Lost in the Woods

USF researchers are searching grounds at an old state reform school for boys to identify the location and number of graves on the property.


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By Katy Hennig

USF News


MARIANNA, Fla. (May 22, 2012) – University of South Florida researchers are plotting grounds around a former boys reform school in an effort to identify the number and locations of graves in and around a cemetery that potentially dates back to the early 1900s.

Led by forensic anthropologist Erin Kimmerle, an assistant professor in USF’s Department of Anthropology, the team has spent several days at the site off Interstate 10 in Florida’s Panhandle mapping the area with ground penetrating radar and digging trenches to analyze soil displacements.

The former Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys contains a cemetery with 31 metal crosses, but school records show 84 boys died at the institution between 1911 and 1973. The USF team has identified a number of anomalies indicating potential grave sites in wooded areas outside the marked cemetery.

Kimmerle was granted permission from the state Department of Environmental Protection to access the land, and received a permit for archaeological research to locate and document graves associated with the Boot Hill Cemetery from the state Division of Historical Resources.

The multi-disciplinary effort involves USF’s departments of Anthropology, Biology, the Forensic Anthropology Laboratory and USF Libraries Special Collections. In addition to locating graves, the group is attempting to document the history of the cemetery. Work began in January.

USF faculty joining Kimmerle in the project are Richard Estabrook, anthropology; Antoinette Jackson, cultural heritage; Christian Wells, anthropology; and Gordon Fox, biology. USF students involved in the project include Ashley Humphries, Melissa Pope, Meredith Tise, John Powell, Brad Lanning, Richard Weltz, Liotta Noche-Dowdy and Jamie Gluvna.

Katy Hennig can be reached at 813-974-6993.