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Radar shows no evidence of mass grave in Deerfield

Recorder file/Paul Franz
Volunteer Bill Coverdale pulls the ground penetrating radar across a grid laid out in the cemetery in Old Deerfield looking for unmarked graves with State Soil Scientist Deborah Surabian, reading the radar images, and Aaron Miller, the chair of the western chapter of the Massachusetts Archeology Society.

Recorder file/Paul Franz Volunteer Bill Coverdale pulls the ground penetrating radar across a grid laid out in the cemetery in Old Deerfield looking for unmarked graves with State Soil Scientist Deborah Surabian, reading the radar images, and Aaron Miller, the chair of the western chapter of the Massachusetts Archeology Society.

DEERFIELD — Scientists have discovered that there may be more graves than the 264 marked sites buried deep at the Old Albany Road Cemetery.

The results from a ground-penetrating radar study indicate a few 3-meter-below-ground anomalies that may be graves, according to Todd Kmetz, a member of the western chapter of the Massachusetts Archeological Society, who said the scans could not determine the exact number.

In June, a team of soil scientists and archeologists used ground-penetrating radar to search the 1696 cemetery for unknown and unmarked graves. Partners in the project were the Connecticut State Archeologists Office and the federal Department of Agriculture. The project was free of charge to Deerfield.

The federal soil scientists were looking for a linear pattern on three or more traverse lines, searching for changes in soil patterns. While natural soil is in horizontal layers, a break in the layers could represent a grave site.

But the scientists did not discover as many grave possibilities as they thought, Kmetz said.

What’s more, the radar did not show any evidence of a mass burial in the large dirt mound at the historic cemetery’s corner, which is popularly believed to contain a mass grave of those settlers slain in the 1704 attack on Deerfield by French and Indian forces.

“We went down about three feet, swept over the top of the mound and didn’t find any evidence of a burial grave,” said Kmetz. “As far as the radar shows, the mound doesn’t show a mass grave.”

However, Kmetz didn’t rule out the existence of such a mass burial.

“I can’t say, 100 percent, that there is nothing there,” Kmetz said. “As far as the radar shows, we didn’t find anything. But that doesn’t mean nothing is there.”

The problem is the radar detects objects, but it doesn’t identify them.

Kmetz said the study has its limitations based on soil conditions, the cemetery’s age, clay content and the age of the radar equipment.

The study did not look at the western portion of the cemetery.

“I’m hopeful that technology will advance,” Kmetz said. “Maybe there are other ways for noninvasive geophysical techniques to be developed.”

The study was an early step to answering questions like how many unknown graves are at the cemetery, Kmetz said.

He credited Nick Bellantoni, the Connecticut State Archaeologist, for kick-starting the project for Deerfield.

“I’m not disappointed,” said Kmetz. “You have to look at all the positive outcomes that answered questions you have and do the best you can with the technology available. The more we learn in science, the more it helps us as a community.”

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