Human remains from forgotten grave found at Arts in the Heart

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September 19, 2006

City officials say human remains found at this weekend's Arts in the Heart festival could date back to days of slavery.

Old graves can be anywhere, from cemeteries to the ground beneath the sidewalk.

The city used graveyard dirt to fill in potholes at the festival, and that dirt contained human bones.

Most of Augusta's burial records start in the late 1800s, meaning many older gravesites extend past cemetery walls.

Invisible graves that date back to the time of slavery could be right under your feet.

Assistant Director of Trees and Landscaping Derek Vanover says sometimes digging new graves uncovers old ones.

"There's a lot of history in that cemetery and a lot has gone through it...but it's unfortunate we don't know where everything is," he told News 12.

Remains can be in the dirt cemetery workers dig up for new graves.

And the extra dirt from new graves can be used anytime the city needs it.

The city tries to check all the dirt before it is used, because what looks like rocks and sticks sometimes turns out to be something else.

Parts of a spinal column, shoulder, and jawbone ended up in a pothole at this weekend's festival.

It's a different story at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Augusta's oldest cemetery.

Rev. Richard Sanders needs experts to maintain the gravesites of the Revolutionary War heroes, especially since the Flood of 1929 wiped out most written burial records.

"Many of the stones and folks buried here are almost unknown," Rev. Sanders said. "They've been covered up by floodwaters that came in, and the dirt piles up."

Vanover hopes to get the city's cemeteries into similar condition to St. Paul's, so he's trying to map out every place they find bones to give everyone a proper burial.

"This is a work in progress," he said. "We've been working on it for many years to put the puzzle together, to build the map."

The city is looking through dirt at Westview and Cedar Grove cemeteries, where the dirt likely came from, to see if there are other remains.

News 12 turned over the bone we found this afternoon.

The city plans to give the bones a proper burial in the next few days.

The database Vanover mentioned will keep an electronic record every time remains are found. Workers will be able to bring up any gravesite on the computer, and the database will tell them if bones have been found in that location.