery that has at least some gravestones, this component of cemetery study is necessary and very important to the overall documentation, prior to the removal of interments (see Appendix C).

Conclusions and Recommendations

We need a burial policy that is nondiscriminatory with regard to race, ethnicity, social status or time period, a policy that the Transportation Cabinet and all other state and federal agencies who have interests in the matter can support regarding the treatment of human remains that are 50 years of age or older, not simply those of the prehistoric versus historic periods. It should be obvious that it is unacceptable to advocate variable treatment plans that embrace one approach for prehistoric Native Americans, one for African-Americans, another for those of Asian descent and another for white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestants. On the other hand, if a cemetery must be disturbed due to a threat from construction activities, a great deal can be learned from the scientific study of the skeletal material and grave furniture, much of which is unavailable from any other source than direct study of the remains. Dead men do have tales to tell!

Before we begin to present our conclusions and recommendations, it is first appropriate to define some of the terms that will appear in the following narrative. These definitions are as follows unless otherwise indicated:

Autopsy Samples – Any human bone or other tissue that has been removed from a collection of human remains that has been shown to possess significant scientific value. This autopsy sample may consist of the entire skeleton and other related tissue, if preserved.

Human Remains – Any part of the body of a deceased person in any stage of decomposition, including skeletal material.

Burial Artifact – Any cultural material, including but not limited to, whole or broken ceramic, metal or glass vessels, chipped stone tools, ground stone tools, worked bone and shell objects, clothing, medals, buttons, rings, jewelry, firearms, edged weapons, and the casket and parts thereof, that were demonstratively buried with an individual or the structure created to house the body.

Cemetery – A place used for or to be used for human burials. The fact that any tract of land has been set aside for burial purposes, even if it has never been officially registered as a cemetery, or that a part or all of the grounds have been used for burial purposes, shall be evidence that such grounds were set aside for prehistoric or historic burial purposes. The fact that graves are not visible on any part of the grounds shall not be construed as evidence that such grounds were not set aside and used for burial purposes.

Human Skeletal Analyst – A person who possesses a graduate degree in physical anthropology, or forensic anthropology and satisfies the following criteria:

A. Three (3) years of supervisory experience in anthropology, paleopathology, physical anthropology or a closely related field where the principal focus of professional study has been the recovery, evaluation, analysis, and curation of artifacts, materials and information, burial objects and human remains discovered in prehistoric or historic burial ground sites, and whose professional work has resulted in the study of human osteology and paleopathology. This work shall include cranial, postcranial, and dental analysis, and destructive and non-destructive testing of human skeletal remains, as well as laboratory reconstruction of the remains, including the differentiation of physical characteristics denoting cultural or biological affinity, and designed and executed a skeletal analysis, and presented the written results and interpretations of the analysis in a research-oriented monograph or dissertation.


B. Accreditation by the Forensic Anthropology Section of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences.

Proposed Policy for the Treatment of Human Remains

The policy that is proposed below is not new. A slightly different version was proposed nearly seven years ago (Niquette 1987) but failed to gain the support of the archeological community. Nevertheless, times have changed and significant federal legislation has been passed in the interim. The latter, especially the Native American Graves and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), profoundly effects the treatment of and ultimate disposition of Native American skeletal material and associated burial artifacts. Members of the archeological community must realize and respect the fact that our “data base” is ours only so long as we negotiate with those who have conflicting points of view, communicate the importance of the studies we undertake in a well reasoned, articulate manner, and ultimately be prepared for the reinterment of nearly all human skeletal material that we have the privilege of studying. It is my hope that we can create a synthetic, consensus of opinion with regard to a cohesive, defensible burial policy that we all can support. Hopefully, the proposed policy presented below will be a step in this direction.

  1. Human remains and burial artifacts should not be destroyed by land development and land-use activities, or by vandalism. Where development will destroy them if they are not relocated out of harm’s way, and in instances where they cannot be protected from vandalism or natural forces, they should be exhumed in a dignified manner in accordance with archeological methods, and treated as discussed below.
  2. Human remains and burial artifacts should be treated in a manner that balances their cultural and religious importance in the eyes of contemporary people with their significance in contemporary and predictable future research.
  3. Programs for the treatment of human remains and burial artifacts should be developed in consultation with persons or groups that share kinship or cultural/biological affiliation.
  4. As a rule:
  1. (a) human remains and burial artifacts having demonstrated religious significance of such magnitude that their analysis would impose an unconstitutional burden on the free exercise of religion by their descendants, or those whose descendants demand it, should be reinterred in accordance with their wishes, without analysis;

    (b) human remains and burial artifacts having demonstrated extreme significance in contemporary or predictable future research should not be reinterred until their research significance has been exhausted, may be retained for analysis in perpetuity, and may be subjected to analysis that partially destroys of modifies them (e.g., radiocarbon dating of bone collagen); and,

    ( c ) human remains and burial artifacts of lesser research significance should be subjected to such analysis as their significance dictates, and then should be reinterred in accordance with State or local law and/or the wishes of the next-of-kin or the wishes of the recognized group that shares kinship or cultural/biological affiliation with the deceased.

Phase One Data Recording Procedures for Historic Cemeteries

It is apparent that all cemeteries are significant places, but the information contained in any group of family plots might be highly variable. Until we have excavated a few examples, we still do not have the basic foundation necessary to decide which cemeteries should be excavated using archeological techniques versus those that should be moved in a manner similar to the Transportation Cabinet’s current procedures. Therefore, I have taken this opportunity to outline a recommended approach to be followed at the phase one and phase two levels when historic cemeteries are encountered along proposed highway alternate rights-of-way. My recommendations are outlined below:

At the phase one level, historic cemeteries are likely to be encountered along more than one of the proposed alternate highway alignments. At this stage, an historic cemetery is little more than yet another historic site type. As such, a site number should be assigned to the site and it should be recorded in detail. This includes a physical description of the site size, a map showing the cemetery layout, the recording of all legible inscriptions and notations regarding motifs that may be present, etc. (see Appendix D). Headstones and footstones should be thoroughly photographed and, if the lettering and/or designs are weathered, gravestone rubbings should be done in an effort to document the headstone as thoroughly as possible. Informant data that may be available concerning the age and origins of especially unmarked or poorly marked cemeteries should be reported at the phase one level.

Phase Two National Register Evaluation of Historic Cemeteries

Once a preferred alignment has been selected, if one or more cemeteries are present in the right-of-way, these historic sites should be evaluated to determine whether they meet the National Register criteria. The first step in this evaluation process is to complete a thorough search of the historic record, archival research and more detailed informant interviews than were completed at the phase one level. The results of this research should allow the cemetery’s historic context to be developed. This context then becomes the pivotal vehicle by which a recommendation might be made with regard to future research.

The Contractor should be expected to contact the cemetery’s administrator, caretaker and/or next of kin at the phase two level. With the permission of those with authority over the cemetery, or in instances where no one with authority or control over the cemetery can be found, phase two field work should be initiated.

The phase two field work might include remote sensing but this technique will only reveal where the grave shafts are located, not necessarily what is interred at that location. While resistivity, conductivity, proton magnetometer surveys and ground penetrating radar have been employed to locate burial shafts in cemeteries, each has its share of pitfalls and problems (Bense 1989; King et al. 1993). Soil type, underlying bedrock, metal fences in the immediate vicinity and ground moisture all cause problems (Judy Bense 1994, personal communication). Mechanical stripping of the topsoil to locate grave shafts is one of the best ways to approach the problem of seeking to confirm that all interments have been found in unmarked or partially unmarked cemeteries.

It is my opinion that graves that contain no human skeletal material or far less significant under criterion d than are those burial plots that exhibit well preserved human bone. Therefore, phase two field work should consist of documenting the number of graves present and then little more than the coring of a sample of the graveshafts present. The approach recommended here is to use an Oakfield probe or a bucket auger. If no bone is recovered from the graves, then the site should not be considered for further archeological research and should be moved in a manner consistent with the Cabinet’s current procedures. If bone is recovered, then a mitigation plan should be prepared than includes the cemetery’s context and that elucidates the research questions to be answered through archeological recovery of the human remains that are present. The phase three data recovery plan should then be presented to an Advisory Committee for the Treatment of Human Remains.

Advisory Committee for the Treatment of Human Remains

It will be apparent to even the most casual of readers that the proposed policy present above still requires decision making on a case-by-case basis. It is recommended that the Transportation Cabinet consult with the Kentucky Heritage Council and discuss the formation of an Advisory Committee for the Treatment of Human Remains. The constituents of such a committee might include a diverse mixture of scientists and lay people from equally diverse ethnic backgrounds. If and when cemetery is encountered in a highway right of way, and where no one with authority or control over the cemetery could be found, or when the descendants of the deceased grant permission for scientific study, the Committee could entertain a proposal for scientific study and render a decision regarding the appropriateness of such a study. Once a given study has been completed, the same Committee should hear arguments regarding the ultimate disposition of the human remains recovered should there arise any disagreement over the relative significance of said remains. The Committee should hear arguments regarding the future treatment and ultimate disposition of the human skeletal material and associated grave goods for all cemeteries, not just historic cemeteries. The Committee’s decisions should then be the final word in any specific case under review.

Phase Three Guidelines for the Archeological Excavation of Historic Cemeteries

The following guidelines should be a component of any historic cemetery mitigation plan developed in consultation with the Transportation Cabinet, Federal Highway Administration, the Kentucky Heritage Council, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, and the proposed Advisory Committee for the Treatment of Human Remains.

  • A. The field director, one or more archaeological photographers, and the human skeletal analyst need to be onsite at the time of disinterment. A photographer should be assigned to only one interment at a time. This person may also share in the record keeping responsibilities of the disinterment, at the discretion of the field director. The human skeletal analyst should be assigned to no more than three concurrent exhumations on site. The human skeletal analyst will confirm presence or absence of human remains in the grave shaft, and will conduct preliminary field analysis of the remains, prior to removal to the lab. A field burial form will be filled out by the human skeletal analyst at time of disinterment. An detailed overall cemetery site map will be drawn, with the aid of the transit, noting locations of all graves, and other features in or related to the cemetery.
  • B. Headstones, footstones, and other ground level grave furnishings, if any, should be photographed in place, before removal, with precise photo logs kept of the sequence of pictures taken. It is recommended that at a minimum, one roll each of black and white film, and one roll of slide film be utilized to document each interment, from the beginning of grave removal. Color print film may be utilized in a third camera at the discretion of the field director. If lettering or other features of the headstones are eroded or faded, rubbings should be done of the headstone. If there is doubt regarding the outcome of legibility of the headstones on film, rubbings should be done.
  • C. Once the graveshaft is exposed, excavation will commence and at the point that a coffin, or the human remains become visible, photographic documentation of the disinterment will be conducted. Excavation of the human remains will be done under the direction of the human skeletal analyst and the field director, by archaeological personnel experienced in the excavation of human remains. Burial artifacts and the human remains will be piece plotted, and a detailed burial map will be produced. The human skeletal analyst will conduct preliminary measurements of any skeletal material, so that if removal of fragile remains causes unavoidable damage, the data will have been recorded.
  • D. The headstones, footstones, and other associated ground level grave furniture will be tagged with the personal identity or burial number of the decedent and housed in a safe location until reinterment of the human remains.
  • E. The burial artifacts and the human remains shall be taken to an approved laboratory facility for thorough photodocumentation (black and white, and slide film at a minimum), and analysis. Human remains will be reconstructed, examined and recorded by the human skeletal analyst and experienced personnel reporting to him or her. Features of the skeletal analysis which will always be conducted will include an examination of the dentition, consisting of measurements, attrition, pathologies, trauma, premortem modifications, and nonmetric genetic traits. If reinterment of the remains will occur, at the discretion of the human skeletal analyst, castings could be made. For the cranial and postcranial material, an analysis of the remains for an overall biological assessment of growth, pathologies, trauma, sex, postmortem modifications, nonmetric genetic traits, and measurements will be done. If the human remains are to be reinterred, autopsy samples will be removed and curated in accordance with the agreed scope of work and with the approval of Advisory Council for the Treatment of Human Remains. If the scope of work calls for the following tests, samples will be taken at this stage: destructive analysis to determine the age of the interment (Carbon 14 or other technique), bone histology for the purposes of determining age at death, or to document pathology, trauma or genetic traits, isotope or trace element analysis, including radiological analyses. The burial artifacts will be stabilized, analyzed, and recorded by experienced historical archaeologists, with every effort made to identify the maker of coffin hardware, and other commercially manufactured artifacts. Artifacts will be curated, unless the scope of work calls for reinterment of some or all of the artifacts on an individual burial by burial basis. It is strongly recommended that for historic interments, at least one example of each type of coffin hardware, including components of the construction process and wood samples be retained for curation as a comparative sample. Extreme care should be taken that all artifacts and human remains that will be reinterred be photographed extensively with black and white, color print and slide film.
  • F. A detailed report, written in accordance with Kentucky Heritage Council guidelines will be the responsibility of the Principal Investigator with appropriate contributions made by his or her staff.
  • G. The curated materials, including field notes, maps, pictures, negatives, burial artifacts, and human remains will be prepared and packed in acid free paper and placed in approved curation boxes.
  • H. Human remains slated to be reinterred should be placed in approved burial grounds as close to the original location as possible, unless the next of kin or the recognized group that shares kinship or cultural/biological affiliation requests they be interred elsewhere and the human remains are claimed in a timely manner. Headstones and other associated above ground grave articles should be replaced, if at all possible. If not, and the person is identified, an approved marker will be placed on the reinterred grave, with all demographic information from the original stone carved on it. Reburial caskets, if the original cannot be reused, should be of an approved design, and in keeping with the dignity of the human remains they contain. The precise location of each interment, whether identified by number or by a name will be placed on a map and curated. All burials, if placed in a cemetery with records maintained, will be registered by name, or burial number, date of birth and death, if known. Unknowns shall have age, sex, and ethnic affiliation recorded. All interments shall have the name or location of the burial ground they were exhumed from recorded in the cemetery record, as well as date of reinterment.

Site Specific Recommendations for the Adair County Cemetery

Given all that has been said about the treatment and value of historic cemeteries as important sources of information when such sites are treated as archeological sites, it seems appropriate to re-examine Creasman’s (1993) recommendations regarding the cemetery located on the Elbert Pennington Farm in Adair County. First, we think that a site form should be completed and that a site number should be assigned to the site by the Office of State Archeology. Secondly, additional field work should be completed to determine whether or not the site meets the minimum criteria for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places, particularly criterion “d.” The phase two field work will need to document the number of graves present and should be completed in a manner as described above.


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