Smithsonian to examine caskets

The Smithsonian is preparing to examine two caskets from Kinston, North Carolina, to determine who is buried in them. One is believed to be a Civil War veteran, and the project is being filmed by the History Channel.

East Carolina University anthropology professor Charles Ewen and his students removed two caskets from their brick vaults Thursday and sent them to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington for examination.

Owsley has set aside Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday to examine the artifacts. Marble said his excitement about the find comes from the state of the coffins. Iron caskets of this ilk were manufactured between 1848 and 1863. They were designed with a glass plate covering the area of the deceased’s face. This allowed people to view the body. The glass was covered with an iron plate when the casket was buried.

Most caskets of that era don’t have intact glass plates, Marble said. A similar casket recently discovered in Kentucky was taken to the Smithsonian. When the examination began, scientists discovered that the glass had cracked and water seeped in. Little useful information could be extracted. The glass plates on the Kinston caskets are believed to be in place.

Scientists from the Smithsonian will be joined by others from California, Minnesota and Oklahoma. They will examine the air trapped in the caskets and do a full autopsy of the bodies. The results are expected to tell the causes of death, any illnesses the two people may have had, their ages and the type of food they ate. DNA samples will be taken and matched with samples submitted by Hoffman and her father. Clothing worn by the deceased will be examined and a CT scan of the bodies will be made.

Apparently the family history/genealogy was well documented, but there were a few areas where confusion cropped up, namely over where a few people were buried.

1 thought on “Smithsonian to examine caskets”

  1. It is a touchy subject. On the one hand, you don’t want to disturb the final resting places of your ancestors. That’s a very sacred thing to most of us.

    I remember several years ago when DNA and genealogy were just starting to really come together, almost a dozen family members and I were going to a cemetery to do some cleanup of some family plots (going back 120 years or so).

    It was April 1st, and me being in an “April fools” mode, when we got there, I pulled a shovel out of my trunk and said “this is a good time to get DNA samples”.

    Nobody spoke to me for a good hour or so, even after I tried to explain that I was just making an April fools joke. You just don’t mess with graves.

    On the flip side, put yourself in the place of the deceased.

    If, 150 years from now, God forbid your grave as well as the graves of others near you, are mixed up, and people aren’t sure who is buried where, they just know that somebody is buried where you were buried, and somebody is buried at another location, would you want them to do what they could to identify your grave? In that instance, I wouldn’t have any problems with what they are doing.

    There is something reassuring about knowing where somebody is buried.

    I expect this to become a major issue over the coming decades, as more people become interested in genealogy, and as they realize just how poorly some cemeteries and cemetery records have been maintained.

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