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Survey of unmarked African-American graves at Boone Cemetery continues

graveyard2_t.jpgBOONE—Ground-penetrating radar and an electrical resistivity system are being used to confirm the location of African-American graves in the Boone Cemetery.

Jessica Norman, Matthew Turney.jpgSenior geology major Jessica Norman, left, and junior archeology major Matthew Turney position electrode probes used to survey gravesites in the Boone Cemetery. The Appalachian State University students are part of an ongoing project to locate the unmarked graves of as many as 40 African-Americans who died in Watauga County when the cemetery was in use. (Photo by University Photographer Marie Freeman)Rachel Storniolo, left, Anna George Hazen, Keith C. Seramur_t2.jpgRachel Storniolo, left, Anna George Hazen, and assistant research associate Keith C. Seramur check readings on an electrical resistivity system used to locate unmarked graves. Variances in the electric current between two electrode probes can indicate disturbed soil below the surface, which can indicate the location of gravesites. Storniolo and Hazen are senior geology majors at Appalachian State University. Seramur is an adjunct assistant research associate in Appalachian’s Department of Geology. (Photo by University Photographer Marie Freeman)

The cemetery, located just south of Hardin Street and adjacent to the Appalachian State University campus, is divided into two sections, locally referred to as the “white” and “black” sections.  The white section is the larger and contains hundreds of well-marked graves within a fenced perimeter.  The black section contains only two well-marked graves, which date to the mid-1800s, and many unmarked graves.

Students and professors from Appalachian’s Department of Geology and Department of Anthropology conducted a ground penetrating radar (GPR) survey on a portion of the east or black section of the cemetery in 2007. Sixteen major and many minor anomalies were identified along the hillcrest close to the boundary between the two cemetery sections.

The area was resurveyed in April by geophysics and geoarchaeology students of Drs. Scott Marshall and Ellen Cowan in Appalachian’s Department of Geology to confirm the location of the unmarked graves.

The device used for the second survey was an older electrical resistivity meter upgraded by the College of Arts and Sciences’ electronics and machine shop instrument makers.

Under the direction of Keith C. Seramur, an adjunct assistant research associate in the Department of Geology, and Cowan, students used the equipment to measure electrical resistance between two electrode probes every two feet along a 100-by-100 foot grid. Variances in the electric current can indicate a disturbed soil below the surface and confirm the location of potential unmarked graves identified by the earlier GPR survey.

This initial effort only completed a portion of the grid so additional surveys will be conducted in the future.

While an exact number of gravesites has yet to be determined, historical records indicate that between 30-40 African-Americans died in Watauga County when the cemetery was in use.

“Our work at the Boone cemetery is providing geology students hands on experience with geophysical equipment,” Seramur said. “We also hope to contribute to the preservation of part of Boone’s history and respect for those buried in these unmarked graves by completing this study.”