Graves found on the site of an ongoing residential development will be preserved, and plans for the property altered.
Crescent Communities discovered 16 graves while developing a new residential community in York County. James Martin, vice president with Crescent, declined to say on which property his company found the graves.
“We all want to respect what’s there,” he said. “We don’t need people out on site, poking around. Also, it’s an active development site.”
Martin did say every effort was made to preserve the graves once they were discovered.
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“Immediately following the discovery, site work was stopped in the affected area and the appropriate archaeological and cultural experts notified,” he said. “A flagged buffer zone was created around the area, bringing all construction activities to a halt within that area.”
Several people with knowledge of the property say the graves were found where Masons Bend is being developed, on the Fort Mill side of the Catawba River. Crescent’s online map of ongoing residential communities in York County shows just Masons Bend and Springfield. Only developers for Masons Bend are clearing large areas for new construction.
Masons Bend is set for about 1,000 homes plus amenity areas. Nearby is land for another public school and a potential hospital site.
In 2007, archaeologists and local cultural groups discovered the remains of Nassaw Town, an 18th-century Native American village with as many as 300 people, on the same site. Plans then were for a heritage museum near the river, with new homes around it. Graves were found as part of that work.
Archeologist Annette Snapp, now living in Florida, worked on the site about a decade ago for the proposed museum. Snapp said she would spend breaks walking the 400-acre property, where she found signs of grave sites. Her assignment, though, didn’t reach that far.
“I was not asked to do more,” Snapp said. “I was really limited to the footprint of the museum building.”
Snapp and others familiar with the property heard graves were discovered in late May. Snapp said the news did not surprise her.
“It’s not unexpected at all,” she said. “There is every expectation that there will be burials everywhere.”
Leo Yakutis of Fort Mill, a member of the county Culture & Heritage Commission, heard from an archaeologist regarding the found graves. Yakutis said Wednesday he has more questions than answers but is concerned with how developers came across the graves, according to information he received.
“The remains were discovered with bulldozers,” he said. “There’s nothing subtle about a bulldozer. I have a feeling the graves were heavily disturbed.”
Carey Tilley, commission director, heard bits of information on the incident but had not heard from the state archaeologist or anyone else to confirm what happened.
“Right now,” Tilley said Wednesday, “we don’t even know that that’s what it is.”
Wenonah Haire, director of the Catawba Cultural Center, declined to comment on her tribe’s involvement with the grave discoveries. A major concern in such cases is looting, something her tribe would not want to encourage by offering specifics.
“We know what’s going on,” Haire said. “We’ve already had our meeting. We are informed.”
The property where graves were discovered will not dramatically alter its use, Martin said. No changes large enough to impact a development agreement are planned. Crescent will reforest the area around the graves. Home sites will not be reduced significantly.
“It’s more of a relocation,” Martin said. “We did have to shorten a road. We will lose one or two lots, which is OK.”
The more pressing concern, he said, is preserving any part of the property where graves are discovered. Crescent reviewed its site plans and findings with “archaeological experts, cultural leaders and local authorities” before determining what revisions were necessary, Martin said.
“The respectful treatment and protection of this important site is our top priority,” he said.
“The affected area will be preserved in place and will not be developed. It will remain a natural area.”
John Marks • 803-547-2353