Grave in central Indiana road turns out to be family plot

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A 185-year-old gravesite in the middle of a rural central Indiana road contains the remains of at least seven people, the archaeologist who led an exhumation of the site said Tuesday.

The University of Indianapolis team likely uncovered a small family plot in the middle of Johnson County Road 400 East about 25 miles south of Indianapolis, archaeologist Christopher Schmidt said.

The site contained the remains of two women, a man and four children, he said.

"My hope is that going forward it will be viewed as a Barnett family cemetery in the middle of a street," Schmidt said. "It really is a family plot."

Nancy Kerlin Barnett was buried at the site in 1831 near other graves. Local legend has it that when the other graves were believed to have been moved for construction of the road in the early 1900s, Barnett's grandson, armed with a shotgun, guarded her grave to prevent anyone from moving it, so the road was built around the grave.

Schmidt and his students began excavating the site on May 11 in preparation for the county upgrading the road. He informed the county commissioners of the additional remains Monday.

The discovery of seven sets of bones raises questions as to whether the other remains were moved when the road was built.

"As it stands right now, it looks at least in the immediate area, by where we feel like where the Nancy Kerlin Barnett grave was, nothing was removed," Schmidt said.

At least two bodies at the site had been disturbed by excavations over the years, Schmidt said. The bones of an adult male appeared to have been dug up, collected together and reburied, he said.

The site might hold additional remains, he said.

During Monday's meeting, county commissioners voted to pay for DNA testing on the bones. They expect the testing will cost about $6,000.

"I feel like if we didn't follow that all the way through, then we've really done an injustice to not only the family, but to the grave site," said Johnson County Commissioner Brian Baird.

The road remains closed indefinitely.

"We're in a holding period," Highway Director Luke Maston told commissioners. "I don't want to start constructing and find out that we didn't leave enough room."

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