An estimated 7,000 bodies are thought to be buried under The University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC), according to radar scans of the campus grounds.
Construction workers first discovered some of the unidentified human remains under the university in November 2012 while preparing to build a new road on the campus. University officials described the discovery of the 66 corpses in a statement published online in April 2013, noting that the workers had uncovered wooden coffins containing human remains dating to the 19th and 20th centuries. The remains were thought to be those of former patients at the Mississippi State Insane Hospital, an asylum for people with mental illnesses, which operated on that site from 1855 to 1935, according to the statement.
Then, in 2014, radar scans of land to the west of the UMMC School of Dentistry yielded another grim surprise: 2,000 more bodies, The Clarion-Ledger reported in March of that year. And more recent scans now place the current estimate of human bodies under UMMC at around 7,000 people, distributed across 20 acres of grounds, UMMC officials announced yesterday (May 9) in a statement.
Exhuming and reburying 7,000 bodies could be very expensive — about $3,000 per corpse, or a total of about $21 million — and UMMC is currently investigating options that could relocate the bodies and create both a memorial center and a dedicated lab for analyzing the remains, UMMC representatives added.
Records indicate that the State Insane Hospital housed as many as 35,000 patients between 1855 and 1935, and up to 9,000 of its residents died on the site during its 80-year history. Between 1855 and 1877 alone, 1,376 patients were admitted. One in five died, from ailments including “softening of the brain,” “nervous exhaustion” and “chronic diarrhea,” according to The Clarion-Ledger.
Studying the remains of people who lived and died long ago can provide pathologists with unique insights into human health and disease, Molly Zuckerman, assistant professor of anthropology and Middle Eastern culture at Mississippi State University, said in a statement.
In addition to analyzing the skeletons themselves, archaeologists will investigate the age and composition of the wood coffins, which could also hold clues about the bodies that were buried in them, UMMC officials said in the statement.
The coffins, all of which are pine boxes of the same design, are extremely narrow — likely because they were compressed over decades by the weight of the soil, according to UMMC representatives.