Researchers said Tuesday that they have now uncovered 15 more burials in an Oaklawn Cemetery mass grave since an October test excavation revealed 12 in their search for 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre victims, bringing the total to 27 presumed sets of remains with still more "very likely" to be discovered.
"We were able to then come back today and actually initiate the process of excavation on some of the individual burials," Dr. Kary Stackelbeck, Oklahoma's state archaeologist, said during a press briefing at the Tulsa Fire Museum adjacent to the cemetery.
Dr. Phoebe Stubblefield, lead forensic anthropologist on the search, said analysis on skeletal remains to attempt to determine whether the remains belong to massacre victims was likely to begin Wednesday.
"When the remains are documented in place, they are carefully moved laterally into a cardboard box," Stubblefield said.
"It will allow us to transfer the remains in a container with handles in a way that we can both safely process them to the lab from the excavation site and have them readily stored until their final redisposition, really, in whatever memorial or reinterment is appropriate for the remains," Stubblefield said, "because I still have to do the test analysis of their context."
Stackelbeck said the team was not yet ready to rule out that the remains found in the mass grave could belong to individuals not associated with the massacre, such as 1918-1919 flu pandemic victims.
"We have to remain cautious and not get too ahead of ourselves in terms of our interpretations," Stackelbeck said.
Kavin Ross, the chair of the investigation's public oversight committee and a descendant of massacre survivors, said the remains would be handled with utmost care and dignity, with their containers covered in black curtains.
"This is not an opportunity for a photo opp -- this is an opportunity for respect from our community," Ross said. "And we are very aware and understanding of the importance of this time in our lives, because we want to be on the right side of history this time."
White Tulsans killed as many as 300 Black Tulsans in the racist attack 100 years ago which also destroyed the then-thriving Black enclave of Greenwood, or "Black Wall Street." Many victims were never located as surviving Black Tulsans were imprisoned in internment camps.