Human bones at building site to be reburied
It may never be possible to learn exactly who the six or seven people buried under the former Cloverleaf Mall site were, but their mortal remains will soon be moving to a more visible and dignified resting place.
Workers at the site off Midlothian Turnpike called the Chesterfield County Police Department on April 10 to report that they had found human remains while preparing the ground for a planned mixed-use development to be called Stonebridge.
The remains, found about 6 to 8 feet underground and including a human skull and other bones, were taken to the state Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, where experts quickly determined that they had been buried about a century ago.
Objects found with the remains, including nails and ornamental handles, led investigators to conclude that the workers had unearthed an old burial site.
A state law known as the Virginia Antiquities Act prohibits “the removal of human skeletal remains or associated artifacts from any unmarked human burial regardless of age of an archaeological site and regardless of ownership” without first obtaining a permit from the Department of Historic Resources.
The developers of Stonebridge, led by the Chesterfield Economic Development Authority, and a local engineering firm, the Timmons Group, quickly called in an archaeological consulting firm, Circa Cultural Resource Management of Williamsburg, to oversee the handling of the burial site.
As of last Friday, remains of at least six people, and possibly a seventh, had been unearthed, according to Chris Dodson, director of field operations for Timmons.
Dodson said the excavation and exploration phase of the archaeological work was finished, as the consultant had found the limits of the burial ground and established a “clear zone” in which no more bodies were found.
Chesterfield Economic Development Director Will Davis said the evidence seems to suggest that the site is an abandoned family graveyard. “I am assuming it’s a family cemetery because all of them were found about six feet down, near each other,” he said.
Garrett Hart, the EDA’s assistant director and project manager for Stonebridge, said a 100-foot boundary has been set up around the burial site while Circa performs its archaeological survey.
Hart noted that Circa previously worked for the EDA on a preliminary archaeological/ historical survey of the Meadowville Technology Park near Interstate 295 and Route 10.
Dodson said the next phase of the required treatment of the burials will be to bring in a qualified expert to exhume the remains. “They will be examined for race, age, sex, that kind of thing,” and the findings will be filed with the historic resources department.
After that, Dodson said, “They will be reinterred somewhere on the property” unless family members come forward to claim the remains. If it’s on the Stonebridge site, the reburial location will be “off on its own, undisturbed,” most likely set off by a low, wrought-iron fence and a marker, he said.
In the meantime, at the request of the historic resources department, the exact location of the burials on the 83-acre Stonebridge site has not been disclosed as a precaution to prevent possible relic-hunting or vandalism.
However, Hart said the burial ground was not underneath the main mall building, which was demolished earlier this year to make way for the redevelopment.
The effort to protect the burial site is in keeping with the intent of the antiquities act, which was first passed in 1977, five years after the Cloverleaf Mall opened.
The archaeology will not in any way interfere with or delay work on the Stonebridge project, Hart said. That work is ahead of schedule, he said, in large part because “it’s been a wonderful winter to be doing construction” because of the mild weather.
Currently, he said, the main effort on the site is construction of a 123,000-square foot Kroger grocery megastore and gas station. The store is currently scheduled to open around the first week of December.
The Meadowville project is also generally ahead of schedule, Hart said. The new Amazon.com fulfillment center there is starting to take shape, with its roof deck already in place. Amazon is starting to recruit nationally for management jobs at the center and is expected to start hiring hourly workers locally by late summer.