Construction site yields 94 human remains
The Fort Bend Independent School District has completed its initial investigation into an unmarked and abandoned cemetery that was discovered at a construction site and has now been granted permission to exhume the 94 graves located there.
In a petition filed in the 434th District Court and heard on June 4, the school district said it wants to conduct a forensic analysis of the remains.
“The district … is seeking the approval of this court to exhume human remains from the FBISD burial site for the purposes of further historical investigation. No remains or graves will be removed from the property at this time. The exhumations will be performed by Goshawk, under the permit and supervision of the Texas Historical Commission,” attorneys Michelle Morris and Elizabeth Mylin wrote in their petition.
Goshawk is Goshawk Environmental Consulting, Inc., a team of professional archaeologists hired by the district. Goshawk was hired by the district prior to starting construction of the James Reese Career and Technical Center at 12300 University Boulevard in Sugar Land.
The petition says “the district received anecdotal reports of a possible abandoned historical cemetery in the vicinity of the property” last October.
“Goshawk remained on the property until mid-January 2018, both observing the construction activities of FBISD’s contractors, and conducting its own independent investigation into the existence of culturally significant sites on the property. On or about Jan. 15, 2018, Goshawk completed its observations in concurrence with the Texas Historical Commission and prepared a written report concluding that no culturally significant sites had been found.
“On Feb. 19, 2018, prior to Goshawk’s submission of its report to the Texas Historical Commission, contractors for FBISD observed what appeared to be human bones while conducting utility placement on the property. FBISD immediately notified the Goshawk team, who returned to the property to investigate. After confirmation by a medical examiner that the bones were human, Goshawk met with the THC staff to develop a scope of work under Antiquities Permit No. 8197 to determine the nature of the internment and identify additional burials,” the petition says.
In an affidavit accompanying the petition, Reign Clark, cultural resources director for Goshawk, said the exhumations are needed for “forensic anthropologists and historians to gather additional osteological, demographic, and historical data” from the site.
“Should the court grant FBISD’s petition to exhume human remains, Goshawk, under the director of the THC, and all laws that pertain to the exhumation of human remains, plans to document and analyze the 94 burials located on the FBISD burial site,” Clark said.
“Goshawk plans to excavate, by hand, each interment, leaving all bones and artifacts in situ for an initial assessment by an archaeologist and forensic anthropologist. Once each burial is exposed, it will be photographed, removed from the ground, and transported in an appropriate vessel to a laboratory on the property.
“At the laboratory on-site, a forensic anthropologist, assisted by archeologists, will analyze each individual set of remains. Laboratory investigation will include bone measurements and comparative studies to determine ethnicity, sex, age at death, stature, pathological condition, musculoskeletal stress changes, health profile, x-rays of bones, and cause of death. Photographs of each set of remains will be taken in the laboratory. Burials will not be removed from the property for any reason other than temporary removal for the purpose of x-ray analysis, until permission is granted by the court for reinterment.”
In addition to examining the bodies, Goshawk will also study items found around them, Clark said.
“Goshawk will also collect artifact assemblages and funerary items associated with each burial,” he wrote. “These materials will be returned to each interment for reburial. Artifacts from a secondary context, not directly related with the burials, will be cleaned and analyzed by Goshawk, and may be prepared for curation at a registered repository. Documentation of each artifact collected will be photographed and logged. Soil samples may be collected for later macro botanical analysis.”
Construction is continuing at the site in areas away from the graves. The land was once owned by the state prison system and was plantation property before that. According to FBISD Superintendent of Schools Dr. Charles Dupre, once a determination is made about the human remains, plans will be made for their reburial at another location.
“We are appreciative of the Texas Historical Commission’s guidance during this process, and we hope to begin further analysis soon to ensure that we are properly honoring the deceased and identifying an appropriate location for reinterment,” he said. “As the process to learn more about this site continues, we remain committed to honoring the history of those buried at the site.”
Fort Bend ISD purchased the land in 2011, and construction of the James Reese Career and Technical Center began in 2017. When complete, it will offer advanced junior and senior level courses and give students an opportunity to explore careers in agriculture and natural resources, architecture and construction, arts and video communications, culinary arts, cosmetology, education and training, information technology, law and public safety, manufacturing and transportation and logistics.
The facility is funded through the 2014 bond program, which included $59 million earmarked for CTE improvements. The center was named in honor of James Reese, a former FBISD math teacher who later served as the first FBISD vocational director. Reese’s career in education spanned a total of 36 years, with 33 in FBISD. He passed away in 2009.