Archeologist Ben Ford points to the newly discovered gravesite, which was "lost in memory and time," he said.
Two of the discovered graves had the remnants of marble headstones.
As novelist William Kennedy's main character in his novel Ironweed–- cemetery worker Francis Phelan–- observes, "the dead, even more than the living, settled down in neighborhoods."
Sadly, the recent discovery of a gravesite just outside the walls of the University of Virginia Cemetery reveals that some dead weren't even afforded a neighborhood in the afterlife.
At a Friday afternoon press conference, on the far north side of the over 180-year old resting place of renowned faculty, Civil War casualties (and even two beloved dogs, one a UVA mascot, buried just beyond the walls), UVA officials revealed that 30 unidentified graves have been found on the site of a proposed Cemetery expansion.
"In old times," according to a read-aloud excerpt from a 1898 UVA Alumni Bulletin, "the University servants were buried on the north side of the cemetery, just outside the wall."
"These were likely slaves or free blacks connected to the University," said UVA vice provost for faculty recruitment and retention Gertrude Fraser, who was joined at the November 2 event by archeologist Benjamin Ford and other University officials.
In the past, there may have been an inclination to "strip the site bare," said Fraser, but the University has recently made efforts to acknowledge the use of slave labor. These include an official apology in 2007, a memorial plaque on a corner of the Rotunda, and an outdoor exhibit that is a permanent part of the South Lawn project. Most recently, over the past summer break, a long-time bell-ringer, Henry Martin, became the first once-enslaved UVA worker memorialized by name.
"We've come a long way," said Fraser.
According to Ford, nine of the 30 discovered graves were for children, leading him to contend that family groups were buried there. Unfortunately, there were no names or inscriptions on the headstones, most of them crude slabs of rock, although two found were made of marble. Ford also suspects the grave site was used for a long period of time, as many of the graves are on top of each other. Still more of the site needs to be excavated, said Ford, and a full report on the findings should be available in December.
"This area was lost in memory and time," said Ford.
As for the Cemetery expansion plans, UVA chief facilities officer Donald Sundgren said that they would continue, but not on the discovered cemetery site.
"This site will remain untouched," said Sundgren, "and memorialized."