The former Mississippi State Lunatic Asylum operated from 1855 and 1935, institutionalizing some 35,000 people.
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Researchers say they’ve discovered as many as 7,000 graves beneath the University of Mississippi Medical Center’s campus in Jackson.
The land was part of the Mississippi State Lunatic Asylum until it shut roughly 80 years ago, and experts say the find that was announced at the weekend potentially offers closure for families whose relatives vanished decades ago.
Research teams used ground-penetrating radar to painstakingly detect the suspected patients’ remains, buried in coffins, after uncovering 66 caskets in 2012, Dr. Molly Zuckerman, an associate anthropology professor at Mississippi State.
According to Zuckerman, who is helping carry out excavations with the Mississippi State Asylum Cemetery Project, 35,000 people were institutionalized at the facility from 1855 until 1935.
During the period the center was open, death was far from uncommon among its patients.
“Mortality was very, very high in the [Mississippi State Lunatic Asylum],” Zuckerman said. “Most died 13 months after they were institutionalized.”
The common causes of death “shifted through time,” Zuckerman said, but “none of them were particularly unusual.”
Many patients died of tuberculosis, strokes, heart attack, and occasional epidemics of yellow fever and influenza.
They also died from nutritional deficiencies, including pellagra, which is a vitamin B deficiency, she said.
Those people buried in the asylum’s cemetery likely had relatives who couldn’t come and claim them or weren’t notified of their deaths in time, she said.