The good weather continues in mid-December, but the university’s winter break draws close. This is the last field day for Meghan’s crew until classes resume in January. If there are open test units at the end of the day, Meghan will finish them before the holidays.
The house cellar is half-excavated. Meghan had the students take down the south end first, and they’ve reached the brick floor.
It’s ten o’clock and several students need something to do. Meghan works with them to document the brick floor with photographs and sketch maps and then directs them to lift the bricks that are out of alignment. She suspects the soil in that corner was unstable, and the Walkers had to reinforce it.
Meghan instructs the students to let her know when they finish pulling, bagging, and tagging the bricks. They’ll be reset in place once she documents the disturbance, undoubtedly some heavily packed earth to stabilize the foundation.
Just before lunch, one of the students calls out to her. “Dr. Bode? You should see this.”
Meghan eases into the cellar to examine the floor. A roughly oval stain of darker soil is visible, roughly four feet long and three feet wide. The students have troweled the surface, which enhances subtle color differences. Whitish flecks dot the surface at one end of the pit.
Bending down, Meghan sees a thin, curved line of sponge-like material in the soil. Silently, she reaches for a trowel and gently clears some of the surrounding soil.
Crap, she thinks and sits back on her heels. She pulls out her phone. Of course, she gets voice mail. She leaves a brief message asking Evelyn to call as soon as possible. Then she switches to her web browser. For once, Meghan appreciates her smart phone. Within a few minutes she’s found the phone number for the County Coroner’s office.
By now, the students realize what they’ve found. Their whispered conversations are peppered with “legend,” “slave,” and “mistress.” Meghan gathers them together while she waits for the coroner.
“It’s not a recent burial,” she tells them. “No one’s dug into that cellar any later than the 1860s except us. But the law says we have to bring in the coroner. Right now, we don’t know whether it’s two hundred years old or two thousand. This isn’t a normal compliance project, and I’m not sure which laws apply. I’ll have to talk with the state.
“Under no circumstances do you tell anyone anything about this. Unexpected bodies get sensationalized, and newspapers are notorious for getting the facts wrong. Evelyn may want to just leave it alone, and that’s her right. If you’re going to be professional archaeologists, you have to be respectful of landowners and laws. ”
She points to the cellar floor. “Most importantly, you respect the people you’ve uncovered.”
And someone like Frank Sloma wouldn’t share that view, she thinks. What kind of mischief would he cause if he got word of this?
While the students return to the other units, Meghan waits for the coroner and Evelyn’s call. The buzz from her phone alerts her to Evelyn’s text—be there ASAP.
The coroner arrives first, an hour later. Meghan prepares to meet him as he walks through the field. And then she groans.
Bounding past him are Maisy and Chess.
She calls to the crew, “I don’t care what you have to do. Keep those damn dogs away from here!”
“I’m on it,” Kyle says. He whistles and sprints down the hill, clapping for the dogs. They run to him and drop their ever-ready tennis balls, chasing happily as Kyle hurls them toward the house and away from the site.
If he hadn’t already earned one, Meghan would award Kyle an A for this effort alone.
Dr. Colin McVay introduces himself as he reaches the cellar.
“Evelyn shouldn’t be far behind,” he says with a smile and nod toward the dogs. “But show me what you’ve found.”
“The bricks in this corner didn’t match the others. I figured the foundation wasn’t stable and the owners reinforced the earth. But when my students pulled the bricks, they found this oval stain. And when they cleaned up the loose dirt, a few bone flecks came up. I’ve cleared just enough to show it’s a human skull.”
McVay nods. “There’s no chance it’s recent, is there?”
“No,” Meghan says. “If you look at the soil we haven’t removed, you see how uniform it is. There aren’t layers of different colored soils. This cellar was filled in all at once when the old house was taken down. If it’s a Euroamerican or African-American burial, it has to be from 1870s or earlier.”
“So it could be Indian?”
“Maybe. I won’t know unless we excavate it. This isn’t a development project with state or federal funds or permits. Evelyn won’t build anything on this archaeological site. I’ll have to double-check the laws, but I think she could just leave it in place.”
“Knowing Evelyn, she won’t do that. But she won’t be happy with this.”
“What won’t I be happy with?”
Meghan stands to see Evelyn at the cellar’s edge. She recaps her findings, watching Evelyn’s posture stiffen as she speaks.
“Well, of course it’s an Indian,” Evelyn says. “And he can be buried somewhere else after you dig him up. I don’t want people walking on him once this is a place for guests to visit. Or anyone thinking it’s tied to those old legends. Let’s get him out of here.”
“I’ll need a state permit, first,” Meghan says. “We’ll have to put the application together and do a public notice. I doubt we can do anything before February.”
“Nonsense. Douglas will get it through in no time. When he gets home, I’ll have him call you to get the ball rolling. It’s as good as done.”
Meghan has no doubt Douglas Browne’s contacts can speed the process. But not before the holidays and winter break end. As she wraps up her talk with Evelyn and Dr. McVay, the students finish their test units and cover the site to shelter it until their return.
Extra care is taken to protect the burial feature. Thick plastic is laid down, and an insulating layer of soil is placed over it. A tripled sheet of plastic covers the soil and is firmly weighted with stones. If the mood to do their own digging strikes, Maisy and Chess will be held at bay. Jackson Carter will keep watch on the site and let Meghan know if there are any problems. Heavy snow or rain is her major concern.
On the way back to campus, Meghan reminds the crew to say nothing about the burial to friends or family.
The late afternoon shadows fall across Wyndham Thicket Farm. All is quiet as the old plantation buildings await Meghan’s return.
I hope you’ll stay tuned for Part 6, which will be uploaded on Tuesday, 8 January 2013. With the upcoming holidays, I’ll be less stressed if I’m not trying to deliver two installments of a short story. My posts on Christmas and New Years will be short and sweet. Meghan and I thank you for your patience!