UNF Students Find Unmarked Graves

Project Allows Anthropology Students To Use New Technology

MIDDLEBURG, Fla. – Some of Middleburg's pioneers are buried in a cemetery located behind Middleburg United Methodist Church on Main Street.

The oldest known grave at Middleburg Methodist Cemetery dates back to 1856.

But there are still many unknowns about the cemetery, such as who's buried in one empty plot of land. That's what some University of North Florida anthropology students are trying to figure out using new technology.

"The church historian contacted the university looking for someone to help locate unmarked graves," UNF anthropology professor Gordon Akita said.

Akita and his students are working on the unique field project, using a ground-penetrating radar, or GPR, to detect unmarked graves in the cemetery.

"You actually have folks buried here who were actually alive in the 1700s. They were born in the 1700s, came to the new world or came to settle in this part of Florida," said Derrick Jefferson, youth pastor at Middleburg United Methodist. "As you can see, we have a lot of markers and unmarked graves, which are very small. You have very small children that didn't make the journey."

Radar technology allows the students to detect what's underground without actually digging.

"A coffin would bounce back different from empty ground, and that's how we're going to be able to find out where they are," said Shaza Davis, a senior anthropology student at UNF.

Some of the first families to settle in Middleburg are interred at the cemetery. The site is listed as a national register of historic places.

By performing the survey, the students are helping to preserve the community's history.

When the project is complete, the archeology department at UNF will have a diagram of what lies beneath the cemetery's ground. The department says the project will take at least until December to complete.