All posts by lathamke

Collaborative Efforts

We are not the only anthropologists volunteering our time and skills at the Sacred Heart Cemetery for the exhumations. There is a large group from Texas State University and a few other individuals that are volunteering in the migrant identification efforts as well. This is a huge collaborative effort with multiple university, governmental and non-governmental organizations coming together to work towards identification the migrants that died in Brooks County.  While this blog focuses mostly on the UIndy team, we wanted to recognize some of the others at the site with us.

Dr. Kate Spradley & Dr. Tim Gocha –  Texas State University
Dr. Nicholas Herrmann -Texas State University
Katharine Chapman Pope – Delaware Chief Medical Examiner & Forensic Science Laboratory
Texas State University Students & Alums




Day 9: Trench Warfare

Today the 5 of us moved approximately 21,000 pounds of dirt (or about 4200 pounds of dirt per person).  Let that sink in for a moment…. TODAY each of us moved about 4200 pounds of dirt! We calculated that from the measurements of the trenches we dug today. That doesn’t even include the fact that we had to move some of the dirt to a pile and then move it back to the trenches (making it closer to 6,000 pounds of dirt for each of us).  It got hot in the afternoon, so we had to enforce a dig for 5 minutes and rest for 5 minutes rule. Not only was this necessary for safety but it also kept the momentum going late into the afternoon.

Leann digging test trenches


Erica, Jessica and I digging test trenches


Justin probing the test trenches


Sister Pam helping to move the dirt pile


Tomorrow is our last day working at Sacred Heart for this field season.  We still have about 30% of the area that needs explored. Every excavation season we seem to be down to the wire and fighting time to finish. So this year will be no different.




Day 8: And then there were 5

img_3092The UIndy group is decreasing in numbers rather quickly. Ryan was only able to join us for his day off from work. He essentially came straight to the cemetery when ending one shift, worked the entire next day in the cemetery with us, and then excavated a partial day with us before driving straight back to work. Our three cultural anthropologists have other tasks associated with the South Texas Human Rights Center and are leaving to go back to Indiana in the morning. That means for most of the day today we were a group of 5 tackling what seemed like the impossible: Clear a 32 meter by 10 meter patch of land to a depth of 100cm.

dsc_0008We recreated the 8 quadrant grid that was originally constructed over this portion of the cemetery to organize the excavation efforts. We have started strategically dividing each of these quadrants into a series of deep test trenches. We create 2 parallel trenches running north-south that are 8m in length and 2 trenches that are parallel to each other running east-west that are 5m in length. Essentially we are diving each quadrant like a large tic-tac-toe board. We dig each trench to approximately 60cm in depth and then use a metal T-Probe to investigate beneath our trench floor. Additionally, dsc_0075we probe at angles down into the dirt that we did not dig to investigate whether or not anything is buried under the surface as well as probe the surface of the undisturbed areas. If we find something while digging our trenches or with the probe we stop to investigate whether it is the remnant of a burial that was already removed or whether it represents a burial not located by the methods applied in the 2013 field season. Our approach is slow, tedious and back breaking, but it has proven to be successful. Over the next few days the temperatures will be increasing, so we will be challenged by both the heat and our small team numbers. With three quadrants down that leaves five to go in our last two days in Falfurrias.