Researchers get aerial view of abandoned slave gravesite

Posted at 2:32 PM, Dec 05, 2012
and last updated 2012-12-05 14:32:17-05

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WCAV) -- Archaeologists are getting a new perspective of the abandoned gravesite near the University of Virginia's University Cemetery.

Researchers are looking to the skies to learn more about what's hidden underground.

A camera strapped to a balloon snapped hundreds of aerial photos of the land Tuesday morning.

"We just fly it up, take a picture every two seconds and then sort through the pictures," Chris Gist, a GIS Specialist in the Scholars' Lab at Alderman Library, said. "It gives us an advantage that we can get up in height over the site without destroying it."

The area is believed to be the final resting place of dozens of enslaved African-Americans dating back to the 1800s, according to Benjamin Ford, principal investigator of Rivanna Archaeological Services.

The aerial images will give some insight into the 67 nameless graves somewhat scattered about the space, a stark contrast to the orderly plots lining the land in University Cemetery just feet away.

"We also want to know the larger questions of why this cemetery is here, who this population is and if we can try and identify individuals who may be buried here," Ford said.

There are no plans to exhume any of the bodies, but researchers will continue digging deeper into the history of the population by studying it from the surface and by air.

The project began in the spring. Ford said archaeologists expect to have a draft of their findings to the university by mid-January.

Read more on this story from WCAV in Charlottesville.