Can Archaeologists and Geologists Put A Cemetery Back Together?

James Madison University faculty and students are combining disciplines to locate graves in an old family cemetery hit hard by erosion and other elements for more than 200 years.

 On Dec. 4, a pair of faculty members and six students worked on mapping what they can't see underground by using a ground penetrating radar. The results of the radar study will be compared with observations made by archaeology students at the Landes Cemetery in Weyers Cave, about 20 miles southwest of JMU in northern Augusta County.

 Dr. Carole Nash, a geographic science/integrated science and technology instructor, has been involved with the cemetery since 2008, when she was contacted by a Landes family member who is interested in restoring the site. The cemetery is located on a slope in a pasture where erosion and grazing cattle have taken a toll. Headstones have broken and moved downhill and none of the 11 to 13 graves are marked.

 Kim Garrison, a descendent of the family, has become interested in re-establishing the headstones to their proper locations, determining the number of burials and constructing a fence for the cemetery.

 Nash partnered with Dr. Anna Courtier, assistant professor of geology and environmental science, to use the ground penetrating radar at the site. Nash and Courtier hope the radar data will show where graves are located. Senior Tim Charlton, who is majoring in geology and environmental science, is using the project as his senior research project.

 Nash and students in her anthropology 197 class have visited the cemetery several times this fall and marked surface areas that may indicate locations of graves. The class also mapped a grid for the GPR analysis so that surface findings can be compared with what is found through the GPR survey. GPR creates an image of the ground below the surface.

 The data collected Dec. 4 will be studied throughout the spring semester in hopes of creating a map of the gravesites for the Landes family.

 "We are very, very fortunate that Anna is interested in this work and that JMU has GPR capabilities," Nash said. "This really opens a lot of research doors for us and allows us to work across disciplines."


Published Dec. 16, 2010