September 26, 2019

Media Advisory — SIU archaeologists set to search for ‘lost’ cemetery

Southern Illinois University Carbondale anthropology professor Mark Wagner on Friday afternoon will lead a group of students in search of a “lost” cemetery on campus grounds.

Reporters, photographers and news crews are welcome to cover the work that will take place from 1-4 p.m. in a relatively remote area of campus. To reach the site, head west on Pleasant Hill Road past McClafferty Road. You will pass Union Hill Road and a small bridge for a creek.  The road will be on the right. 

Wagner, who is the director of SIU’s Center for Archaeological Investigations, is taking a class of about a dozen students to dig a larger excavation on a wooded hill on the agricultural farm west of McLafferty Road.

Wagner and colleague Ryan Campbell, adjunct assistant professor, believe there’s a long sought-after cemetery, which holds more than 100 recorded graves.

A great day would be one that stops abruptly.

“What we are going to be doing this Friday is to test excavate one or more of those anomalies and see if it is a grave feature or not,” Wagner said. “If it is, the state burial laws come into effect and we have to stop work and notify the county coroner and the state archaeologist that we have discovered previously unknown human remains on the SIUC campus. We are not allowed to proceed further or remove the remains without their permission, which they almost certainly will not grant. No one knows where this cemetery is — but we think we know now.”

The goal is to teach the students about the state burial laws and how archaeologists locate features (burials) below the ground by using remote-sensing equipment. Students will get to experience the whole process (having the coroner and state archaeologist arrive, etc.) if the group discovers human remains.

Wagner is teaching a class this semester on cultural resource management (CRM) or applied archaeology. He has students do exercises on the SIUC campus such as how to survey for archaeological sites, which is a skill they will need if they work for an agency or private company after graduation.