It would be impossible for us to do this work alone. There are so many people that are essential in making our efforts successful. I would like to take a moment to thank some of the people who were vital in making this trip so great.
The Cultural Anthropologists
This year we have had the honor of working with a team of cultural anthropologists from the University of Indianapolis. Last year, Dr. Alyson O’Daniel joined us for skeletal analyses in San Marcos. She has joined us again this year and brought along two of her students, Sarah and Rachel. They have had an amazing influence on our team, bringing much-needed different perspectives to everything we do. They also have made our job easier by helping with all of our work such as digging, troweling, moving buckets of sand, and pretty much anything and everything else. They have far-exceeded all of my expectations, and I am incredibly proud to work by their side.
Ryan and I have a long bro-mantic history. He was one of the original members of the UINDY crew and my former roommate. Since then he has worked with Texas State and at the South Texas Human Rights Center. He is incredibly informed and hard working. I can think of very few (if any) people that I would rather have working by my side.
I first met Sister Pam in 2014. She is one of the most driven and compassionate people that I have ever met. She now spends her time helping the people passing through the Sacred Heart Respite Center. She has an amazing way of changing all of the lives she touches, and I’m proud that I have been able to work with her so closely.
Only two of our dig team (Erica & I) speak Spanish, but neither of us speak it very well. This year we have had the luxury of having Jorge with us as a translator. He was essential to communicating with families at the respite center. I believe that I have seen him grow from this trip, and that he has seen the issues of the border in a completely new light. Muchas gracias, Jorge.
Our visit with the Lasater’s is always a highlight of our trip. Bill and Peggy have been incredibly generous hosts and I am incredibly grateful for the insights they give us into the history of Falfurrias. This year they invited us (and the people of Texas State) into their home for cheese, crackers, tamales, and to view the hundreds of turkeys that gather in their yard. I want to thank them, an all of the other people who have made this trip so amazing.
The 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.
We 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, we 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.
I’ve been fortunate to be part of Team UIndy for part of yesterday and for the full day today. I was part of the team for all of the first two digging seasons, but unfortunately wasn’t able to help for the full season this year. But because I was able to be with the team for the full day today, I figured I’d write today’s post.
Today the team started the main process of working on the first section we ever worked on here in Sacred Heart Burial Park, from 2013. This is an incredibly challenging task, because it involves moving more dirt than we’ve ever moved before, in a very small window of time. Essentially, we were tasked with developing a strategy that allowed a six-person team to completely check a plot of land that was originally searched by approximately 30 people back in 2013. We only had one gravemarker to show us where a grave could be, and we knew that we would encounter empty coffins from 2013 after we had already exhumed the individuals from inside, which could eat up our limited amount of time.
Our solution: we dug three trenches, each about a meter apart and about half a meter deep, that spanned a main portion of the plot of land and from which we will expand in the coming days. From the trenches, we could probe deeper with a T-probe to try and find coffins, and we could also probe at an angle into adjacent areas without having to dig. With this strategy, we can check all of the land with only doing about a third of the digging. And it worked.
Today we recovered two individuals, one that was marked by the aforementioned gravemarker, and the other being someone that was missed in the 2013 exhumations. We also found a few empty coffins, but were able to analyze the situation, verify that there were no individuals inside, and continue along efficiently. I made the cliche remark to Justin today, “Work smarter, not harder”, and he replied, “I hate that phrase. Every time I hear it I think ‘How about you just do both?’ “. Today was that day: we worked smart, and hard.