Excavation begins at Navarro County slave cemetery

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by CRAIG CIVALE

WFAA

Posted on December 13, 2011 at 10:59 PM

Updated Thursday, Dec 5 at 4:53 AM

Richland-Chambers Reservoir

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EUREKA, Texas — Digging has begun at the site of a Navarro County cemetery that has been hidden for more than a century.

Archaeologists started to unearth the graves, which are believed to have been buried at the current site of the Richland Chambers Reservoir.

Last summer's drought dropped the water levels so dramatically that skeletal remains were found on the newly exposed beach. The remains appear to be those of infants and young children.

A team of archaeologists plan on spending the next month removing the remains and transferring them to a cemetery.

"When you find a whole cemetery of babies, infants and kids, it's very poignant... makes you realize that life was very tough here in Texas in the frontier," said project manager Dr. Nick Trierweiler.

The group has identified 25 graves, buried in a horseshoe shape along the exposed beach.

Removing them is a very slow, monotonous job. Workers use shovels, paint brushes and small wooden tools to delicately remove the dirt that has hidden the bones for more than 100 years.

In that dirt, archaeologists have found clues to help identify the people who were buried there,  like the square-off nails that were used to build the caskets.

"People use cut nails in the 19th century; round nails started being produced in the 1880s," said archaeologist Rachel Feit.

They have also recovered lead bullets, like bird shot, in one grave. A button, likely from an infant's clothing, was found in another.

The remains will be removed from the beach and placed in storage while it's decided where they will end up.

The Tarrant County Water District, which oversees the dig, is at odds with the Navarro County Historical Society over where the remains should be transferred.

Either way, the unmarked graves will be removed from where nature has hidden them for more than a century.

"I think it deserves a lot of respect and a lot of care, so we're taking the time," said archaeologist Amanda Murphy.

E-mail ccivale@wfaa.com

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