Case Study: Locating Grave Sites using GPR at a Church in Locust Grove, VA

June 5, 2017

Grave site locating services
Earlier this year, Penhall Technologies’ GPR Analyst, Elizabeth G., was asked to help identify gravesites for a church in Locust Grove, VA. Church leaders wanted to be sure they would not accidentally disturb any existing gravesites, marked or unmarked, when excavating for future internments. The church was very involved throughout the process and even had a member of the church follow our analyst closely to help map the marked, reserved, empty and unmarked graves.

Elizabeth used ground penetrating radar equipment from GSSI to scan an area that was approximately 150’x150’. Penhall uses this same equipment and technology when performing private utility locates for underground water lines, gas lines, sewer pipes, and more. In a case like this, the analyst reviews the GPR data to identify large voids underground created by the coffin that would indicate a gravesite.
Elizabeth was able to confirm the coffins that were underneath the existing headstones. There were also unmarked coffins that were spaced in between the headstones.

In total, Elizabeth located 9 unmarked graves. Six were listed in the church’s database with an unknown location and 3 of which the church did not know existed at all. Some of the unmarked graves listed in their database were not detected. Those sites were dug in the early 1900s and, given the period, the coffins would have been made of wood. Unfortunately, wood deteriorates over time. By now, these coffins have decomposed and blended in with the ground, making it impossible for the GPR to identify because a void no longer exists.

“The church double checked the sites where I found an unmarked grave by pushing a small 5 foot rod into the ground, and it would hit the coffin. But they couldn’t identify their unmarked wooden graves with the rod either because of the deterioration. The graves ranged in date from 1900-2017,” says the analyst of her findings.

This job was an interesting exception from our usual services. “Although a bit morbid at times, it was neat to see how visible most of the graves were in the GPR data,” says Elizabeth. For Penhall Technologies, what we like most about a job like this is that we are allowed the opportunity to uncover a bit of history for the customer as well as give them the peace of mind when allocating proper sites to the members of the church in the future.

This is not the first time Penhall has done work like this. Because we are allowed to play a role in these types of historical findings, it definitely won’t be the last either! We look forward to uncovering more of history in future projects.


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