Monday afternoon, Darvis McIntosh was bulldozing the cut for a street in what will be the Lanie Brooke subdivision off Barnes Mill Road when the blade of his dozer hit a cylindrically shaped iron object.

“I called for my son Joseph who was working with me to run over and see what it was,” McIntosh said. “I thought I might have hit a piece of sewer pipe.”

Joseph was in for a shock when he peaked inside the iron case that was partially ripped open by the bulldozer.

“It’s a body!” he said. “You’ve uncovered a grave.”

“I shut off the bulldozier and got in touch with the property owner, David Lawson,” McIntosh said.

Lawson, a builder/developer, called the Madison County Coroner’s office and the Kentucky State Police, who came to investigate. They called Dr. Emily Craig, the state medical examiner.

When Craig arrived, she quickly determined that the grave was not a crime scene and called Dr. David Pollock, with the Kentucky Archeological Survey.

“The body had been encased in a cast-iron sarcophagus, a burial method used in the 19th century,” she said. “Since the grave had historical significance, I called the archeologists, so we could remove the body before rain began to fall.”

The body was about 5 feet below the surface, but it had been placed between two huge slabs of limestone, Pollock said. The crevice between the limestone slabs had helped preserve the burial site, he said.

McIntosh used a trackhoe to lift one of the slabs and pull it away so the archeologist and Deputy Coroner Carlos Coyle, with the help of the workers, could gently lift the sarcophagus, place it in an orange Stokes basket and carry it to a waiting emergency vehicle.

Shaped like a human body, the close-fitting sarcophagus resembled an Egyptian mummy. Inside the iron case, the body had been wrapped in a cloth shroud.

While observers who gathered at the site speculated that the deceased must have been from a wealthy family, Pollock said that might not necessarily be the case. “Families of modest means would sometimes spare no expense to bury a loved one,” he said.

“Iron coffins of this type first began to be used around 1845,” Pollock said. “They weren’t used much during the Civil War because much of the American iron supply was going into cannon balls,” he said. “Their use became more common again after the war,” he added, speculating that the burial might have taken place in the 1870s.

Pollock suggested that Coyle take the sarcophagus and body to the Madison County morgue and hold it until arrangements could be made to move it to the anthropology laboratory at the University of Kentucky.

“We’ll analyze the coffin, shroud, human remains and the clothes in which they were buried in hopes of determining the date of burial, sex and age of the deceased,” Pollock said.

With an approximate date of burial, a deed search could determine who then owned the property.

Researchers from the Kentucky Archeological Survey will visit the site and seek to determine if more graves are in the vicinity, Pollock said. “Then we’ll advise the property owner on how to proceed with his development.”

Lawson said he would have the excavators resume their work in a different section of what will be a 17-acre subdivision until he hears from the archeologists.

Bill Robinson can be reached at or at 623-1669, Ext. 267.

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