Forget lazing on the beach, several Buffalo State students began the summer by pondering a more unusual outdoor location—an abandoned graveyard.
While the site seems more like the setting of a mystery novel than a class assignment, a cemetery is the perfect place for anthropology students to conduct research.
Nine students, two teaching assistants, and two faculty members from the Buffalo State Archaeological Field school helped to excavate the grounds and locate unmarked graves at two long-abandoned sites: the Jefferson Street Cemetery in Ellicottville and the Niagara County Almshouse cemetery in Lockport.
Using ground penetrating radar, the same technology employed for construction projects, the students searched for underground disturbances indicating possible grave sites.
“What we’re looking for in the data is something which looks different from what’s around it–or a disturbance where a grave would be located," Kevin Williams, assistant professor of earth sciences and science education, told the Salamanca Press. "It’s the same idea of when trained technicians read sonograms.”
One of the challenges of the assignment is not knowing the exact measurements of the burial grounds. At the Ellicottville cemetery, several open areas are believed to contain unmarked graves. The original records indicating who was buried in these spaces are long lost.
“There are at least a dozen unmarked graves here,” Lisa Marie Anselmi, chair and associate professor of anthropology told the Villager.
Once the graves have been mapped at the Ellicottville site, a single marker will be erected to commemorate all those buried on the grounds. At the Lockport cemetery, the students' research will assist with efforts to clean and restore this historical site.
The Archaeological Field School will take part in a Public Archaeology Open House on Wednesday, June 27, and Thursday, June 28, from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. at Beaver Island State Park. Anselmi and the field school participants will be on hand to guide visitors around the current excavations and to answer questions relating to the history of native occupations on Grand Island and basic archaeological techniques.