Stackelbeck said the remains, which may be from one person and possibly a second person, were found “three feet below the ground surface. … We don’t have a lot of details. It’s a work in progress.”
The scientists are in the process of analyzing the remains in the location where they were found and will look for signs of trauma. “There is no intention of exhumation,” Stackelbeck said. “Once the team has an opportunity to examine the material, it will be going back in the ground.”
Oaklawn Cemetery is blocks from Greenwood, the all-Black community destroyed a century ago in a rampage historians say may have left as many as 300 Black people dead and 10,000 homeless. It was one of the worst episodes of racial violence in U.S. history.
While the first search for mass graves at the cemetery was unsuccessful, the new excavation focuses on a location called “the Original 18 Site,” where officials say they believe the bodies of 18 Black people were buried after the massacre.
Records show that a White-owned funeral home sent a bill to the County of Tulsa in June 1921 for burials of “18 Negroes,” according to Betsy Warner, a research historian working with the Mass Graves Oversight Committee. Funeral home records and other documents from 1921 show that at least 18 identified and unidentified Black massacre victims were buried in an unmarked grave in Oaklawn.
The remains found Tuesday were discovered near the headstones of Reuben Everett and Eddie Lockard, the only known marked graves of massacre victims in the cemetery.
This week, scientists also used core sampling to search a second location called “the Clyde Eddy site, located in the southwest section of the cemetery,” according to city officials. “As a 10-year-old, Mr. Eddy witnessed the burial of massacre victims at Oaklawn.”
Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum (R) said in a statement Tuesday that the city will continue the investigation wherever it may lead.
Last year, archaeologists and forensic anthropologists armed with ground-penetrating radar combed the grounds of Oaklawn Cemetery, looking for anomalies that might be consistent with mass graves.
In December 2019, the scientists announced they had found some. Delayed by the pandemic, the city began its first excavation in July. A week later, the team announced it had found no human remains but decided it would expand the search to other parts of Oaklawn and other sites in Tulsa.
Those sites include an area called the “the Canes,” near where the Interstate 244 bridge crosses the Arkansas River. The city said it also reached an agreement to investigate a third site, Rolling Oaks Memorial Gardens.
As Tulsa prepares to mark the 100th anniversary of the massacre next year, Bynum said the city is obligated to find out what happened in 1921.
“If you get murdered in Tulsa, we have a contract with you that we will do everything we can to find out what happened and render justice,” Bynum said. “That’s why we are treating this as a homicide investigation for Tulsans who we believe were murdered in 1921.”
Phoebe Stubblefield, a forensic anthropologist from the University of Florida who specializes in human remains identification, said during a Mass Graves Oversight meeting in September that scientists have the capacity to test for ancestry, sex and cause of death without moving the remains.
“We can clean them enough to document trauma,” Stubblefield said. “We can determine sex and approximate age. We will try to bring clarity to the unknown, unmarked burials. If there are signs of trauma and gunshot wounds, that will give us circumstantial evidence these are the individuals we are interested in.”
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