The Bonner Plantation archaeological survey recently sponsored by the University of West Georgia is a complex, multi-faceted project involving numerous university offices and departments and the investigation more than a century of history. Below you’ll find answers to some questions that have been most frequently asked regarding the survey.
At the University of West Georgia, we seek opportunities that expand our understanding of the world in which we live. We honor our past, value our present, and embrace the ability to frame our future. The Bonner Plantation archaeological survey is proof of that commitment. The plantation is an inextricable part of the historical narrative of our campus, and the more work we complete to understand the culture and history of the Bonner Plantation heritage and hallowed grounds, the better insight we will gain to engage our university's stakeholders – students, alumni, faculty and staff members, and community supporters. Preserving these memories will contribute to our own humanity and the academic endeavors we encourage for our students every day.
The Bonner Plantation archaeological survey committee – populated by representatives from a number of UWG offices and departments – convened in November 2018 to request more information from then-potential contractor Southern Research. Southern Research was chosen by the University System of Georgia to complete the survey and first visited campus to begin conducting the survey in mid-December.
Several scenarios intersected to prompt exploration:
- Preparation of a facilities fiber installation project on campus activating discussion of potential disturbance to the area;
- A community member coming forth in a community forum to suggest the ground near Melson Hall could potentially be the location of a cemetery;
- The recent launch of the UWG History Project as an avenue for proper data collection and preservation of the institution and region’s rich history, should historical resources be located.
The comprehensive mapping project was completed in the grassy area between Melson Hall and the Old Auditorium between Front Campus Drive and the center of UWG’s campus.
At no time were any remains disturbed – or even encountered – during the comprehensive mapping project. Archaeologists from Southern Research, Historic Preservation Consultants Inc. first used a non-invasive ground-penetrating radar to examine areas where historical documents suggested a cemetery might be located. Two areas were chosen for analysis, and the top 12-18 inches of soil was carefully removed until the tops of possible grave shafts were recognized. At this point, no further analysis was undertaken.
Will the University of West Georgia ever be able to fully verify that a cemetery exists on its campus?
Archaeologists have discovered evidence of the strong possibility that a cemetery is present in the area, and these findings are consistent with historical reports that place a cemetery in that same general area. To fully verify those findings would require much deeper excavation of the area – an endeavor the university will not undertake because deeper excavation could mean disturbing any possible burial. The university's goal in the continuance of this project is to ensure what is likely sacred ground is never disturbed. We plan to continue the discovery process through historical and archeological research to be as sure as we can be about what the site is and its significance in the history of the area.
What is the university’s plan to keep members of the campus community informed of developments through the remainder of the project?
UWG officials will continue to update this website with pertinent information as it becomes available. Plans are also being developed to invite members of the community – including descendant family members of enslaved laborers attached to the Bonner Plantation – to connect with the university through an online portal to share their historical accounts so we can collectively bring honor and reverent remembrance to this endeavor.
The critical issue for us at UWG is to be aware that while this site could be a cemetery for enslaved persons – and therefore, sacred ground – we don’t know that with certainty at this point. However, adding what we know from historical accounts and oral history from families of the descendants to the field work completed recently by archaeologists, we are committed to continuing exploration in this area.
Also, it is important to understand this is a project of shared responsibility and contribution as we work in tandem with the University System of Georgia and the Georgia Office of the State Archaeologist. Our campus is USG- and state-owned property, and the appropriate officials have and will continue to advise us on the next steps, reporting requirements, etc.
Through that partnership with state agencies, the university will ensure the area is marked appropriately in a manner befitting the wishes of the descendant family members of enslaved laborers who may be buried on UWG’s campus.