Genetics, African American cemetery, Mitochondrial haplotypes
Determining the origins of those buried within undocumented cemeteries is of incredible importance to historical archaeologists and, in many cases, the nearby communities. In the case of Avondale Burial Place, a cemetery in Bibb County, Georgia, in use from 1820 to 1950, all written documentation of those interred within it has been lost. Osteological and archaeological evidence alone could not describe, with confidence, the ancestral origins of the 101 individuals buried there. In the present study, we used ancient DNA extraction methods in well-preserved skeletal fragments from 20 individuals buried in Avondale Burial Place to investigate the origins of the cemetery. Through examination of hypervariable region I (HVR1) in the mitochondrial genome (mtDNA), we determined haplotypes for all 20 of these individuals. Eighteen of these individuals belong to the L or U haplogroups, suggesting that Avondale Burial Place was most likely used primarily as a resting place for African Americans. After the surrounding Bibb County community expressed interest in investigating potential ancestral relationships to those within the cemetery, eight potential descendants provided saliva to obtain mtDNA HVR1 information. Three individuals from Avondale Burial Place matched three individuals with oral history ties to the cemetery. Using the online tool EMPOP, we calculated the likelihood of these exact matches occurring by chance alone (< 1%). The present findings exhibit the importance of genetic analysis of cemetery origins when archaeological and osteological data are inconclusive for estimating ancestry of anonymous historical individuals.
Ozga, Andrew T.; Raul Y. Tito; Brian M. Kemp; Hugh Matternes; Alexandra J. Obregon-Tito; Leslie Neal; and Cecil M. Lewis Jr.. 2015. "Origins of an Unmarked Georgia Cemetery Using Ancient DNA Analysis." Human Biology 87, (2): 109-121. doi:10.13110/humanbiology.87.2.0109.