Archaeologists will soon begin locating unmarked graves at Rock Zion Baptist Church in Addis. In 1996, a burial site with five graves was discovered on the property by construction workers digging a trench for a sewer line. The graves remain unmarked and questions about whether there are more are still unanswered, but not for long.
“We don’t know what we’re gonna encounter,” archaeologist Robert Westrick said. “We might not encounter anything—the survey corridor might be clear all the way around,”
West Baton Rouge Parish Government is the project sponsor, as it is the first phase of construction on the Acadian Trail, as required by state and federal law. The Acadian Trail will be a 10-foot sidewalk along Addis Lane, around the back of Rock Zion Baptist Church, to the levee-top trail. It will link the Myhand Park Trail to the West Baton Rouge Heritage Trailway along the levee, which stretches from Beaulieu Lane in Port Allen to Addis Lane. The Parish is waiting for Union Pacific Railroad to issue a sidewalk crossing permit for the Myhand Park Trail.
It is yet to be decided whether the Acadian Trail will go across the front of Rock Zion Baptist Church or if it will go behind it, but regardless of the sidewalk location, the grave delineation project is required.
Archaeologists will use Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) to locate graves without exhuming them, Westrick said at an informational meeting held Tuesday, Feb. 26. GPR is mobile, non-invasive and provides real-time data, but it has its limitations. GPR data is highly affected by soil moisture, and thus not 100 percent effective in climates like South Louisiana. The GPR will run along the survey path for the trail to plot burial sites to the inch. Then, archaeologists will dig between eight and 12 inches into the soil within the 15-foot survey corridor to find evidence of burials and lost markers or tombstones. Qualified archaeologists will monitor all ground disturbing activities throughout the construction of the Acadian Trail to ensure burials are treated with dignity and respect, Westrick said.
The project is scheduled to begin in March, weather permitting.