120 graves from lost cemetery found beneath Florida housing complex

Ground-penetrating radar found more than 120 gravesites, the remains of a lost cemetery for black residents, beneath a Tampa public housing complex.

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Zion Cemetery, established in 1901 and believed to be the city's first cemetery for African Americans, disappeared about 100 years ago to make way for white development, the Tampa Bay Times reported.

A portion of Robles Park Village, which is owned by the Tampa Bay Housing Authority, was built on top of the cemetery in the 1950s. It was originally a whites-only complex.

At the time it was built, a few graves were found and moved. Construction of the 67 buildings in the complex proceeded without any further investigation.

Archaeologists announced Friday that they found 126 caskets and think there are more. The 2 1/2-acre cemetery had space for 800 graves, the Times reported.

However, they were only able to scan less than half of the former cemetery’s boundary. Another portion is privately owned, and the radar does not work over the floors in five buildings of the complex that lie above the cemetery boundaries.

The equipment is also limited. It cannot identify a gravesite if the person was not buried in a coffin. Many blacks at the time were simply buried in fabric shrouds.

"It's possible that there are coffins without bodies," Paul Jones, project manager for Cardno the archaeological firm conducting the research, told the Times. "It is possible there are remains of coffins. It is possible that there are completely undisturbed coffins. We won't be able to answer anything definitively until the next step of the process."

That would include digging.

Residents in the five buildings on the cemetery boundary will be relocated soon. People living in the other buildings are also scheduled to be moved.

The Housing Authority plans to redevelop the land into a memorial.