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Dogs might have found human remains from lost cemetery at MacDill

Radar confirmed underground anomalies, but they’re not arranged like a typical burial ground.

TAMPA — Dogs trained to detect human remains may have located them at the forgotten Port Tampa Cemetery for African Americans, on land that today is part of MacDill Air Force Base.

The animals “gave indicators of remains in a restricted approach corridor north of the runway” near the corner of Interbay Boulevard and Manhattan Avenue, according to a news release from the base.

Ground penetrating radar was brought to the site and detected several “sub-surface anomalies," according to the release. "However, the findings were inconclusive.”

The reason: The anomalies, underground disturbances of some kind, are not arranged in a “typical cemetery fashion,” the release said.

The results are undergoing expert analysis. A verbal briefing is expected Monday and a written report by mid-April.

Related: MacDill to use cadaver dogs in search for forgotten African-American burial ground

A MacDill spokesman declined to elaborate beyond the information in the news release. The spatial relationship of the anomalies to one another was unclear.

“Typical western Christian cemeteries have bodies aligned east to west,” said Eric Prendergast, project investigator for private archaeological assessment company Cardno.

Prendergast is not involved in the search for Port Tampa Cemetery but he is the archaeologist who recently helped find two other forgotten African American burial grounds — Zion Cemetery in Tampa and North Greenwood Cemetery in Clearwater.

“They are typically buried with linear arrangements because people want to be able to walk between the graves,” Prendergast said. “It is rare but not impossible to find a cemetery not laid out like that.”

Related: See how the stories of forgotten cemeteries has unfolded in the Tampa Bay Times

Zion and Greenwood were laid out in that fashion, as was Ridgewood Cemetery for the indigent —recently discovered on the King High School campus in Tampa.

The early-20th century Port Tampa Cemetery was on land near the corner of Interbay Boulevard and Manhattan Avenue, according to federal records.

It disappeared around the time MacDill opened in 1941. There are no known records of the bodies being moved.

Related: A judge’s ancestor was buried in cemetery that may be at MacDill Air Force Base

Archaeologists searched the site from Feb. 15 to March 5. They were hired by the Air Force in response to renewed interest in forgotten black cemeteries spurred by a Tampa Bay Times report in June about Zion Cemetery.

“Initial research and interviews identified a wooded area near the Tanker Way gate as the most probable location; however, cadaver dogs did not provide any indicators of remains in the wooded area,” the news release said.

“After conducting additional verbal interviews and gaining more historical data, the archaeological team expanded the search to other areas" in the same corner of the base.

Then, the dogs indicated they had found something.

Related: Racial tension was high at MacDill in ’40s when a black cemetery disappeared