2015 GSA Annual Meeting in Baltimore, Maryland, USA (1-4 November 2015)

Paper No. 233-3
Presentation Time: 2:00 PM


WILLIAMS, Kevin K. and JENNINGS, Trevor W., Earth Sciences, SUNY Buffalo State, 1300 Elmwood Ave, Buffalo, NY 14222, williakk@buffalostate.edu

Historic cemeteries often have to deal with the challenges of lost, damaged, or inaccurate records. They also sometimes have the difficult situation of missing grave markers in areas of suspected burials. This study involved using ground penetrating radar (GPR) at two cemeteries in Western New York to investigate whether burials exist in a variety of areas with very few or no markers. At each site, students from the Buffalo State Archaeological Field School were responsible for the surface mapping data, including the positions of existing headstones along transect lines that were laid out for collection of GPR data. Parallel transects of GPR data were collected using a GSSI SIR-3000 system with a 400 MHz antenna. Most of the data were collected in rectangular grids that allowed for post-processing into 3-dimensional data blocks. These data blocks were then analyzed to determine whether there were unmarked burials in the areas of interest at each cemetery.

At the Oakwood Cemetery in Niagara Falls, the cemetery oversight board wanted to explore whether there were open areas for additional burials in a section of the Town of Niagara Falls burial ground. At the Holy Mother of the Rosary Polish National Church cemetery in Cheektowaga, the oversight board and bishop were hoping that seven sections of the cemetery without markers were indeed available for future burials. Data from both cemeteries yielded evidence of disturbances likely indicating the presence of burials, and at the Holy Mother of the Rosary cemetery, dozens of burials were detected in an otherwise unmarked area. The results of these projects are being used to mark existing burials and to suggest areas of the cemeteries that may be open for future burials. By using GPR as a non-invasive technique to study the shallow subsurface, the Buffalo State team has been able to help these two cemeteries reconstruct information that was otherwise lost.