Over the past few months, we have read numerous articles that highlight GSSI customers’ GPR surveys in cemeteries and searches for unmarked graves. With all this media coverage it is not uncommon for us to field questions from people wanting to branch out into this type of work. This post is intended as an introduction to cemetery mapping and as such it provides tips for success for those interested in this specialized field.
In cemeteries across the United States, there are “the forgotten” burials of unmarked and lost graves. Geophysical techniques, such as Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR), are needed to nondestructively locate these burials in cemeteries and in other locations. Here, we discuss the common causes for lost graves and present three keys to survey success.
There are many causes for lost, unmarked graves, but two of the most important are cemetery age and population growth.
Historical cemeteries can go back hundreds of years. Over time, missing, fallen, or poorly placed headstones can complicate the assumed physical location of grave sites. The original documentation may be unavailable or rendered unreadable, further leading to confusion. For these and other reasons it is common for cemetery maintenance managers, or other stakeholders, to enlist GPR service providers to generate up-to-date burial maps or clear areas for new burials.
Modern population growth has led to increased infrastructure and city sprawl. As local and state regulations have evolved over time there are documented cases where contractors were given permission to build over known or forgotten burial grounds. In these situations, it is possible that civil and political pressure may lead to a GPR investigation to determine the existence of a cemetery, presence or absence of burials, whether the graves have been disturbed, and factors related to relocation recommendations. In other cases, cemeteries were relocated due to urban expansion but some of the graves could have been overlooked.
Due to the sensitivity of these sites, the GPR service provider’s challenge is to quickly explore the subsurface without disturbing the burials. Every cemetery is different, and local environmental and soil conditions can complicate the investigation. Below, we outline three steps to get started in mapping cemeteries.
Learn from a Registered Archaeologist, the GSSI Academy offers classes specific to cemetery mapping and equipment use.
With this application, it is just as important to understand the appropriate type of GPR equipment, as well as potential limitations, as it is to know about what you’re going to encounter onsite. As with all technical subjects, mastery of cemetery investigations with GPR requires practice and dedication. Armed with GSSI GPR and an understanding of burial characteristics, you can help locate and protect human burials.
We’re here to help – we’re educators and want to provide you with the tools to be successful. To learn more, here are some recommended readings:
We will continue to explore the cemetery mapping application with additional blog posts. Stay tuned to learn how to conduct two-dimensional (2D) and three-dimensional (3D) cemetery surveys and the advantages and disadvantages of each method. Curious about system recommendations? Please reach out to us via: Contact Us