At least 12 bodies have been found in a large hole as a team of anthropologists and archeologists completed their fourth and final day of excavations at Oaklawn Cemetery in search of possible victims of the 1921 Tulsa Rase Massacre.On Tuesday, the excavation team found a sole set of remains they later identified as female. These remains were in a specific area of the cemetery where ground-penetrating radar registered anomalies during a scan late last year.On Wednesday, the team got the big breakthrough they were hoping for. Responding to four soil anomalies found west of the female’s remains, the team identified 10 wooden coffins. On Thursday, they found one more, bringing the total to 11 coffins in addition to the female’s remains, found partially outside of a coffin.“What we were finding [in the western area] was an indication we were inside a large area, a large hole in which several individuals had been placed inside coffins and buried inside that location. This constitutes a mass grave,” said Kary Stackelbeck, Oklahoma’s state archaeologist, during a press conference on Thursday.While it is too early to say if all the remains are victims of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, the 11 coffins were discovered near an area of Oaklawn Cemetery that funeral home records indicate as the final resting place of at least 18 identified and unidentified Black massacre victims.At this time, Stackelbeck could not confirm if there are more coffins and/or remains in the discovered graveshaft. The team has established the northern, southern and western boundaries of graveshaft, but there is still work to be done to find the eastern-most boundary.“Looking at the trench, it appears to be about 1/3 of the overall larger graveshaft area. We can use it to extrapolate how many individuals may be in the graveshaft, and we can use that information to inform and plan future excavations and investigations,” Stackelbeck said.While this is the end of this specific excavation, there will be more. The first search was successful, this second search provided “an incredible moment” and Stackelbeck said the team is hopeful moving into future searches.“We have finally found a mass grave in Oaklawn Cemetery,” said Phoebe Stubblefield, a forensic anthropologist at the University of Florida and a decedent of a victim of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. “These remains cannot be examined in place in the timeframe we have. We will close the unit [Thursday] and make plans to return in warmer weather in 2021 with enough time to extract and examine these burials in a way that will maximize our one shot at identifying them.”Stubblefield said the remains are in poor condition. While teeth are preserving well, the bones themselves are on a “C level,” meaning you can recognize the bones but no two pieces are touching. The remains of the first woman found are especially bad. The anthropologist said she lightly touched one of two large cranial fragments and caused a fracture of the frontal sinus. “I am very hopeful based on the cranial fragments and teeth in the trench that we can identify ancestry, sex and maybe cause of death,” Stubblefield said. “We are considering strategies for reinforcing the bones when we reach that phase, or other analytical tools we can use to get at identity.”While the team always intended to leave any remains found in place during this excavation, they had hoped to at least get a look at some remains. However, they had to pivot their strategy when they realized just how bad a condition the remains were in based on the visible fragments of the first woman. Now, Stackelbeck said, they are not exposing any remains in fear they could potentially deteriorate before analysis.Instead, the team will proceed with the next step: obtaining excavation orders for the individuals found during this dig, as well as possibly extending the trench area in the search for more coffins.Stubblefield said the exhumation orders are certainly atypical in that usually she works with an exhumed body tied to a suspect who is still alive.“This is forensic in the way that these are homicides that need to be investigated,” she said, “but it’s novel in that the assailants are all long dead and there will be no one to arrest.”Beyond Oaklawn Cemetery, multiple sites of interest remain and are still candidates for possible graves related to the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, including a field near Newblock Park and Rolling Oaks Memorial Gardens, where geophysical work is expected to occur.“[The dig at Oaklawn Cemetery] is one lead, not the only lead,” said Tulsa Mayor G. T. Bynum. “There are other leads that have come to us from generations passing down oral history, and we will continue to follow all the leads until we know if there are mass graves in other locations as well.”On May 31 and June 1, 1921, a white mob looted and burned Tulsa’s Black Greenwood district—often referred to as Black Wall Street. The white attackers used World War I planes to drop projectiles in an effort to destroy businesses, homes and churches in the historically Black district. The massacre killed up to 300 Black people, and survivors were forced into internment camps overseen by National Guard members.Photo: Phoebe Stubblefield at the site of the excavations at Oaklawn Cemetery. Credit: 1921Graves.