The mysterious remains of 95 people have been found on a Texas school construction site
Despite its relatively short history, the USA has a lot of skeletons in its collective closet - some of which are less metaphorical than others.
In April of this year, while working on the construction of a new school, the Fort Bend Independent School District of Texas discovered the remains of almost 100 bodies in an unmarked cemetery. The bones, which have been estimated to be from around 1878 to 1911, were turned over to archaeologists in order to determine their origin - and, as of this week, the researchers believe they might know how the bodies wound up there.
As you may have been able to predict, though, it's not exactly a happy story.
About half of the remains have been exhumed so far and, of those that have, around 20 have been analysed. So far, from that small sample, archaeologists have learned that all but one of them is male and that they range in age from 14 to 70.
Most disturbingly, though, is that all of them are African American, which - along with other evidence - indicates that these remains belong to people who were forced into slavery after the barbaric practice was declared illegal. It is believed that those laid to rest here were part of the "convict lease" system, whereby the state of Texas sent black criminals to live and work on plantations instead of serving out their terms in prison.
The strongest evidence for this is that the land the bodies were found on was a known for its sugar cane plantations and prison camps. It was nicknamed the "Hellhole on the Brazos" on account of how many convicts died while working in harsh conditions.
Reginald Moore, who was once a Texas State prison guard in the 1980s, has been working hard to get recognition for those who died while serving their terms on plantations during the late 19th/early 20th centuries.
Even before the bodies were uncovered, Moore had suspected that a mass grave may have been lying undiscovered in the area.
"I always had a feeling something was there," he said.
"I felt like I had the duty to be an advocate for them and to speak from the grave for these people ... When I went out there and seen those bodies, I felt so elated that they would finally get their justice. It was overwhelming for me. I almost fainted."
University of Houston anthropologist Ken Brown, who is now involved in uncovering more information about the 95 dead, expressed his disappointment that nobody listened to Moore sooner. However, he also acknowledged that sites like this are difficult to find.
"When you have plantations where you have African-American cemeteries, they’re not marked in the same way as European-American cemeteries," Brown explained. "They’re not recorded as well, and they have a tendency to be either removed from the ground or simply built over."
Moore has said that he would like to see the gravesite being preserved as it is, with a marker for those that lost their lives at the hands of an unfair justice system.