There’s a stigma attached to cemeteries that Christina Brooks, lecturer of anthropology, wants to debunk.
"Cemeteries are resting places that are meant to be returned to again and again," said Brooks, a bioarchaeologist and forensic anthropologist. Brooks should know – in her efforts to locate, document and preserve slave cemeteries, she’s spent a lot of time in these final resting places. Brooks, who came to Winthrop in 2008, wants her students to have these same opportunities for hands-on excavation work.
In spring 2009, Brooks and her students conducted an excavation and survey of a slave cemetery in Mint Hill, N.C. She and her team recovered skeletal remains and a number of artifacts. They were able to date the burial grounds to 1868, used a hand-held GPS to map the area and photographed markers and artifacts. In spring 2011, Brooks’ "Fieldwork in Archeology" class completed a cemetery survey at Historic Brattonsville – a space not opened up to the public. Over the summer, Brooks will take four groups of students on a full-participation archaeological excavation of a slave plantation on the island of St. Eustatius.
Brooks discovered her love for the science of anthropology as an undergraduate student at Howard University. She started on a pre-med track, then took an anthropology class and completed an internship with Naval Criminal Investigative Service. She enrolled in the M.A. in anthropology program at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, where she landed an assistantship with legendary forensic anthropologist William Bass at UT-Knoxville’s famous Forensic Anthropology Center (known as the "original body farm").
Brooks also uses her forensic anthropology training to assist the York County Coroner’s Office and other coroners in S.C. She consults on cases with unidentified or unclaimed remains, and she aims to provide a measure of closure to families who have declared a loved one missing.
"Everyone loves a good mystery, and forensics is very modern and exciting," explained Brooks. "But what I like is that forensics can bring closure to families who have had a loved one missing for years, families that are holding out hope. Forensics gives them an answer."
Whether she’s dealing with remains or teaching her students how to map a cemetery, Brooks can’t get enough of her job. "You’ve got science and archaeology and history all in there – it’s wonderful," she said.
Last updated: 04/07/2011