A grave unearthed near Charlottesville, Va., by a University of Virginia archeologist has kept alive a local legend that the site is a cemetery for Revolutionary War Prisoners.
On the strength of that legend and some early 19th century artifacts uncovered during previous excavations, a circuit court has blocked property owner Charles Hurt from including the wooded lot as part of a suburban development.
Now Stephen Plog, assistant professor of anthropology at the university, has found had-wrough nails from the coffin that was typical of those used during the Revolutionary War period.
The grave, located beside a large field stone where, according to legend, Hessian mercenaries were buried, held leg bones, teeth and hair, said Plog.
From the skelton it was clear the body was that of an adult deteriorated to determine the sex of the corpse, Plog said.
Because of the high acidity of the soil no trace was left of clothing and the coffin had disintergrated, leaving a black-stained outline against the red clay soil.
Plog said he would excavate another site shortly and may use sophisticated dating techniques to try to fix the period of any grave found.
Circuit Court Judge David F. Berry had stated in a Nov. 1 court order that he would permit the excavations in an effort to determine whether the site was in fact a Hessian cemetery. If the site proved to be of "historical significance," Berry said he would not permit the bodies to removed and development would be blocked permanently.
Although Plog said he is not yet convinced it is a Hessian cemetery, he is sure that it is of sufficient historical significance to warrant preservation.
"Maybe it goes back 250 years. A cemetery like this has the potential of yielding information about that period of time. We don't have a lot of information on burial customs, nutrition, and pathology that you could pick up from such a cemetery," he said.
Plog said he is hoping future excavations may yield buttons, coins or uniforms that would answer once and for all whether the site is a Hessian cemetery. Plog was helped by 15 students in the recent dig.
Because the court order does not permit him to remove the the bodies, the grave uncovered over the weekend remains open, the crumbling bones exposed to the elements, he said.
There are perhaps as many as 200 graves at the site, judging from the depressions in the earth and the scattered head and foot stones, according to Ploy.
Developer Hurt has said that he does not believe the site is a Hessian cemetery, that retarding progress on the basis of an unsubstantiated legend is "ridiculous."