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Archaeologists use subsurface imaging to map unmarked graves

April 26 (UPI) — Archaeologists in Australia are using advanced subsurface imaging technology to help community groups locate and map lost and unmarked graves.

“This is a huge issue, particularly for rural communities,” Ian Moffat, a research fellow at Flinders University, said in a news release. “Using geophysics provides a non-invasive and culturally appropriate way to map unmarked grave sites.”

Most recently, Moffat and his research partners used ground penetrating radar, or GPR, and GPS surveys to map unmarked graves at Lake Condah Mission Cemetery, an important site for the Gunditjmara, an indigenous people of southwestern Victoria, a state in Australia.

The cemetery, founded in 1869, contains only 26 marked graves, but is estimated to host dozens more unmarked graves. Using GPR, researchers found 14 probable unmarked graves and 49 other likely burial sites.

“Many Australian indigenous communities are anxious not to disturb graves, so this survey provides useful information to assist the Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owners Corporation in planning future burials within this cemetery by identifying large areas which are free of graves,” Moffat said.

GPR uses high frequency electromagnetic waves to image subsurface soil and stone structures.

Scientists closely analyzed the image results to differentiate between potential unmarked burials and other subsurface structures, such as tree roots. The analysis allowed scientists to identify likely grave sites, as well as confirm areas where no graves are present.

“This demonstrates the utility of GPR as a means of effectively managing heritage sites containing unmarked graves, even when substantial subsurface disturbance is present,” Moffat said.

Archaeologists detailed their grave mapping efforts this week in the Journal of the Archaeological and Anthropological Society of Victoria.

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