APPLING — Charlie Law first noticed the odd, linear depressions off Keg Pointe Road 35 years ago.
“I was working with a survey crew as a summer job,” he said. “There was nothing out here then, just woods.”
Since then, those woods have evolved into a subdivision with homes and large lots, but the mysterious cemetery is still there.
Law revisited the site last Labor Day to see what had become of the graves, marked only by weathered rocks at the head and foot of each one.
The county road veers noticeably around both sides of the site, but there is nothing to indicate why the cemetery is there, or when it was created.
“I was disappointed that no one had ever managed to identify the site and mark it in some way,” he said.
Cemeteries often become lost or overtaken by time and neglect.
Thurmond Lake and its shoreline, for which the U.S. government acquired 140,000 acres in the late 1940s, has more than 150 cemeteries sprawled among counties on both sides of the Savannah River.
Some of those burials were relocated before the lake was filled, and others are quietly preserved in areas permanently off-limits to logging and development. It is possible there are other sites that were never discovered.
Columbia County’s oldest aerial photos, dating to 1956, show the Keg Pointe Road cemetery as a wooded peninsula in a cleared field. A road that no longer exists was a few hundred yards south, but there are no clues to the origins of the graves.
Old cemeteries have turned up in other locations, often by surprise, and sometimes with costly consequences.
In 2007, when Columbia County was building Blanchard Woods Park, a partially completed soccer field was abandoned after graves were discovered in an area that was to be covered with 20 feet of fill dirt. The cemetery was preserved, but the soccer field and practice area were never completed.
In the past, cemeteries had little protection. Today, laws require that human remains be moved before property can be developed or altered, and Georgia law requires an archeological assessment if suspected burials are found in an area that is to be disturbed.
On public lands such as those owned by the U.S. Forest Service or Corps of Engineers, new discoveries of previously unknown graves are logged into cultural resources assessments. Those records help ensure that the sites are not forgotten in the future.