Archaeologists are working to find potential gravesites on Montpelier
Recent discoveries indicate the cemetery is larger than previously believed
ORANGE COUNTY, Va. (WVIR) -
Archaeologists at James Madison’s Montpelier are using surveying technology to scan for potential gravesites of people who were enslaved on the site.
Montpelier says the Madison's owned more than 100 slaves according to its records, and this could be where most of them are buried.
For years, archaeologists thought the slave cemetery just down the hill from the visitor's center had about 38 graves.
But recent discoveries show the cemetery is likely 10 times larger than that.
A team of archaeologists from Louisiana is using ground-penetrating radar to find graves that may contain members of the enslaved community.
The radar sends electromagnetic signals into the ground, which then sends back any disturbances in the soil.
If anomalies are found in the scan, the team will do minimum testing using remote sensing to see whether or not a grave is present.
Team members will use this type of testing to make sure they're not disturbing any remains in the cemetery.
“What makes this the most exciting is the chance to work with the descendant community on this project because, really, this is sacred space, it's the one space where they can come and visit their ancestors,” Matthew Reeves, the director of archaeology and landscape restoration at Montpelier, said.
Montpelier believes 200-plus burials could be in the area, which is partly covered by forest and fields.
Archaeologists say prior to doing any surveying, there was neither oral history nor previous knowledge of the cemetery’s existence.
The archaeologists will finish surveying the grounds by Friday, December 7, and they’ll process the data over the next two weeks.
Montpelier hopes to have results after Christmas, and it plans to meet with descendants of the enslaved community in January to present the findings.