USM Professor, Students Conduct Examination of Historic Louisiana Cemetery

Published 8:10 am Tuesday, August 3, 2021

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By: David Tisdale

A geography professor at The University of Southern Mississippi (USM) Gulf Park in Long Beach and six of his students are engaged in a project collecting information about a historic Louisiana city cemetery, using the latest technology featuring geographic information systems (GIS) and ground penetrating radar (GPR).

Dr. David Holt, along with undergraduates Candice Pellier and Angela Slawson, and graduate students Lloyd Dedeaux, Alyssa Crowell, David Duvall and Ian Stewart, traveled May 14-15 to West Monroe to conduct a remapping and coding of Hasley Cemetery, located on Arkansas Road in West Monroe. The project is funded by the city.

The team has completed the initial phase of the project, a GPR survey and mapping of all headstones, locating approximately 18 unmarked graves, and will next build a GIS for the cemetery and begin entering names. The final product will be a searchable, online database showing headstones and locations of all who are interred in Hasley Cemetery.

“Projects like these are a good way of getting our students hands-on field experience in real-world applications with developing Geographic Information Systems, mimicking Project Management, using a Total Station Global Positing System and interpreting Ground Penetrating Radar, “Dr. Holt said. “These types of field experiences are why our geography majors succeed when they graduate from Southern Miss.”

Using GPR gives Dr. Holt and his teams the ability to evaluate areas of interest over wide spaces, where the only other methods include manual probing or excavation. A 400-megahertz GPR instrument used at the site allows for a signal to travel into the earth and reflect to the receiver, with the change in transmission rates of that signal enabling researchers to interpret variations of materials below the surface. A live scan method required flagging of areas of interest to rescan areas of higher confidence to plot the unmarked graves into the developed GIS.

Dr. Holt and student search teams have scanned multiple cemeteries over the years, including in Alexandria, Louisiana and Auburn, Alabama and in Mississippi at Hattiesburg and on the Gulf Coast, looking specifically for unmarked gravesites. Dr. Holt’s assistance was also sought following Hurricane Katrina to help identify grave sites at a Long Beach cemetery damaged by the storm.