Mapping social relationships: geophysical survey of a nineteenth-century American slave cemetery

  • Daniel P. Bigman
Original Paper


The goal of this project is to identify unmarked burials inside the known limits of a historic cemetery and unmarked slave burials adjacent to the cemetery to answer questions regarding variability in treatment of slaves by slave owners. This project used three geophysical prospection methods (electromagnetic induction/conductivity, ground penetrating radar, and magnetic susceptibility) to image the subsurface and locate unmarked graves. The results indicate that up to 21 possible unmarked graves exist at the Prior Cemetery. The survey detected 17 with two or more geophysical techniques and four with a single technique. Nine possible unmarked graves were tested with a metal probe. Every tested anomaly revealed less compact soils indicative of an unmarked grave.


Archaeological prospection Geophysical survey Mortuary practices African-American slaves Historic cemetery studies Historic preservation 



I would like to thank Edwin Prior for funding this project and his inclination toward protecting our shared heritage. I would also like to extend my gratitude to Travis Jones for his help in carrying out the survey and his assistance in processing the data. Gail Tarver graciously lent her expertise and guidance, and provided the probe used to ground truth anomalies. Finally, I would like to thank Robert Hawman, Stefan Brannan, and two anonymous reviewers for commenting on an earlier version of the paper. Their thoughtful comments significantly improved the final product.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of GeorgiaAthensUSA

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