ATHENS, Ga. — Construction workers got an unexpected surprise at the University of Georgia’s (UGA) Baldwin Hall construction site on Nov. 17 when they discovered the remains of several gravesites from Old Athens Cemetery.
Construction began on the renovation to the historic academic hall in December 2014. The 1930s-era building served as a training space for approximately 20,000 U.S. Navy cadets during World War II, and was in need of a major renovation. The $8.75 million construction project was going according to plan until one crewmember uncovered part of a human skull while tearing up a parking lot blacktop. Work was halted as the team spent several weeks digging up other sets of bones that were identified as having belonged to 27 different people.
Per state guidelines, the construction crew notified UGA Police and the State Historic Preservation Office immediately as well as the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the county coroner, who determined it was not a crime scene and that the decomposed remains were significantly older. The case was then turned over to the State Historic Preservation Office.
Baldwin Hall is adjacent to the south of Old Athens Cemetery, built in 1938, and an expansion was completed in the mid-1940s. University planners believed that when Baldwin Hall was built, all the remains on the site had been removed and transferred to Oconee Hill Cemetery, based on historical records.
University officials, who expected renovations to be completed by September 2016, suspended construction and formally acknowledged the incident in a statement released Dec. 11.
According to state law, the removal of the remains is up to the landowner and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources because it was not a crime scene and an archaeologist determined that the remains were not those of Native Americans, according to the statement. The state archaeologist requested that the remains be removed and re-interred elsewhere since land above the inadvertently discovered gravesites had been disturbed. UGA officials are working with the State Archaeologist’s Office to determine the most appropriate location for reburial.
Based on a visual inspection by Southeastern Archaeological Services Inc., the consultant hired to assist the university with this matter, the remains are believed to be of people of European descent. UGA anthropology students are assisting in the exhumation process.