Up to 7,000 cadavers are buried on the University of Mississippi Medical Center campus, according to experts’ estimates. The remains are supposedly of patients lived and died at the Lunatic Asylum at one time.

The bodies buried are likely of patients once lived and died at the state’s first mental institution, known as the Mississippi State Lunatic Asylum, opened in 1855. In 2014, an underground radar detected around 2,000 coffins extended across the campus’ 20 acres, the Clarion-Ledger reported Saturday.

Exhumation process costs may mount past $21 million

Officials have found that it would cost around $3,000 to exhume and rebury each cadaver, which would likely reach $21 million, according to the Clarion-Ledger.

Officials are searching for cheaper alternatives that would cost $400,000 over the next eight years. The school is also considering creating a memorial to preserve the remains and a lab used to study them.

University of Mississippi Medical Center is considering cheaper alternatives of exhumations held at the center, at a cost of $400,000 a year over the coming eight years. The UMMC also would consider building a memorial, to preserve the late patients’ remains, the remnants of clothing and coffins, attached to a visitors center and a lab for research purposes.

Mississippi as a national center on historical records

“It would be a unique resource for Mississippi,” Molly Zuckerman, an associate professor at Mississippi State, told the Clarion-Ledger. “It would make Mississippi a national center on historical records relating to health in the pre-modern period, particularly those being institutionalized.”

“We will exhume as many as we can, and we will archive or curate the remains as scientific specimens, and then our plan is to place them in a functional memorial structure,” Dr. Ralph Didlake, the director of the medical center’s Center for Bioethics and Medical Humanities, said in a statement to CNN affiliate WLBT.

Didlake expects scientists, archaeologists, anthropologists and historians studied the coffins, learning about the patients and the mental institution where they live and perished at.

“What was the experience of these individuals? What can their remains tell us about their experience in a 19th-century mental health institution?” Didlake said.