Remains of old Mennonite Cemetery brought back home

Authored by Jim Langham on Aug 31, 2012

Remains and artifacts that had been removed from the old Mennonite Cemetery two years ago have been brought back home for internment in the MRE Cemetery. The mass grave containing the remains is located south of the flagpole in the southern part of the graveyard.
Susan Doell, representing the Indiana Department of Transportation, said that final permission to bury the remains and artifacts was given late Tuesday, allowing for the Wednesday burial.
Ryan Peterson, archeologist in charge of the excavating project, said that in the end his archeological team had excavated slightly over 130 grave shafts. In the process of their work, Peterson said that archeologists had found all forms of remains, including portions of skeletons, burial relics and portions of caskets. While most grave shafts were located just to the east of the highway, Peterson had reported that there were three confirmed grave shafts on the very eastern portion of the grade school property.
Peterson said on Wednesday that once the remains were taken from Berne to Indianapolis, artifacts were taken back to his company (AMAC) to be analyzed and documented. Specialists at the University of Indianapolis analyzed the bones.
Wednesday, human remains and artifacts were placed systematically in vaults for burial.
"Everything was excavated by the individual grave," observed Peterson. "They were all kept separate until now. The human remains were examined at the University of Indianapolis by very highly qualified grad students."
Peterson said that it was impossible to label shafts by detail because in order to do that, there would have to have been very detailed records involved. He noted that there were no records available organizing names of those buried. Peterson said that there were Berne residents that came to his team during the exhuming of the graves and told him that they had understood that they had relatives buried in the cemetery.
"This was all a very slow process," commented Peterson. "Earlier Mennonite burials were very simple. We screened it all through mesh and put together the story the best that we could."
"It's great to finally be at this stage," said Doell. "I'm glad that we can bring back these people and have them finally put at rest here in Berne. It's nice to be able to look back and see what all this archeological team was able to accomplish."
Trustee Mike Liechty said that plans for the burial had been underway for several months. He noted that in November Peterson had come to Berne to meet with the MRE Cemetery board. He also noted that it is his understanding that area ministers would be planning some type of simple service commemorating the burial and that some type of fitting monument would be placed at the site.
Floyd Liechty, representing the history committee at the Mennonite Church, said that the thought that most of those buried in the cemetery had been from the old country is awesome.
"I am impressed by the care and respect that are given today by the state and company. Mr. Ryan Peterson has become a good friend," said Liechty. "My great, great, great grandmother was buried by the clock tower but her body was removed. Of course, there has been other relation brought here today."

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