Jun. 23, 2020
CWU Students, Faculty Use High Tech to Safeguard Historic Cemeteries
The Washington Soldiers Home Cemetery, in Orting, is the final resting place for more than 2,200 veterans from the Civil War to the Vietnam War. Central Washington University, using ground penetrating radar, recently provided research to ensure these graves remained undisturbed.
Over the last several decades, a lack of funding meant that necessary projects at the cemetery were put on hold. Recent fundraising, coupled with state grants, provided the needed capital for some restoration efforts, including realigning and paving a cemetery roadway. But there was an unexpected challenge.
“Because of a state law that protects graves, the [Washington] Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation has been asking people to be extra careful with all work within cemeteries,” explained Steve Hackenberger, CWU Anthropology and Museum Studies professor.
One of the difficulties of doing construction or excavation around a cemetery or burial ground is that often gravesites, property boundaries, and other specifics have not been precisely marked or located. Therefore, before the roadway projects getting started, CWU was approached for help.
Hackenberger worked with student teams, utilizing high-tech locational equipment known as ground penetrating radar (GPR), to look for burial sites that may have been forgotten or misplaced.
“There was nothing that looked like a grave in the area where they want to construct the road,” Hackenberger said about the findings.
CWU was contacted because the university has been involved previously in similar projects around the state, including at the historic Roslyn Cemetery in Upper Kittitas County.
Hackenberger supervised the project, conducted through the Central Washington Anthropological Survey (CWAS), which performs archaeological investigations throughout the Pacific Northwest. Its goal is to enlists public involvement in identifying and protecting regional archaeological resources.
CWAS Project Manager Josh Allen, who led the veteran’s cemetery project, says there’s a growing need—including by state and federal agencies along with Native American Tribes and Nations—for the services CWU can offer.
“We’re being looked to for help in identifying and documenting unmarked and potentially even unknown gravesites,” Allen added.
Photos: (Top) A portion of the Washington Soldiers Home Cemetary, in Orting. (Bottom) (L. to r.) Gail Mackin (CWU associate provost for undergraduate and faculty affairs) operates the ground penetrating radar with anthropology major Bradley Esparza during a fall field day.
EDITOR’S NOTE: A story about CWU and its expertise in the use of ground penetrating radar is featured in the new issue of the university’s Crimson & Black magazine, in an article titled “Grave Reflections.”