Southeast Archaeological Center

Human Remain Detection Dogs Help to Identify Unmarked Graves in an African American Cemetery

Since its creation, the  Florida Public Archaeology Network’s North Central Region office, located in Tallahassee, has worked hard to assist local organizations that are working on various preservation projects in the region. The most recent of which involves a historic African American cemetery located in Tallahassee, Florida. The Munree Cemetery, as it is known, was established in the late 1800s to early 1900s. It is associated with the Welaunee and Monreif plantations of Tallahassee. The cemetery contains at least 250 burials, the majority of which are unmarked. Since 2009 a group of concerned citizens have been working with county and city officials to protect and preserve this historic site. The citizens established a non-profit organization, The Munree Cemetery Foundation, Inc. as part of this effort. In early 2012 this group contacted the Southeast Archaeological Center asking if there were any archaeologists that would be interested in assisting them. The Southeast Archaeological Center contacted the North Central FPAN office. Since that time the Southeast Archaeological Center and the North Central FPAN office have partnered with the local citizens to work on having the cemetery properly documented. This opportunity is being used to create awareness within the community of the importance of historic cemeteries and how to properly maintain and protect them. After all, cemeteries are a non-renewable resource – once they are gone, they are gone for ever! And when a cemetery is abandoned and disappears over time, the priceless information that cemetery provides to archaeologists and historians is lost forever as well. Burials are not only a reflection of those buried there, but also of the community and the cultural practices of those that were present at the internment of those buried.

On June 29th and June 30th  a team of archaeologists from both organizations and volunteers from the Munree Cemetery Foundation, Inc. will take two days to document the cemetery and conduct some much needed maintenance. The Southeast Archaeological Center is generously providing use of their GPR equipment to assist with this effort. On June 30th the volunteers and local citizens will have the opportunity to get some hands on experience using the GPR. The group will also take this opportunity to learn how to safely and properly clean cemetery monuments using D-2 Biological Solution and learn how to document sites using the Florida Master Site File cemetery form. In addition to using these more common methods of cemetery documentation, a unique opportunity has been presented. On June 29th, which happens to be the 2012 Day of Archaeology, we will utilize specially trained Human Remains Detection (HRD) canines to help identify unmarked burials. After several months of planning, three dog handlers and their specially trained dogs will be assisting in identifying the boundaries of this cemetery and will also help to identify the locations of unmarked graves. This information will be compared with the results of the GPR survey. The public is  invited out to the cemetery while the dogs and archaeologists are conducting their survey. Of course, we all will take time to answer questions and educate visitors about the importance of protecting historic cemeteries.

Tomorrow we will post another blog about this project! We will also be live tweeting, look for the hash tags #Munree and #Dayofarch!