Do Not Migrate

This lecture is part of the 2009 Nationwide Cemetery Preservation Summit

Geophysical Investigations of Historic Cemeteries: Results and Implications by 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.


Author Biographies:
Mr. Duane Simpson has worked in archaeology and cultural resources management for more than 15 years. His primary areas of expertise include archaeogeophysics, geographic information systems (GIS), and geoarchaeology. He has archaeogeophysical experience that includes work on prehistoric and historic sites in the Midwest and southeast U.S. Mr. Simpson has completed geophysical investigations of more than 15 historic cemeteries in 7 states. GIS/mapping experience includes spectral analysis, predictive modeling, and graphic production for a number of technical reports. Mr. Simpson’s primary responsibility is to serve as principal investigator/project manager and integrating geophysical techniques into an array of archaeological investigations.

Mr. Ryan Peterson has more than 14 years of experience in archaeology and cultural resources management. His geographic expertise is focused on the Midwest and southeast U.S. and Alaska. He has extensive experience conducting archaeological studies ranging from basic literature and archival research to supervising extensive excavations. In addition to traditional excavation techniques, Mr. Peterson has expertise in applying archaeogeophysical techniques to archaeological investigations. He also has experience excavating and analyzing human remains from both historic and prehistoric contexts. He has worked with individuals from diverse experience levels and has frequently supervised and trained volunteers and amateur archaeologists.


Nancy A. Ross-Stallings, Ph.D. is a senior archaeologist and skeletal biologist with AMEC. She has 30+ years of experience in the fields of historic and prehistoric archaeology and in skeletal biology from prehistoric and historic human remains, and 25 years in forensic anthropology.  She has performed historic cemetery research projects and salvage excavations over the last 28 years.  She periodically consults with the Kentucky State Medical Examiner’s Office on dismemberment cases.  Dr. Ross Stallings is a Fellow in the Anthropology Section of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences.



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

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