Southern Miss students uncover 18th century bones in Biloxi dig

A two-week dig by anthropology students from the University of Southern Mississippi have turned up skeletal remains dating back to French Louisiana colonists.

Marie Danforth, professor of anthropology overseeing the dig, said the dig is being conducted at the request of the Moran family, which operated an art studio at the site. The studio was wiped out by Hurricane Katrina.

Danforth said skeletal remains have been found in 21 places at the site. She said there are likely more. The two-week dig ends Friday and the bones will go to Southern Miss for study.

"If the bones are left here," Danforth said, "nothing can be done with the property."

The first skeletons were originally discovered a few months after Hurricane Camille in 1969, when family patriarch and artist Joe Moran put in brick walls to protect the house against future storms.

Archeologists used Carbon 14 to date the remains to the early 1700s and identified them as French Louisiana colonists who probably landed here with Pierre LeMoyne d'Iberville in 1699.

The Morans left the skeletons where they lay and put a clear Plexiglas cover above them, creating a very unusual attraction for studio visitors.

Southern Miss has held weekend digs at the site several times since Katrina, when it was determined the 13 skeletons known to be under the building at the time of the storm were still intact. As the ground around and under the foundation of the 1924 house is exposed by digging, more skeleton pieces are being found, Danforth said.

This week, students were mapping out a larger portion of land previously undug. They say evidence indicates the small area already excavated is part of a larger cemetery the colonists used around 1721-1723, when their people were rapidly dying of disease and famine.

"This is exciting for us because of all the information," said Miranda Page of Grove, Okla. "We are able to really study the French Louisiana Colony firsthand because this is the only (known) French colony cemetery that is this intact in the whole United States."