The project will exhume thousands of bodies buried on the campus of the University Medical Center

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By Gracyn Gordon

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JACKSON, Mississippi (WAPT) – Bodies will be exhumed this month in an area of ​​the University of Mississippi Medical Center that was once the state hospital for the insane.

As part of the years-long Asylum Hill Project, a team of archaeologists will begin the exhumation process on a 4-acre section of land on the UMMC campus. The trees have been felled and now the area has been cleared and a fence is being erected.

“Excavating the graves is going to be a very long and delicate process,” said lead bioarchaeologist Dr. Jennifer Mack. “The soils here are not conducive to preservation, so we have to be very careful.”

More than 10,000 people who once resided at the state hospital that operated for 80 years have died while being cared for by the facility. Those who remained on campus were never claimed.

“It’s really important to this project that all of these excavations be done in the most respectful way possible,” Mack said. “We have many direct descendants involved in our research on Asylum Hill, and we have promised them that this whole process will be respectful.”

Mack said the rows of graves are orderly and neat.

“The markers were wooden. I think they were maybe about 2ft tall, just with the names painted on them, so pretty simple, but there was definitely effort to keep track of who was buried where,” Mack said. “The wooden markers don’t survive well, especially in Mississippi weather, so they deteriorated over time.”

The entire cemetery spans nearly 12 acres on the UMMC campus. Roadbuilding recovered the first grave in 2012. A list of asylum patients who were buried in the cemetery between 1912 and 1935 is available; but, without markers, no one knows exactly where everyone is.

Originally named Mississippi State Lunatic Asylum, the institution served approximately 30,000 patients between 1855 and 1935. Once the remains are discovered, scientists will gather as many details as possible in hopes of identifying them. Mack said that due to the degradation of the remains, DNA analysis is sometimes impossible.

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