Grave Dowsing?

Survey of possible graveyard site along a highway destined to be four-laned.

What’s a water dowser do when his method is demonstrated time and again to be nonsense on stilts? Turn to dowsing for graves, I suppose. It wasn’t mentioned if the dowser who worked for Mississippi landowner about to lose a strip of pastureland to a new highway project used a forked stick or metal rods, but one thing is clear, he didn’t actually find any graves (click “A Grave Matter” for the story).

But that hasn’t stopped MDOT from sending out a CRM team to clear the area. It’s their due diligence, after all. If all they had to go on was a “dowser’s” word, I would say they should dismiss it out-of-hand and get on with the highway project. Imminent domain can be a pain in the butt when you’re a landowner, but at least he isn’t loosing his home. And the highway addition will benefit the whole of society in his area. Not to mention they probably offered him reasonable compensation.

But since there were some anecdotes from local residents, the CRM survey is the right thing to do (plus, it means some archaeologist are gainfully employed!). The landowner hired an attorney to intercede on his behalf and they’re complaining that the equipment used is a single-antenna GPR (ground-penetrating radar) instead of a dual-antenna.

“The research is pretty clear that the dual-antenna system gives you a better depiction,” the attorney said. “The rules have been changed, so it’s frustrating.”

The dual-antenna is probably nice to have, but not necessary for something as straight-forward as locating graves. The single-antenna GPRs are also called monostatic since they use the same antenna to transmit and receive the electromagnetic (EM) wave, whereas a dual-antenna GPR is considered bistatic since it transmits on one antenna then receives on another. Both have their advantages, the monostatic probably being the easiest and fastest to use. The bistatic GPR works a little slower, but it’s datasets are somewhat smaller and give better resolution. Bistatic is what you want for the precision of locating pipes and cabling under city streets. Monostatic is plenty sufficient to find a few graves. But the CRM team was also using a magnetometer, which could be very useful if gravestones are buried.

That the landowner used the services of a “grave dowser” is laughable, but the response of MDOT and the CRM team to the possibility of genuine cultural resources was appropriate. Particularly since there was some apparent anecdote suggesting an otherwise undocumented graveyard was present as well as some alleged “Indian mounds.” Clearly the landowner is hoping to deflect the project away from his own property.

Bad news mister landowner… if they find a graveyard that isn’t Native American, they’ll very likely just move it. The good news is, major highways are good for picking up cans so there’s a potential opportunity for income!

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