A Hanover site that may be an old family cemetery that dates to the 1800s lies in the path of the $1.3 billion expansion of Baltimore-Washington International Airport, and airport officials are making plans to move any graves.
The Maryland Aviation Administration is planning to relocate any human remains from a site believed to be the Plummer Cemetery to a nearby graveyard. But the MAA does not know if the site, which has no headstones or markers, is a cemetery. An archaeological study of the area revealed that the 1,740-square-foot wooded plot east of Valley Road looks as if it were once a graveyard.
The study, commissioned by the MAA, found depressions in the terrain indicative of a cemetery that could be several hundred years old, BWI spokesman John White said yesterday. Land records show that in 1862, Yate Plummer owned 484 acres, called Plummer Pasture, he said. A family cemetery was also on the land, but its size and location are not clear, he said.
The MAA published a legal notice yesterday aimed at possible heirs and relatives to notify them of the relocation plans.
"We may not find anything," White said. "But this is the process we go through because of our archaeological review."
If the MAA receives authorization from the Anne Arundel County state's attorney, it plans to excavate next month and move any remains to Friendship Cemetery, off Mathison Way near the airport runways and behind the BWI Fire Rescue Department. The 3-acre cemetery, which existed before the airport, is still in use.
The site thought to be the Plummer Cemetery lies in a 78-acre area that will be used for a new rental-car facility, part of the airport's expansion. The facility, which will be able to hold up to 10 companies, is scheduled to be built in Stoney Run by 2003.
Richard B. Hughes, chief of the Office of Archeology for the Maryland Historic Trust, said small, unmarked cemeteries are common in the area. He said that since the 17th century, families living outside of towns would be buried in small plots on their farm property. When the farms are abandoned and the cemeteries no longer used, the markers might be moved.
"After a while, there's no trace and no one remembers, and these things just disappear for all intents and purposes," he said. "About the only way you can find them is if a historical document mentions them."
Hughes said abandoned cemeteries can also be detected if the coffins and bodies decompose and sink into the ground, leaving depressions.
"Sometimes they'll line up in rows, so you're pretty sure you're looking at a cemetery," he said.
If archaeologists excavate and move cemeteries, they may be able to piece together the identities of the inhabitants of the graves through such clues as skeletal remains, pins and buttons, Hughes said.
"Unless you're very careful, that sort of thing may get missed," he said.
Gary Shaffer, a preservation officer at the Maryland Historical Trust, said 18 other archaeological sites were discovered on the land where the rental-car facility will be built. A notable historical site was a domestic homestead dating between the 18th and 19th centuries, where more than 700 artifacts were found, he said.
Shaffer said that before the MAA can build on the site, further studies will be conducted and an archaeological dig will be held to collect a sample of the homestead's artifacts so "archaeologists and historians and the general public will learn more about domestic lifestyles of the early inhabitants of the county."