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Ask Rufus: Looking Underground

 

Stephen Harris walks within a grid lane with a magnetometer as Tony Boudreaux looks on and Hannah Zechman prepares additional lanes within the grid.

Stephen Harris walks within a grid lane with a magnetometer as Tony Boudreaux looks on and Hannah Zechman prepares additional lanes within the grid. Photo by: Courtesy photo

 

Ezell Mays of Ole Miss explains the operation of a magnetometer to Bill and Virginia Branch of Columbus.

Ezell Mays of Ole Miss explains the operation of a magnetometer to Bill and Virginia Branch of Columbus.
Photo by: Courtesy photo

 

 

Rufus Ward

 

 

This past four days have been both fun and fascinating. Last Wednesday, the project to locate lost Civil War graves of Union soldiers in Columbus' Friendship Cemetery cranked up. It is a joint effort of the Center for Archaeological Research at the University of Mississippi, the U.S. Grant Association and U.S. Grant Presidential Library at Mississippi State University, and the Billups-Garth Foundation of Columbus, with assistance from the City of Columbus and the Columbus-Lowndes Convention and Visitors Bureau. 

 

A nine-member Ole Miss archaeological team, headed by Dr. Tony Boudreaux and assisted by local historian Gary Lancaster, worked from Wednesday until late Saturday surveying the Confederate section on the south side of the cemetery and some adjacent parcels that had no marked burials. The archaeologist used non-invasive remote sensing technology that will provide the information, when processed by computer, to produce a three-dimensional image of what is underground. 

 

The equipment used included ground-penetrating radar which sent pulses deep into the ground and produced an image of underground disturbances. Also used was a magnetometer, which measured differences in underground magnetic fields such as would be caused by a grave shaft. All of that information will be processed and correlated by a special computer program. The large volume of data collected will take some time to process. 

 

I can report, though, that a strange anomaly appeared in the data from several Confederate graves. It showed up on the magnetometer as a halo that was about three feet in diameter over several graves. Preliminary images of the graves themselves resembled an ear of corn, as long parallel rows of graves became visible. However, the GPR data is not yet processed so the full picture of the layout of graves is still incomplete. 

 

The work site, open to school classes on Friday and the general public on Saturday, provided an opportunity for people to see up close cutting-edge archaeological technology such as seen on television or in the pages of National Geographic.  

 

Once all of the data has been processed the Center for Archaeological Research will provide a full report to Columbus. Oh, and the strange halos around the graves turned out to be caused by metal wire in the stems of plastic flowers on the graves affecting very sensitive electronic sensors.

 

Rufus Ward is a Columbus native a local historian. E-mail your questions about local history to Rufus at [email protected]

 

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