Engaging with Descendant African American Communities: A Project to Rebury Ancestral Human Remains of African Descent


The Maryland Commission on African American History and Culture (MCAAHC) and the Maryland Historical Trust (MHT) have launched a project aimed at identifying lineal descendants or communities that are culturally affiliated with the remains of at least 15 individuals of African or possible African descent that are currently housed at the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory (MAC Lab) in Calvert County, Maryland.

This collaborative project, entitled, "Engaging with Descendant African American Communities" will use genealogical records, land record research, and potentially DNA testing to identify a path forward for returning these remains to the earth in a manner consistent with the State of Maryland Regulations for the Transfer of Human Remains and Associated Funerary Objects. The project will actively engage with descendant communities in an ethical and inclusive manner and will result in a plan for the respectful reburial of the remains that recognizes their cultural importance and historical legacy.

Ancestral Human Remains at the MAC Lab

The MAC Lab is responsible for the long-term preservation of an estimated 10 million artifacts owned by or in the custody of the State of Maryland. Human remains within the MAC Lab’s possession came for curation when the facility opened in 1998. Most of these were unanticipated discoveries, recovered during the 1960s-1990s. Current MHT policy discourages the excavation of human remains and strongly encourages preservation in place.

Human remains from 73 individuals are currently being cared for at the MAC Lab. Of these, 15 sets of human remains are determined to be of African or possible African descent. All remains are housed in "an appropriate place of repose" at the MAC Lab. This term is defined in regulation as a location dedicated solely for the disposition of human remains which assures that:

  • the remains are not in open view of the general public;
  • the remains are kept above or below ground, as appropriate, in conditions conducive to long-term preservation;
  • specific individuals or groups of remains are not intermixed with remains unrelated by ethnicity, descent, or place of recovery;
  • the remains of specific individuals or groups of related remains can be removed if necessary; and,
  • remains are not made accessible to members of the public except as may be permitted by MHT.

Properties Associated with Ancestral Human Remains

Properties associated with human remains of African descent or possible African descent at the MAC Lab include sites near Deep Creek in Anne Arundel County, the Gott Cemetery in Calvert County, Chapel Point in Charles County, Bennett's Point in Queen Anne's County, and Twin Oaks in Wicomico County.

  • Deep Creek Cemetery (Anne Arundel County) – The remains of four individuals identified as of African descent (two adult females, one teenage male and one infant) were discovered during a construction project. These individuals are believed to have been interred in the 18th or 19th centuries.
  • Gott Cemetery (Calvert County) – The remains of one adult female of African descent were unearthed during a construction project. The remains of another individual, an adult male, of indeterminate descent, were also found. These remains are believed to date to the 18th or 19th century.
  • Chapel Point (Charles County) – This area contains the remains of two individuals of possible African descent (a child and an adult male), plus another adult male of African descent. These remains were discovered when they began eroding from the edge of a bluff. The two individuals of possible African descent are believed to have been interred circa 1820 and no date was assigned to the other individual. There were partial remains of another individual included with the child's burial; it is likely these remains found their way into the grave shaft fill when an earlier grave was cut through during digging the child's grave. These adult remains are of indeterminate ancestry.
  • Bennett's Point (Queen Anne’s County) – Partial remains from an adult male of possible African origin were discovered in a mid-18th century refuse pit during an archaeological investigation. Partial remains of two additional individuals of indeterminate ancestry were also found at this site.
  • Twin Oaks (Wicomico County) - The partial remains of two individuals of African descent (a young adult male and an adult female) and another individual of indeterminate ancestry were recovered during bulldozing activities. These individuals are believed to have been interred in the 19th century.

Next Steps

A working group consisting of Commissioners of the MCAAHC and staff from the MHT are collaborating on a plan consistent with state regulations that will permit these remains to be laid to rest. This is an important and innovative project that is expected to serve as a model for other institutions that include Non-Native human remains within their collections.

If you have information about African American communities associated with the sites noted above or have an interest in being kept up to date on project activities and findings, please provide your information here:


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