Forensic scientists and archaeologists investigating a mass grave near the site of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre have unearthed skeletal remains, including that of a Black man with multiple gunshot wounds to the head and shoulder, officials announced Friday.
The remains were found in October when authorities were excavating the Black section of Oaklawn Cemetery as part of the investigation into a search for mass graves that may be connected to the massacre. But they were left in the ground until city officials received permission from a judge to exhume them for forensic analysis.
In June, after the excavation was resumed, scientists discovered 35 coffins in the unmarked mass grave. The remains of 19 people were sent to a science lab on site, not far from the mass grave. So far, officials said they have completed preliminary analysis on nine of those human remains.
”Five of those nine were juveniles,” said Phoebe Stubblefield, the lead forensic anthropologist working on the investigation. “The remaining four are adults. One was an older female. The other were adults, who range in age from 30s to their 40s.”
Stubblefield said the analysis has also looked for clues on race. “Ancestry so far, when we can detect it, has been of African descent,” Stubblefield said. “We are looking for features … determining ancestry by the shape of the skull.”
She said one set of the remains examined was that of a Black man who was buried in a plain casket in a section of the city-owned cemetery set aside for indigent residents.
Stubblefield told reporters at a news conference Friday that one man had a bullet still lodged in his left shoulder area.
”He does have associated trauma,” she said. “He has multiple projectile wounds.”
The complete analysis of the remains found in the mass grave may take several weeks. “We still have details to work out on the other males that we did exhume,” Stubblefield said.
Last July, Tulsa officials began digging for mass graves. The first “test excavation” ended without finding human remains, but the city expanded its search. On June 1, the 100th anniversary of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, the city expanded its search for mass graves in Oaklawn and a new pit was excavated in another section of the cemetery.
The remains were found in a section of the cemetery called “Original 18,” where officials believe the bodies of 18 Black massacre victims who had been listed on a funeral home ledger were buried in unmarked graves.
Kristi Williams, a member of the Tulsa Mass Graves Oversight Committee, said she is seeking more answers and awaiting more results. “Right now,” Williams said, “the priority is to find out who these remains belong to and why were they there undocumented.”
Scientists spent the past three weeks mapping the mass gravesite by using machinery to remove the top layer of soil. The scientists have also conducted hand excavation, using metal detectors to screen the soil.
State Archaeologist Kary Stackelbeck said Friday that this phase of the excavation is now complete. She said there were no grave markers at the site and no records indicated that bodies had been buried there.