USM Team Digs Up Coast History

Biloxi has a colorful history, to say the least. Now a team from the University of Southern Mississippi is working hard to find out more about the area's history.

For the past week, a group of students, graduates, and professors have been digging up artifacts and skeletal remains at the site where Moran's Art Studio once stood, just north of Porter Avenue.

"Right here is one of the newest burials that we've recently uncovered. This is one of the skulls right here. It's been fragmented, broken up a little bit, possibly from normal movements, possibly from the storm surge," said Miranda Page, who just received her masters in anthropology.

The skeleton may be fragmented, but this team plans to use it and other remains to piece together the history of Biloxi and the people who lived near this site.

"Right now, we think the cemetery probably dates to the 1720s and at that time in French Colonial, Louisiana history there would have been a lot of immigrants coming to this area. They would have been landing on Ship Island and coming into Biloxi. They would have been Germans, French, Swiss. They would have been indentured servants, exiles, people trying to make a better life for themselves," said anthropology graduate Tiffany Hensley.

So far, the remains of six skeletons have been uncovered and collected at the site, along with other body fragments and artifacts that turned up after sand from the site was sifted through an 8-inch screen.

"We found several teeth, we just found a piece of a vertebrae, one of the backbones," said Marie Danforth, a Professor of Anthropology at USM.

This dig isn't just significant to the area. It's one of the earliest known French colonial cemeteries in the United States, and the remains here are well-preserved.

"It is the only french colonial cemetery of its kind. We've got Fort Rosalie, but the preservation is so bad that all they were able to recover were teeth. So this gives us a much greater opportunity to learn from the burials," Hensley said.

The team will take the remains and artifacts they collect back to the university lab to be studied. A comprehensive report will be compiled and sent to the State Archives of History in Jackson. Findings will also be shared at school exhibits throughout the state.