SUGARLAND, TX - Nearly 100 graves were found at a school construction site in Sugarland, Texas, right outside of Houston.
"It's huge, it's unprecedented," Archaeological Project Manger Reign Clark said. "This will change our understanding of the convict labor system that was used all over the state."
More than a century after their deaths the abuse is still obvious by the chains they wore and tools they worked with. Their bodies reflect their stories.
"When you do activity over and over and over again and you're doing heavy labor, it will actually stress the attachments where the muscles are attached to the bone and it will actually leave marks and actually change the shape of the bone," Bio-Archaeologist Katrina Banks-Whitley said. "And so we're seeing a lot of that that shows they were doing very heavy labor from probably a very young age."
Out of the 95 bodies, almost all seem to be male aged 14 to 60. They were most likely part of a convicted labor camp.
In a system that was widespread in the south after the civil war, freed slaves were arrested, then taken from state prisons and forced to work in places like Sugarland, where sugar production drove the local economy.
"The guards out here used to tell the men, you're worth less than that mule over here because we have to pay for the mule and the sheriff will bring you more of you guys anytime you need it," Sociologist Richard Vogel said.
Fort Bend officials are now working with historians to find a place to re-bury these bodies, but could there be more hidden cemeteries in Sugar Land?
"There are at least two or three other likely convict labor camps and it's likely that there could be cemeteries associated with each," Clark said.
"They should have some sort of memorial and museum that we're trying to put together and also a memorial at the state capitol that these guys built off the public labor," Reginald Moore of the Texas Labor Society Center said.
Officials expect the bodies to be exhumed within the next few months.