Archeological investigations begin at historic Washington cemetery

WASHINGTON, N.C. (WITN) – Archeological investigations have begun at a historic cemetery in Washington.

This months-long project began with a pack of goats that spent two weeks in February chewing and gnawing their way toward cleaning up the Sycamore Cemetery of Bonner Hill Plantation tied to the founding of the city of Washington.

Forty-two goats were dropped off at the 260-year-old Sycamore Cemetery of Bonner Hill Plantation in Washington by a business called “Goats on the Go” based out of Raleigh. They spent nearly two weeks at the burial site in a fenced-in area.

“We decided to give the goats a bit more time to clear out some of the areas. They weren’t preferencing and we are mostly happy with how they did in terms of thinning out most of the vegetation. For some of the ground cover, they weren’t too partial to they nibbled and dabbled but they decided this was not their favorite thing to eat,” Director of Goats on the Go, Stephen Paul said.

The goal was for the goats to eat away overgrown vegetation so that ground-penetrating radar could then be used to map out the graves hidden within. The hopes are that would then lead them to discover not only who is buried there and their ties to Washington but also to discover more meaning behind the city.

Descendant of the Bonners, Steve Bonner, has been the heart of this project and now has the next steps mapped out.

When doing the initial investigation and planning for this project, family organizers were only certain of around five graves in the burial site, but now they are thinking there are upwards of 17 or more graves to be discovered.

Now, July is here and the ECU Anthropology department has come out to start the ground-penetrating radar to discover how many graves are at the site so restoration efforts can begin.

“It shoots radar waves into the ground and reflects off something or whatever is underneath there. We will record these anomalies and right now that’s all they are. If they line up with the other graves then we can assume that those are graves,” ECU Anthropology professor, Charles Ewen said.

The community has been a big part of this project and help is needed, according to Bonner. The next steps are to restore the headstones, line a fence, and make it an official cemetery.