Nashville Zoo construction uncovers abandoned gravesites - WSMV News 4

Nashville Zoo construction uncovers abandoned gravesites

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Crews working on a new entrance at the Nashville Zoo uncovered a number of graves and the remains of several people buried at the old Grassmere plantation.

"We didn't expect to find anything. What we were told by archeologists, professionals, is that this soil is not very friendly to preserving remains of any kind," said Nashville Zoo spokesman Jim Bartoo.

But it does have a history. The area was farmland in the 1800s before it became a wildlife park and, later, the Nashville Zoo.

Over time, not much evidence remained of an abandoned cemetery there, or so zoo officials thought.

"What they found were several full skeletons out of it. We found lots of buttons. We found nails that held coffins together. We found beads," Bartoo said.

Archeologists at Middle Tennessee State University and Vanderbilt University are now studying those beads and buttons, and, in a couple of weeks, they should have some information on the skeletons, too, telling us how old they were or maybe what diseases they had, and whether they were tenant farmers or slaves.

Zoo officials say they most likely weren't part of the Croft family, since that cemetery is close by the Croft House, where these remains will eventually be reburied up on the hill by the historic home.

"When we reinter these remains back up into a site, and we're able to put up a memorial plaque, we're able to tell a little more of a story of who these people were, how they lived - very valuable stuff," Bartoo said.

The zoo hopes to have a special dedication this summer for the new cemetery. In the meantime, construction on that new entrance is scheduled to be complete by the end of next year.

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