Finding the Forgotten Ones: Search and Identification of an Unmarked Mass Grave in San Juan, Puerto Rico


In 1855 Puerto Rico was ravaged by a cholera epidemic that killed nearly 10% of the population. In San Juan, a mass grave was created outside of the city walls to deal with the increasing number of bodies. With time, this mass grave was forgotten, and today, a hiking trail lays on top. This research seeks to 1) recover the remains from this unmarked mass grave, 2) obtain a biological profile for the remains found in the mass grave, 3) study the effects of structural violence and social identity on mortality of infectious disease, and lastly, 4) for the remains to be repatriated to the city and the community for proper burial at a safe location. Multiple archives in Puerto Rico had been consulted, and historical maps and photographs allowed to narrow down the area of interest. This summer, multiple geophysical methods were pursued to better determine the delineation of the mass grave. The site was mapped using a Total Station, and a Ground Penetrating Radar and Magnetometer were utilized to obtain information on what lays beneath the surface. Furthermore, surface collection of skeletal material was completed to assess differences in the density of skeletal material present throughout the site. Apart from obtaining the data that will help us identify the delineations of the mass grave after proper analysis, this season of field work provided us with the opportunity to connect with the community and discuss the goals of the project. Both the geophysical data obtained and the community input will guide us towards a successful excavation season in the next year.

Jose L. Marrero Rosado
Publication date: 
October 24, 2022
Publication type: 
Student Research