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It was a three-mile journey that took nearly three years to complete, but the remains of turn-of-the-century Berne residents were laid to rest for a second time Wednesday at M.R.E. Cemetery west of Berne.
Cemetery officials and a handful of interested onlookers joined with representatives from the Indianapolis-based AMEC Earth & Environmental archaeology firm to re-inter human remains and burial artifacts excavated in 2009 and 2010 from the long-abandoned Mennonite Church Cemetery in Berne.
The former cemetery was located primarily on the northeast corner of what today is the intersection of U.S. 27 and State Route 218. The decision to excavate the site was made in conjunction with an Indiana Department of Transportation project to widen the intersection there. AMEC was contracted by state transportation officials to delicately identify and remove the any human remains and burial artifacts from the former cemetery site.
After three years of scientific analyzation and classification, the remains were given a proper burial Wednesday morning. A dozen large burial vaults and a similar number of smaller ones were at the cemetery awaiting interment.
AMEC project manager Ryan Peterson said individuals that were unearthed in their entirety from the former cemetery site were being re-buried in individual vaults. Other vaults were filled with non-human artifacts, primarily wood, glass and metal casket fragments, nails and other burial adornments.
Peterson noted in 2009, when excavations first began, that sketchy historical accounts of the former Mennonite Church Cemetery suggested the first burials at the site took place in the first half of the 19th century, and the cemetery remained in use for the next 100 years. No accurate account of the number of bodies buried in the abandoned cemetery existed, he said, and no precise records were available to document previous exhumations that took place in the early part of the 1920s when U.S. 27 was rerouted in Berne.
A grave marker on the east side of M.R.E. Cemetery marks the site of the 1920s burials. A similar marker is expected to be erected at the latest burial site, cemetery officials said.
Peterson said approximately 130 grave shafts were excavated in 2009 and 2010, but he was uncertain of the number of individual and partial skeletal remains that were recovered.
But the archaeologist on Wednesday had words of praise and thanks for the residents of Berne throughout the lengthy excavation process.
"It has been very nice working with these folks," Peterson said. "The kindness shown to us throughout the whole process has been great."
INDOT is footing the bill for the excavation and reburial, and project manager Susan Doell was on hand Wednesday for the interment.
"It's nice to have this part of the project completed," Doell said.
She said final cost for the project is not yet available, and declined to speculate what those costs could be.