Why 7,000 bodies are buried underneath the University of Mississippi campus

University of Mississippi (Photo Source: Facebook/ The University of Mississippi - Ole Miss)
University of Mississippi (Photo source: Facebook/ The University of Mississippi – Ole Miss)

The University of Mississippi Medical Center, located in the city of Jackson has a problem. Apparently, there may be as many as 7,000 bodies buried across 20 acres of the campus. The dead are former patients of what was called the Insane Asylum, which was built in 1855 and closed its doors in 1935.

In 2013, UMMC was expanding its campus and during the excavation of a road discovered a site that contained 1,000 unmarked graves. Then in 2014, while building a parking lot, more graves were discovered. Using underground sonar the school soon discovered thousands of bodies buried across the campus. It was determined that the bodies would be exhumed and relocated but the cost of the procedure would be an estimated $3K per grave. That would bring the total cost of exhuming all of the bodies to $21 million.

Rather than go down such a costly road, the university is proposing to handle the exhumation of the bodies itself and building a historical center over the site. This would entail the university spending $400K per year on the project until its completion, an amount that the school is hoping they can raise through grants.

The university has already started the process by exhuming 66 bodies using students and teachers of the Mississippi State Institute of Archaeology. One of the archaeology students has used genetic sequencing of the bodies to determine the health of the deceased while they were alive. Information so far showed that the bodies suffered nutritional deprivation, severe stress and evidence of the disease pellagra, which is caused by a vitamin B deficiency and was common in the South during the early 20th century.

According to university officials, up to 35,000 patients were housed at the asylum between 1865 and 1935. Asylum records that have been examined show a total of 9,000 died there, with about 6,000 of them buried in the asylum cemetery. By building at historical center on the campus, future researchers will be able to examine the bodies and give insight on the treatment of the mentally ill during the running of the asylum.

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