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Geophysical Investigations of Historic Cemeteries: Results and Implications

Duane Simpson and Ryan Peterson

Geophysical investigations conducted within marked and unmarked cemeteries throughout the Midwest, southeast, and beyond have provided a wealth of information. Geophysical investigations have aided in delineating poorly defined cemetery boundaries, provided insights into interment practices, and provided a non-invasive means to obtain information about historic cemeteries. Case studies from historic cemeteries investigated in Texas, Indiana, Virginia, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Missouri will be discussed.

Geophysics is a powerful tool for planning and management, especially when disturbance of the soil is not an option. A clear understanding of the desired result is critical. The variables that affect the successfulness of geophysical investigations include: environmental conditions (i.e. moisture level, surface conditions, soil type, etc.), historic land use of the investigation area, and selection of geophysical techniques. As with any technique, the results from a geophysical investigation are much more powerful when considered in the boarder context of historic cemetery studies. Archival research, mapping, and other available data enhance the quality and productivity of geophysical investigation. This presentation will focus on a variety of these investigations, discussing successes and failures using differing instrumentation and techniques. Cases will be discussed that illustrate information obtainable from geophysics beyond horizontal and vertical position of graves. Geophysical investigations are not always the best tool for the job. The factors involved with selecting the appropriate investigation technique(s) will be discussed.

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National Center for Preservation Technology and Training
645 University Parkway
Natchitoches, LA 71457

Email: ncptt[at]nps.gov
Phone: (318) 356-7444
Fax: (318) 356-9119