Human Remain Detection Dogs Help Archaeologists Find Unmarked Graves

As you probably know by now if you have been following us on twitter (@FPANNrthCentral), we have been out at Munree Cemetery in Tallahassee today. We have been working with specially trained dogs called Human Remain Detection Canines, or HRD dogs. They have been helping us to find unmarked burials that are at minimum 100 years old! The Munree Cemetery is a historic African American cemetery with over 250 known burials, most of which do not have any type of marker present. Some of the graves are visible at the surface, but some areas we were unsure about. Of course, we wanted to avoid excavating in a cemetery, so we brought in the dogs! Two of the dogs and their handlers came all the way from Louisiana to help us out today! We also had a local dog handler and her HRD dog volunteer  to help us out. The dogs were able to identify several areas that possibly contain human burials. Tomorrow morning we are going to bring out the ground penetrating radar (GPR) to see if we can find any anomalies in those areas. The cemetery is five acres, and it would take us days to GPR the whole thing, and even longer to process all that data, so the dogs have helped us narrow down the areas to those that have the greatest probability of containing burials.

Jada and Dixie, both specially trained HRD canines, traveled all the way from Louisiana with their handlers to help us today!

Of Discovery and Avoidance

Let me begin by saying that it is a pleasure contribute, and I am honored to be a part of this effort to celebrate and share archaeology through social media.  I first learned of this Day of Archaeology thanks to social media. Indeed, it would seem that archaeologists have taken to the Internet recently, especially since the launch of Google+ some weeks ago. It is exciting to think that the advent of new technologies has made archaeological study more cooperative, immediate and accessible.

Okay, so onto the matter at hand.

I am a Cultural Resource Management (CRM) archaeologist and consultant working for an environmental services company in Oklahoma. I work with an inter-disciplinary team of biologists and environmental scientists. Most of the clients we work with have interests that are related to energy development, oil and natural gas chief among them. Our charge is two-fold:

1. Discover, document and avoid natural or cultural resources that could be adversely affected by a given project.

2. Obtain permits from state and federal agencies so that a given project can proceed without running foul of the law.

These laws, or rather congressional acts, often  include compliance with the Native American Graves Protection & Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) the Clean Water Act (CWA) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). All this sound a bit like “alphabet soup” but, it is the essential legal basis that holds companies accountable and drives a large portion of CRM survey work in the US.  It also provides me with a pay check so that I can dutifully pay back my student-loans (coughs sarcastically).

My work alternates between survey in the field and reporting in the office. Over the course of a year it balances out to about 50%/50%. Unfortunately for you, the reader, today is a rather typical in the office. My team and I are gearing up for a week of field survey in Louisiana next week. That means  today we are gathering equipment, producing maps, updating our GPS data-loggers, booking hotel reservations and arguing over which Cajun restaurant has the best red beans and rice (for my money it’s the Blind Tiger in Shreveport).

In addition to sorting out the logistics for this upcoming project, I have a keep other projects simmering on the stove-top, so to speak. Today, I am performing “desktop-based” studies on proposed projects in Oklahoma, Montana and Texas. Basically, I am using GIS databases and archives to located any known archaeological sites or historic locations that may have been recorded within or near a given project area. When finished, I will compile the information into a report for our clients advising them of the potential for encountering these resources. I will also provide them suggestions for a path forward through the regulatory process. More often than not, these desktop studies will develop into actual field surveys. Occasionally, they will include deep testing regimes or partial excavations. The name of the game is avoidance. Unfortunately for me (read as: the recalcitrant academic), clients would rather go around a site than wait to excavate it.

My other duties today include: completion of archaeological site forms for two prehistoric Paleo-Indian Period sites (ca. 12,000 – 8,000 years ago) for submission to the Oklahoma Archaeological Survey (OAS) and the Texas Historical Commission (THC). I also have to purchase flagging and fencing in order to demarcate the boundaries of a historic homestead property (ca. 1898) in southeastern Oklahoma.

There you have it,  a snap-shot of my work on this Day of Archaeology. In the world of cultural resource management, it is not often that we get to delve deep into site analysis through testing and excavation. I am envious of my friends any colleagues who get to ask the “big” questions and are able to spend considerable time researching particular topics in ways that enlighten and inform us about our prehistoric past. However, unlike them,  I am able to travel often and encounter scores of  sites in order to document and protect them for other researchers to examine more closely in the future.  Most days, that is alright by me.

Keep Digging & Cheers,

R. Doyle Bowman