Crews working at the edge of a cemetery near Baltimore-Washington International Airport's Runway 10-28 have unearthed a potter's field and the remains of up to five people.
The shallow, unmarked paupers' graves are about 130 feet from a fence surrounding Friendship Cemetery, where headstones carry the names of prominent North County families such as Shipley and Hawkins.
The discovery took airport officials by surprise.
"This happens, from what I gather, rather infrequently," said Karen R. Black, a BWI spokeswoman.
The airport's planning and engineering department reviewed old church and county records to conduct a site check before excavation began for the $9 million fire rescue building, she said.
"There were no public records to indicate there were burial grounds at that location," said Ms. Black. "They were very old remains in plots associated with Friendship Cemetery, which was established in 1907."
BWI officials are in the process of obtaining state and county permits to remove the bodies so they can be turned over to an undertaker.
"The remains will be stored while attempts can be made to identify [them], notify kin and find locations for reburial," Ms. Black said.
Dr. Katherine P. Farrell, Anne Arundel deputy health officer, said her office issued a permit for disinterment on Tuesday.
The county state's attorney's office and state Office of Vital Records and Statistics also must sign off on removing the remains.
The paupers' graves were discovered about 11:30 a.m. Jan. 30 xTC by crews from Columbia Construction Co. Inc. of Lanham.
"They suspect that about five sites were disturbed," Ms. Black said.
Maryland Transportation Authority police ruled out foul play.
A review by state archaeologists did not detect any more graves, and crews went back to work about Feb. 7, said Ms. Black.
Friendship Cemetery was affiliated with Friendship Methodist Church, which held its last service Easter Sunday 1948.
The church was razed to make room for what was then called Friendship Airport.
Charles F. Geschwilm, 67, of Linthicum Heights is president of the Friendship Cemetery board of governors.
His grandfather, Fulton C. Kelly, was a member of the church and donated about 3 acres for the cemetery, where he and other family members are buried.
"All the prominent names are in there," said Mr. Geschwilm. "The records I hold go back to 1934. I'd say there are close to 1,000 people buried there."
The cemetery is closed to the public.
Lot owners must get permission from the airport's operations office to visit.
The cemetery has three to four burials a year, the most recent being in 1994, Mr. Geschwilm said.
The place where the remains were found used to be where the poor, destitute and often unknown were buried, he said.
"They didn't have anybody to pay for their funerals, and the undertakers didn't know what to do with them," he said. "The lots that they used aren't even recorded."