Hired Expert To Excavate Area
Discovers Evidence Of Grave At Emmet Street Parking Garage Site
June 15, 2002-- On Friday,
archaeologist Benjamin Ford, who the University of Virginia hired
to excavate a suspected 19th-century grave shaft on the
site of a planned U.Va. parking garage, unearthed what he believes
are the remnants of a coffin.
thin layer at a time, Ford and two colleagues performed a detailed,
day-long excavation, shaving the soil with mason's trowels and carefully
sifting through the hard red clay for artifacts. Six hours into
their work, they found the first nail, which was followed by four
more, and finally part of a coffin handle with wood fragments attached.
officials, who announced the findings Friday evening, will decide
what steps to take after receiving Ford's final report, due to be
completed within the next two weeks, and consulting with the state's
Department of Historic Resources.
the principal in Rivanna Archaeological Consulting, was hired to
begin exploration of the site as part of pre-construction procedures.
On June 5, he found one hand-cut nail attached to wood fragments
that suggested the possibility of a casket. The shape of the site
what he called a typical grave shaft further indicated
his preliminary report written Friday evening, Ford wrote:
A total of five nails and nail fragments were recovered from the
grave shaft unit. Three of these nails are machine cut, suggesting
a 19th-century date of manufacture and use.
least three of the nails recovered appear to have small wood fragments
adhered to them, most likely through oxidation. Another significant
artifact recovered from the grave shaft unit is what appears to
be a coffin handle. This is a U-shaped piece of iron rod that also
appears to have small fragments of wood oxidized onto it where it
would have been attached to a coffin.
recognizable human remains were recovered from the archaeological
investigations. Despite this, it is possible that some human remains,
if preserved, may still be in the grave shaft."
chances of finding human remains were slight, but not impossible,
he said, due to the density and high acidity of Albemarle clay.
"This kind of earth does not preserve things well," Ford
noted that the addition of the coffin handle "was strong evidence
for the presence of a human burial present within the grave shaft."
He also said that it was the standard on which DHR makes its recommendations.
"If a coffin is found, then DHR presumes that the grave contained
a human burial."
W. Sandridge, U.Va. vice president and chief operating officer,
said that the University will work through the proper channels in
assessing all options. "We plan to review Mr. Fords report
and work closely with the state Department of Historic Resources
in deciding the appropriate next steps."
regulations and state law provide that if human remains are found,
they can be removed and reinterred under certain circumstances.
a section of the property was designated as a cemetery in an 1895
deed, a 1954 deed later stated that the parcel had never been used
for burial purposes. The University, which purchased the 7.2-acre
site in 1983, chose to excavate the site as a precaution.
grave shaft is located at the back of the property, along the north
edge of the garages proposed footprint, close to the railroad
tracks. Construction of the 1,200-car garage along the railroad
tracks near Ivy Road and Emmet Street has been scheduled to begin
in late July.
Carol Wood, (434) 924-6189