AMITY, Ind - Experts who were planning to exhume, study and restore the gravesite of a famous Johnson County resident how have a total of seven bodies to examine.
During efforts to recover the remains of Nancy Kerlin Barnett, anthropologists also found the buried remains of six additional individuals at the site. Initial evidence suggests the individuals consisted of two women, one man and four children age 10 or younger.
“And that’s sad, but pretty common in cemeteries of this age to have a sizable number of young people,” said University of Indianapolis Anthropology Professor, Dr. Christopher Schmidt.
According to local history, Nancy Kerlin Barnett was one of the earliest pioneers in Johnson County. She was said to be married to the great-great-great grandson of Pocahontas until her death in 1831. In 1905, when the county wanted to build a road through her gravesite, her family stood guard with a shotgun, forcing highway crews to build around the grave. The site now sits in the middle of County Road 400 South, between US 31 and I-65 in the town of Amity.
Now it seems those family members were actually guarding seven graves in a small cemetery. Dr. Schmidt says it’s possible the deceased individuals were related and buried in a small family cemetery.
“And the truth is, we don’t know the extent of the original cemetery,” Dr. Schmidt said. “So maybe this was all of it, maybe this is a fraction of it.”
In light of the new discoveries, Johnson County Commissioners have voted to approve the use of DNA analysis and other methods to learn as much about the bodies as possible.
“We felt since we started the project that we needed to see it through to the end in respect of the family and the people buried in the middle of the road,” said Johnson County Commissioner Brian Baird. “I looked at this project as if it was my family member and made all decisions in that frame of mind.”
Dr. Schmidt says all the excavation work at the site is finished. It will take several weeks to examine the remains and take samples. Studying the samples could take several months. The new discoveries have also pushed back plans to widen County Road 400 South by several weeks.
Once the remains are fully studied and returned to the ground at the gravesite, county officials plan to rededicate the site during a ceremony. Any new or rewritten local history discovered over the next few months will presumably be incorporated into historical plaques at the site.