An archaeologist moves a ground-penetrating radar over a patch of earth in a wooded area. The high-tech piece of equipment is seeking to uncover an old-time secret; whether this long uninhabited area on the shores of Lake Wylie contains forgotten, unmarked grave sites, possibly holding the remains of antebellum slaves. If it does, those resting places need to be found before they get buried under a slew of new houses.
That was the concern when Mattamy Homes announced plans to build 175 houses on 85 acres off Bonum Road, between Baker Lane and Bucleigh Road. Local residents have long believed the area contained graves, based on the presence of stones said to mark the burial sites. If any human remains were found on the site, it would make it difficult for the company to move forward with its housing subdivision. State law protects graves and sets strict rules for how they must be handled by property developers.
But on Nov. 10, the York County Planning Commission gave its approval for the project to go forward. Mattamy had hired an archaeological team to investigate the claims of a graveyard on the property, and the team’s report didn’t indicate there were any graves to be found in the future subdivision.
Archaeologists from SEARCH Inc. of Columbia walked the property on Oct. 15 to determine if there were any previously unrecorded graves in the area. A survey of the entire property was conducted at 30-meter intervals, which “yielded no evidence that unrecorded cemeteries are within” the property, according to the report produced by the survey. A local resident also led the archaeologists to sites believed to be associated with burials.
The team identified two former house sites on the property that may have been occupied as late as the 1960s, including “a brick-and-fieldstone pile representing a collapsed chimney... a probable cistern/wall, (and) a fenced enclosure representing a probable animal pen.” Ground scans were performed at four separate locations indicated by the resident, without uncovering any anomalies that would lead them to believe there were bodies buried underneath.
The archaeologists couldn’t find any indication on the surface that there were any graves on the property, said Bob Kardos, president of Mattamy Homes’ Charlotte division, “but just to dot our I’s and cross our T’s, we had them use ground-penetrating radar.”
Mattamy doesn’t expect to find any graves on the property, but even if some are ultimately uncovered, they won’t stop development of the rest of the 85-acre property.
“Certainly, if some sites are found during development, those sites will be left undisturbed,” Kardos said. “The typical protocol is for it to be left as an undisturbed area with a marker or a plaque.”
SEARCH’s results were forwarded to York County planning officials and the state archaeologist’s office. But critics point out the survey does not include exact coordinates for the locations scanned. Historian Michael Scoggins with the Culture and Heritage Museums of York County said the report could be considered incomplete without that data, but that the SEARCH team could easily provide it.
“They have the GPS coordinates (of the scans),” Scoggins said. “I’d like to see them go back and provide more data.”
But from walking the property himself, Scoggins said he doesn’t believe there are any graves there.
“People might see things in the woods that they think are graves, but that doesn’t mean they are,” Scoggins said. “They see a pile of stones or a lot of periwinkle and they think it must be a grave, but that doesn’t mean diddly squat.”
Still, the controversy may not be over. Rock Hill NAACP President Melvin Poole has taken an interest in the issue because of the possibility slaves could be interred on the property. He’s reviewed SEARCH’s report, but wants to have an archaeologist selected by the NAACP to take a look at the area as well.
“I want to have an impartial third party look at it,” Poole said. “I’m satisfied (with the SEARCH report), but I’m not the expert.”