The Avondale Burial Place is a long-forgotten cemetery in southern Bibb County, Georgia. Lacking tombstones, markers, or other signs of its existence, the cemetery was found by Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) Archaeologists during planning for the extension of Sardis Church Road. Constraints on the road’s design and construction did not allow the cemetery to be preserved in place, so GDOT engaged New South Associates to conduct an archaeological recovery and relocation of the deceased.
New South Associates and GDOT applied several techniques to identify and delineate this cemetery, including ground penetrating radar (GPR), search and rescue dogs, and exploratory trenching. Combined with excavation, these approaches ultimately revealed 106 burials. Historical and archaeological research indicated that the cemetery was created and used by an African American community during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The earliest burials that could be dated positively were from the 1870s. However, some evidence suggested the graveyard was in use before the Civil War. People buried at the cemetery probably included slaves, ex-slaves, and slave descendants who worked on antebellum and postbellum plantations and farms in the area. Comparison of their physical remains to records of African American health in Central Georgia indicated the cemetery population was typical for the period and region. The artifacts found at the site showed it was a southern folk cemetery that mixed coastal and upland African American funeral traditions. Following the completion of the study, all of the human remains and mortuary-related materials were re-interred at the Bethel AME Church in Byron, Georgia.
Although having to move a cemetery in the face of modern growth is not an ideal circumstance, the Avondale Burial Place Project sensitively accommodated development and scholarly research with the concerns of the descendant community and extensive public outreach. No specific individuals interred at the cemetery were identified through historical records or archaeological study. Genealogical research, however, identified potential descendants of those buried at the cemetery and members of the Barton and Thomas families visited the site during a reunion. DNA research confirmed that several family members were linked to individuals in the cemetery. GDOT and New South established a website, www.AvondaleBurialPlace.org, to provide descendants and interested community members with information about the research. Finally, GDOT, New South Associates, the Federal Highway Administration, and Georgia Public Broadcasting produced a film about Avondale Burial Place and its archaeological study. The film may be viewed below.