Catherine Jones presents at the Society for Historical Archaeology Annual Meeting

Title: Milwaukee’s Common Grave: Spatial Distribution and Compositional Characteristics of Multiple Interments in a Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Century Potter’s Field
Session: Bookends: What We’ve Learned in the Twenty-two Years Separating Archaeological Excavations of the Milwaukee County Poor Farm Cemetery
Organization: Society for Historical Archaeology 2017, Fort Worth, Texas

Initially established for burial of the city’s unclaimed, indigent, and institutionalized, the Milwaukee County Poor Farm Cemetery quickly became a convenient disposal venue for city institutions such as the Milwaukee Medical College, Wisconsin College of Physicians and Surgeons, and Milwaukee County Coroner’s Office. Excavations at the site in 1991-1992 and 2013 revealed a unique subset of burials containing the partial remains of multiple individuals, many of which show evidence of autopsy and medical cadaver use. The mortuary behavior surrounding this subset of burials serves as a reflective cultural landscape, revealing the underbelly of medical practice and instruction in a rapidly urbanizing nineteenth century Midwestern city. A comparison of the spatial distribution and internal composition of these burials provides insight into landscape use and patterns of disposition, and brings to light a contemporary ideology that commodified the dead by placing sociopolitical identity over individuality.