GeoCarta Has Moved

Dec 8, 2005

Geophysicist Discovers Trail of Tears Burial Site

Using elevation surveying, magnetic gradiometry and ground penetrating radar, a geophysicist from Southern Illinois University Carbondale (SIUC) says he has discovered an ancient Native American burial site. The site, at the Campground Cemetery, outside Anna, Illinois, had long been rumored to contain the bodies of Cherokees who died along the Trail of Tears, though there were no grave markers. A local resident, who had had ancestors buried in the cemetery, asked Harvey Henson at SIUC if technology could solve the mystery.

Mr. Henson led a team of high school and college students in collecting three types of geophysical data at the site:

  • Ground Elevations. A slight change in elevation may be a sign that something is buried underneath.
  • Ground Penetrating Radar. Detects disturbances in layers of soil, which can indicate that a body is buried underneath.
  • Magnetic Gradiometry. Measurements of the electromagnetic field tests for any disturbances.

After compiling the data, Mr. Henson told the SIUC Daily Egyptian, "The historical information and context is very convincing. We're confident that we found some unmarked graves in that area."

Because the group used non-invasive methods rather than excavating the gravesite, no one can say positively that the bodies of Cherokees are buried there. However, the National Park Service found Mr. Henson's research so convincing that they have made the site a part of the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail.