GPS, GIS and Archaeology:
The Beginning of a Beautiful, and Sometimes Complicated, Relationship
In the Mapping of the Nevada City Cemetery in Madison County Montana
By John W. Olson
Happy New Year (a little belatedly) and I hope everyone is doing amazing! I wanted to continue on with the post (a little belatedly) about the Nevada City Cemetery Project and spend some time talking about how this project came into being.
It began a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far……wait, wrong story! (I’m a geek)
Like many things in life, it began by chance. We go back a couple years, Spring 2014, to when our founders, Marsha Fulton and Crystal Alegria, were made aware of an effort to find the Hebrew Cemetery in Virginia City, Montana. The search for the cemetery was lead by Jeff MacDonald, Lead Preservation Specialist for the Montana Heritage Commission and Riley Augé, Adjunct Professor at University of Montana. Through this Extreme History became aware of the lack of a plat map for the Nevada City Cemetery. Apparently, some time during the 1970’s or 1980’s the original plat map for the cemetery was loaned out and never returned.
Extreme History Project teamed up with Project Archaeology for a week-long teacher’s workshop in Virginia City. Project Archaeology offers workshops to help teachers implement their archaeology-based curriculum in the K-12 classroom and “Project Archaeology gives students a basic understanding of how archaeology works and teaches them to respect and protect our nation’s rich cultural heritage.”
Teaming up with Project Archaeology, The Extreme History Project created a new aspect for the teacher’s workshop in which the teachers would begin the mapping and documenting of the Nevada City Cemetery. Information that would be collected would be very comprehensive and would include the status and description of the cemetery, orientation of markers, names of stone carvers, the conditions of the markers and much, much more as well as sketches of each grave.
Marsha Fulton made the above map by hand when the project first began to separate the Nevada City Cemetery into smaller “chunks” which would help us identify, map, and categorize each of the graves. In the summer of 2014 the teacher’s workshop made huge strides in the mapping and documentation of graves located in Sections 1-3.
In Spring of 2015, during a weekly meeting at the Extreme History Project office, the idea of GPS mapping of the graves was introduced. It was thought using GPS mapping would be a great step in possibly creating a plat map for the cemetery or at the very least provide an accurate map to Nevada City to help in future burials.
Also discussed was the possibility of taking all of the information obtained (GPS, sketches of graves, info on graves, etc.) and providing it as an interactive web site available to everyone. One of the biggest aspects of this was getting ahold of any stories from friends and family members of the people interred and with their permission sharing the stories on the web. Stories of people who came to Nevada City either to strike it rich, or following family members, and even people that never intended to stick around yet became founding members of the area. Stories of real people doing amazing things.
It is amazing that archaeology, history and the internet can allow us a much deeper peek into our ancestors and ourselves.
Next week I will talk about our first GPS survey.