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Archaeologists searching MacDill Air Force Base for possible lost African American graves

Posted at 6:36 AM, Feb 18, 2020

TAMPA, Fla. — A team of archaeological professionals surveyed land at MacDill Air Force Base on Tuesday to look for possible lost African American graves.

A spokesperson for the base first said in November there's a wooded area in question. After learning from historians there could be a potential cemetery in the area, they cordoned it off to authorized personnel only. It said the AF Civil Engineer Center and New South Associates are working together on the project.

"We’re gonna take it serious and we’re gonna we cordoned off the area and we’re gonna we’re making sure we respect the land, make sure we bring in the right folks, the right expertise to make sure we do the job right and we make sure the whole process is the most effective that we can make it," said Lt. Brandon Hanner.

Base officials believe the wooded area in questions has remained largely untouched in its history.

RELATED: African American graves may be under MacDill Air Force Base, spokesperson says

That's where a team of two archaeologists, at least two cadaver dogs and two K-9 handlers are searching this week.

The dogs, including 11-year old Shiraz, are searching for a mixture of volatile gases decaying bodies give off. Their handlers said they have an incredible sense of smell.

"She found the last digit of a toe bone about 3 1/2 feet down in a oyster shell midin that was radio carbon dated to 670 AD," said Shiraz's handler, Susan Goodhope, of a previous search in the Florida panhandle.

Meanwhile archaeologists are looking for any physical evidence of cemetery monuments or artifacts on the ground.

"So what we’re looking for is deed records indicate there was something there, a person remembers seeing a grave marker. We find stones out there that look like they could be grave markers the dogs indicated nearby and that will give us that high probability area we can say this is, this is your money spot," said Paige Dobbins, a mortuary archaeologist with New South Associates.

Dobbins said next week they'll likley use ground penetrating radar to search under the ground.

Once they finish, the next steps will be based on the data they collect.

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MacDill says it will continue to keep the community informed and will be giving periodical investigation updates.