TAMPA (WFLA) – This week work begins at MacDill Air Force Base to locate what may be a long lost African American Cemetery.
Historians with New South Associates have already started searching deeds, looking through archives and calling people who remember the cemetery to pinpoint the area to search. On Tuesday, dogs that are highly trained in finding human remains started the work of going over a five-acre area near the main runway at MacDill.
“We’re out here with human recovery dogs looking to see if they can trigger with the smell of any human remains. Then we’ll do a surface survey looking for any cemetery monuments, any evidence of folk cemetery artifacts,” said Paige Dobbins a mortuary archeologist for New South Associates.
Next week experts will go over the same area with ground-penetrating radar.
“One of the biggest problems that we find with these folk, African American cemeteries is that we have a very western, white conception of what a cemetery looks like and that is marble tombstones, sectioned out plots. So when you get into these lowland African American cemeteries, a lot of times they are decorated with broken plates and drinking vessels and shells and they are these beautifully meaningful items, but if you are coming in to it thinking you are going to find a traditional white cemetery you might miss the entirety of it,” said Dobbins.
Susan Goodhope has two dogs that she uses to locate long lost human remains. She says one of her dogs found a toe bone in an Indian oyster shell midden that was buried three feet underground in the Florida Panhandle.
Goodhope says heat and humidity can make it difficult for her dogs to do their work, but Florida also has other challenges.
“Snakes are a problem at this time of year when the snakes are first coming out. There are all kinds of things that prickle and stick you,” said Goodhope.
The work on the ground at MacDill is expected to be going on for the next two weeks. Base commanders say they are committed to respectfully preserving the cemetery if it can be located.