What was simply a home project to dig a trench to repair flood damaged has led to a major archaeological find… once again proving why doing your chores is a fruitless endeavor.On September 1st, police were called into the Bellevue neighborhood to find that one of the residents had uncovered a prehistoric burial ground dating to approximately 500 to 1,000 years old. They were found in limestone slab coffins. The owner has been notified that there is likely a cemetery in his backyard. Analysis will continue to figure out the number of burials and overall size of the cemetery. The identity of the bones was stated as Native American, however full analysis has yet to be completed (Gee 2010).
While cemeteries are extremely important and carry great symbolic meaning to many, they can also be forgotten or lost. Unlike the mass burials from plagues or war, cemeteries are created for memorial and remembrance. Our ability to ‘misplace’ them as a society is quite amazing given the effort that goes into their creation. Coffins can collapse, causing grave markers to sink which can erase the visible portion of the grave. Other problems include shifting roads, which can cause a cemetery that was once on a main road to have no access. Lack of funds, movement of families, lost public records can all lead to cemeteries being slowly forgotten. This leads to surprises when construction begins.
Tennessee in particular seems to have bad luck with uncovering cemeteries during construction. With the overlap of Native American burials and Civil War sites there were a lot of cemeteries, and likely a community that hoped to forget the past. In the early 20th century, expansion often led to the removal of headstones without relocation. Luckily, construction teams are now required by law to stop, and burial relocation is undertaken. For more about the missing graves of Tennessee see Graevey (2010).
Personally I think cemeteries are wonderful places where we can reconnect with our local past. And if you really need to develop the area, why not just build the parking lot around the site. I hear cemeteries make a great discussion piece outside of the local Walmart (see Treat 2010)
Graevey. 2010. Gone and Forgotten. http://acrosstennessee.com/2010/08/goneandforgotte/
Gee, B. 2010. Bellevue Resident making flood repairs finds Native American burial. http://www.tennessean.com/article/20100908/NEWS01/9080368/Bellevue-resident-making-flood-repairs-finds-Native-American-bones
Treat. 2010. Paved Paradise. http://www.roadsideresort.com/blog/paved-paradise-cemeteries-in-parking-lots