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Monument for the burials removed from the Old Frankfort Cemetery

Old Frankfort Cemetery

Site ID: 15Fr154

Kentucky Archaeological Survey
Unless specified, we cannot provide site location information.


​​​​​​​​​​​​​For over 150 years, one of Frankfort’s earliest cemeteries lay buried and forgotten at the base of Fort Hill, no more than three blocks from Kentucky’s Old State Capitol.  Construction activities had ​“rediscovered” this integrated burial ground in 2002, and over the next several months, archaeologists and biological anthropologists documented it. 

From the early 1800s to about 1850, the Cemetery was a graveyard for Frankfort’s working class, the poor, immigrants, and undoubtedly, the enslaved.  Historic  documents had little to say about who had been buried in the cemetery. Archaeologists and biological anthropologists pieced together a picture of these people - who they were and when and how they lived - by relying on each person’s skeletal remains, the personal items placed within their grave or worn by them, their coffin's characteristics, and their grave' s location in the cemetery.

Archaeologists excavate graves at the Old Frankfort Cemetery.


​Archaeological investigations at the Old Frankfort Cemetery recovered a wealth of information about the 242 people who were laid to rest there. It included ethnic heritage, age and sex; the state of their overall health; the diseases they experienced; their work history; the kinds of foods they ate; and the tangible evidence of their final days on earth.

For most of its history, the Old Frankfort Cemetery was an integrated burial ground for Frankfort’s working class and the poor.  European-Americans as well as freed and enslaved African-Americans were buried there.

Most of the graves were simple rectangular pits.  In 67 cases, however, large limestone slabs, and occasionally bricks, covered the bottom and lined the sides of the grave shaft.  Most of the stone was natural rock undoubtedly collected from nearby rock outcrops.  This created a box or below-ground rectangular vault.  Constructing these vaults required digging the grave shaft much wider than the coffin. In many instances, the use of a cover-stone was so effective that deterioration of the coffin wood and decomposition of the body created a void.

Archaeologists were able to identify differences among the dead that had as much to do with their economic standing as it did their ethnic heritage. Regardless of a person’s ethnicity, people buried in the Upper Area were relatively better situated, financially, than those buried in the Lower Area.  This was reflected by the fact that the former ate a greater variety of foods, and by the amount of effort and resources their families spent on their loved ones’ burials (lining grave shafts to create below-ground vaults and purchasing somewhat fancier coffins).  

Other factors, too, like religious beliefs or cultural traditions, undoubtedly contributed to the burial patterns researchers documented within the Old Frankfort Cemetery.  These included, for example, placing coins mainly on the eyes of adult women; the preference for wrapping infants and children in shrouds; and the custom that led men to wear wedding bands on their left hand and women on their right.

Brick and rock-lined grave shaft.

What's Cool?

Portraits​ of People

​Producing the ​likenesses of nineteenth-century Frankfort residents buried in the Old Frankfort Cemetery took hours of painstaking attention to scientific detail, combined with artistic vision. In modeling the three-dimensional busts, the forensic artist applied clay to laser-made plastic casts of the skulls.

Forensic artist creating the bust of the older man of African heritage. 

Muscles, ligaments, tendons, blood vessels, veins, and fat lie beneath the skin on our faces. But before​​ the forensic artist could correctly fashion these people’s faces, she had to know exactly how thick the tissue would have been. She consulted two different sources. One was charts and documents that report the average tissue depths for both sexes and for people of different ethnic heritage. The other source was the results of the human bone analysis conducted by the project’s biological anthropologist, who had identified the age, sex, and ethnic heritage of the person.

Tiss​​ue depth varies slightly from person to person, and changes with a person’s weight. From other information about these people, the artist knew whether to draw a​ person as strong and muscular or underweight.

Individuals of African heritage: from left to right - older man, young woman, and infant.

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