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Study of unmarked African-American graves at Boone Cemetery continues

Ground-penetrating radar and an electrical resistivity system are being used to confirm the location of African-American graves in the Boone Cemetery.

The cemetery, located just south of Hardin Street and adjacent to the Appalachian State University campus, is divided into two sections, locally referred to as the “white” (east) and “black” (west) sections. The west section is the larger and contains hundreds of well-marked graves within a fenced perimeter. The east section contains only two well-marked graves, which date to the mid-1800s, and many unmarked graves.

Students and professors from Appalachian’s Department of Geology and Department of Anthropology conducted a ground penetrating radar (GPR) survey on a portion of the east section of the cemetery in 2007. Sixteen major and many minor anomalies were identified along the hillcrest close to the boundary between the two cemetery sections.

The area was resurveyed in April by geophysics and geoarchaeology students of Drs. Scott Marshall and Ellen Cowan in Appalachian’s Department of Geology to confirm the location of the unmarked graves.

The device used for the second survey was an older electrical resistivity meter upgraded by the College of Arts and Sciences’ electronics and machine shop instrument makers.

Under the direction of Keith C. Seramur, an adjunct assistant research associate in the Department of Geology, and Cowan, students used the equipment to measure electrical resistance between two electrode probes every two feet along a 100-by-100 foot grid. Variances in the electric current can indicate a disturbed soil below the surface and confirm the location of potential unmarked graves identified by the earlier GPR survey.

This initial effort only completed a portion of the grid so additional surveys will be conducted in the future.

While an exact number of gravesites has yet to be determined, historical records indicate that between 30-40 African-Americans died in Watauga County when the cemetery was in use.

“Our work at the Boone cemetery is providing geology students hands on experience with geophysical equipment,” Seramur said. “We also hope to contribute to the preservation of part of Boone’s history and respect for those buried in these unmarked graves by completing this study.”

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