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Bioarchaeological Investigations of Nineteenth-Century African American Burials at the Pioneer Cemetery (41BO202) in Brazoria, Texas
A search for unmarked graves in the state-owned right of way and underneath the pavement of State Highway 332 resulted in the discovery and archeological excavation of 11 unmarked graves associated with Pioneer Cemetery, an African American burial ground in Brazoria, Texas. Prewitt and Associates, Inc., conducted the fieldwork for the Texas Department of Transportation’s Archeological Studies Program. Between 2008 and 2012, the 11 unmarked graves were discovered, exhumed, analyzed, and then reinterred in Pioneer Cemetery in September 2012. This report describes the bioarcheological investigations of those burials along with 3 other unmarked burials that were previously exhumed and reburied in 2003.
The mortuary remains, especially the manufacturing dates on the coffin hardware, indicate that the 14 exhumed burials date to the late-nineteenth century and early-twentieth centuries. Based on the osteological evidence, the deceased persons were 5 women, 2 men, 2 indeterminate adults, and 5 children. Seven of the 14 individuals display skeletal traits indicating that they are of African descent, but 2 indeterminate adults and 5 children do not. Based on historical evidence, it is likely that all 14 individuals were African Americans, and several of the older individuals may have been born into slavery.
These 14 burials do not constitute a representative sample of the African Americans in Brazoria County or the town of Brazoria, but they are an interesting and historically significant burial population nonetheless. The overall health status of these people was generally good, with no evidence of abnormally high pathologies. However, skeletal remains of several older individuals exhibited evidence of various forms of degenerative joint disease indicative of lives spent doing hard labor. One adult male had an amputated leg and an iron and wooden prosthesis; it is not known if the loss of his leg was due to violence, accidental trauma, or disease. Several of the Pioneer burials exhibit traits that may represent mortuary behaviors of African origin. Three individuals had vaulted burials, with the casket or coffin located inside a shaft under a protective wooden arch. One adult female was buried with a complete whiteware saucer and a bird talon that was partially wrapped in gold plating and may have been worn as a necklace.
This is a work for hire produced for the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), which owns all rights, title, and interest in and to all data and other information developed for this project under its contract with the report producer. The report may be cited and brief passages from this publication may be reproduced without permission provided that credit is given to TxDOT and the firm that produced it. Permission to reprint an entire chapter, section, figures or tables must be obtained in advance from the Supervisor of the Archeological Studies Branch, Environmental Affairs Division, Texas Department of Transportation, 125 East 11th Street, Austin, Texas, 78701
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