Bioarchaeological Research at Old Athens Cemetery

In 2015, construction for an addition to Baldwin Hall led to the discovery of human remains from the 19th century. These burial sites were part of the original extent of the Old Athens Cemetery, but the inconspicuous graves were neglected and forgotten to many over time. Southeastern Archaeological Services was called to excavate the site, teaming up with Department of Anthropology faculty and students who have experience in osteology (the scientific study of bones).

During 2016, University of Georgia students enrolled in Dr. Laurie Reitsema's Human Osteology class helped assess age at death, sex, and aspects of these individuals' health, anticipating their reburial. The skeletal remains were in varying states of preservation; many were represented only by teeth, which is not unusual for a 200-year-old cemetery.

The genetic ancestry of many of the individuals is now known. The maternal genetic ancestry of nearly all the individuals whose mtDNA was sequenced is African. Given the context, these individuals were likely enslaved during their lifetimes. 

The bioarchaeological exhibits in this website focus on three aspects of bioarchaeological research with the cemetery: (1) Diet and nutrition, (2) Disease and infection, and (3) Activity patterns. Human beings’ skeletal remains provide some of the most important and direct information about the lived experiences of people in the past, being free from historical bias.

In this website, we first provide an overview of the history of the Old Athens Cemetery, a glimpse into the life of enslaved people in Athens, Georgia, as illuminated through historical records and slave narratives, and an introduction to the field of bioarchaeology. These overviews provide a context to interpret indicators and diet, disease, and activity patterns observed in the human remains exhumed from the Old Athens Cemetery. Please click on the tabs to the right to learn more about each of these topics.