GAAS May meeting report

Submitted by Allen Vegotsky


On May 14th, the Greater Atlanta Chapter (GAAS) meeting featured an inspiring video, I Remember, I Believe (see below), about the discovery of an unmarked African American cemetery dating to the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It was introduced by Dr. Hugh “Matt” Matternes of New South Associates and Matt also led a spirited discussion. During plans for road construction to improve a stretch of Sardis Church Road in Bibb County, the Georgia Department of Transportation heard that the right-of-way may overlap a burial ground. This led to an investigation covering several years involving numerous approaches and a contract to New South Associates for the report.

Archaeological field work provided evidence of 101 human burials, which were later reburied in the Byron Bethel AME Church Cemetery. Besides actual excavation, the eclectic approaches included detection of likely burials with remote sensing equipment, extensive archival research, the use of cadaver dogs, DNA analysis, oral history, and perhaps most important, collaboration with numerous descendants of the people buried at the site.

We watched the film with amazement as the cadaver dogs walked without hesitation and plopped down in specific areas of the site that were later shown to be precise indicators of burials. Many of the African American descendants from the farms that once existed at the site had migrated to the northeast and Midwest years ago, but returned for the reburial service. Many were thrilled to be part of the gathering and be reconnected with their historic roots and ancestors in middle Georgia.

On the weekend following the GAAS meeting, the Archaeology television channel hosted an international archaeology film and video festival. This competition included I Remember, I Believe among many entries. I was delighted to learn that the Avondale video won the awards for “Best Script” and “Best Music” as well as Honorable Mention in other categories.

Congratulations to New South Associates, the GDOT, and to the many other participants including the cadaver dogs who made it all possible!

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