A total of 27 graves have been found so far at the 1921 Tulsa massacre research site


By Carma Hassan, CNN

(CNN) – There are now 27 graves that have been discovered at an excavation site for the remains of those killed during the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre at Oaklawn Cemetery.

That’s 15 new burials since the 12 discoveries in October, according to Oklahoma state archaeologist Kary Stackelbeck.

It’s the sixth day of the excavation and rain this delayed week the progress of the excavations, Stackelbeck said.

Excavation work has gone from using backhoes to remove dirt above the coffins to using smaller hand tools. A team from Cardno Inc., an environmental and infrastructure company, is at Oaklawn Cemetery to complete the exhumation process.

“But now we’re at this point where we’re doing the digs by hand, this is where the Cardno team uses smaller hand tools to remove the soil from above and then around the skeletal remains that are contained in those coffins and then they will be documented in place, ”Stackelbeck said.

Stackelbeck expects more graves to be uncovered as excavations move west, but says some of these deaths could be associated with the 1918-19 flu pandemic.

“We must therefore remain cautious and not over-anticipate our interpretations. We are therefore working with our multiple hypotheses on what may explain the presence of a mass grave,” she said, adding that the graves of the massacre is “absolutely always a possible scenario”.

The excavation is expected to take weeks longer, Stackelbeck said, as they don’t know how many graves they will find.

Once the bodies are exhumed, the city and its public watch committee will determine the next steps to “store the remains, DNA tests and genealogical research, and commemorate the graves and honor the remains,” a press release from the city said.

The work – which will take place behind a screening fence with researchers, cultural monitors, historians, funeral directors, a forensic anthropologist and videographer – can take months, depending on the city. This is without counting the efforts made to identify the bodies and determine whether they were indeed victims of the massacre.

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