Tag: Archaeology

Some 872 probable human remains have been discovered in the African American section of Atlanta’s Oakland Cemetery. Information about upcoming preservation efforts are to be provided Saturday during a Juneteenth program sponsored by the Historic Oakland Foundation.

Source: Oakland Cemetery contains some 872 remains in African American section – SaportaReport

Oakland Cemetery is a beautiful historic site located in the heart of Atlanta, Georgia. Its mausoleums and structures adorned with gardens and bird sanctuaries provide an enchanting green space where photo shoots, picnics, walks, and other events occur. Visitors come from near and far to enjoy this unique and serine ambiance with a vast history.

But who is buried at Oakland Cemetery? There are a number of famous people buried at Oakland including Ivan Allen, Jr., Joseph M. Brown, Martha Lumpkin Compton, Margaret Mitchell, and more. But what of those who are not famous? Many graves are now unmarked and there are fragmented records of the individuals who lie beneath. So, how do we honor and remember those who lay quietly underground with no marking, no record?


In an attempt to bring to light where and how many individuals might be buried without markers, Bigman Geophysical, LLC was hired by the Historic Oakland Foundation to survey the African American section of the cemetery. During the time spent at Oakland, Bigman Geophysical located 800+ possible unmarked graves using noninvasive geophysical technology known as ground penetrating radar (GPR).


GPR sends electromagnetic pulses into the ground which reflect back to the GPR console when it comes across changes within the subsurface such disturbed soil versus compact soil. Bigman Geophysical flagged these potential unmarked graves and recorded GPS coordinates for them so that the Historic Oakland Foundation can preserve and plan for the future. The final resting places of these people can now remain undisturbed during any refurbishments and they can be honored and remembered as visitors walk through the cemetery.

“The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living.” – Marcus Tullius Cicero

On December 15th, 2015 Bigman Geophysical was hired to conduct a search for an historic cemetery developed immediately after the Revolutionary War at the site of Kettle Creek Battlefield. We worked with Trace Sargent and her expert dog search team from K9 Search & Rescue Specialists, Inc. This cemetery had no remaining grave markers and could be anywhere on the hill adjacent to the vicious battle of Kettle Creek. This cemetery was associated with a church, which is also no longer standing. What to do, what to do? We hired the dogs to rapidly search the hill and pinpoint areas with human remains scent. These dogs can pick up the sent of decomposed bodies that were buried centuries earlier, and since decomposing bodies of any species contains a unique set of compounds, these dogs can distinguish between humans and other animals. All three dogs pinpointed the same location for the possible cemetery and alerted the expert dog handler within three feet of each other. WOW! We were all super impressed. Now we will be able to go in like a surgeon and just pinpoint targets to investigate with other methods such as ground penetrating radar (GPR). Before we left the area, the dogs picked up on another possible cemetery on the same hill. This one might be a family cemetery related to an old farmstead.


After this success, we moved over War Hill where most of the battle took place. The dogs again located an area that might contain human remains. This time however, the remains might be those of fallen Revolutionary War soldiers. The dogs were again alerted within a few feet of each other. This project is a great one that shows the usefulness of human remains detection dogs when trying to cover a large area. Projects can begin with these types of rapid, large-scale techniques and then refine to higher resolution, but more time consuming methods of grave detection.