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

Tessa Switzer and John W. Olson (me!) at the Nevada City Cemetery.  We are using mapping grade receivers, external antennae, and range poles for mapping.

Tessa Switzer and John W. Olson (me!) at the Nevada City Cemetery. We are using mapping grade receivers, external antennae, and range poles for mapping.

I remember using MapQuest in Seattle with a friend to locate her new apartment. We entered the address on my desktop computer, arranged the view so that the printed destination area was enlarged thus enabling us to navigate the new terrain with relative ease. At least that was the theory. In reality, since widespread public access to GPS (Global Positioning System) navigation was fairly new, there were a few glitches that needed to be ironed out. In our case the map said there was a road that was supposed to go from close to the I-5 exit leading directly past the apartment. Unfortunately, or fortunately rather, there was no road going up the incline which I imagine was around 40-50% slope. We ended up ignoring the map and traveled a little ways around the hill to reach the other side, which had actual roads at decent slopes leading to our destination.

A few years later I was moving back to Montana from Fort Lauderdale, Florida (and yes, it was a long trip from Seattle to Fort Lauderdale and Fort Lauderdale to Cut Bank, Montana) and I had a PDA (Personal Data Assistant for those in the current generation that have never known a time without smartphones) that had a small plug-in GPS unit. This was 2005 and I was totally clueless as to why the unit didn’t work very well and why I kept losing the signal. Since those two incidents, technology has changed dramatically as has the knowledge (including mine) behind the technology.

GPS, as many people are aware, basically allows users to determine where they are located on planet Earth as well as provide the geophysical location of 3D objects such as houses, golf courses, and even the precise, and secret, location of your huckleberry patches way up in the boonies. Of course, knowing where something is and having a constantly updating GPS map in order to arrive at your destination is an amazing convenience. However, even at the dawn of the field, people began realizing there was considerable potential in knowing the geophysical location of objects and gathering pertinent data in relation to those locations. GIS had been born.

GIS is an acronym for Geographic Information System, or as my GIS instructor espouses, Geographic Information Science. I agree with my instructor in that “science” more aptly defines the enormous amount of technologies, concepts, and advances that have been utilized by almost every discipline. The targeting of the physical locations of university students and city residents who are sports fans can be used in determining the future location of a sports bar. GPS and GIS can also be utilized in creating avalanche predictions in the Bridger Bowl ski area based on average snowfalls, slopes, and the types of snow.   On campus, for many years the semester project for GPS students has included gathering data in new subdivisions. This data includes locating the positions of fire hydrants, doors to apartment or condo locations and their numbers, sidewalks and other important geophysical information. This data is then incorporated in the city and county Emergency Services database to aid in response times for the police and firefighters.

In archaeology, GPS and GIS can be used to graphically display where artifacts, ecofacts, midden positions, building, etc. are located is space and through time via relative and absolute dating of materials. This process can sometimes result in discovering new patterns or help to visually enrich current knowledge. This enrichment is very evident when we consider using GPS and GIS with mapping cemeteries.

In the next few weeks, this Thursday blog will explore the immense usability and versatility of GPS and GIS in regards to the Nevada City Cemetery Project that The Extreme History Project is heading up. I want to share with everyone how we are working on telling the story of the people buried in the Nevada City Cemetery. As an added bonus, I will also be telling you the story of the people who are telling the story of the people in the Nevada City Cemetery and how GPS and GIS has altered our methodology and expanded what archaeology can offer to everyone.

Until next week…Rock on! (Archaeology pun)

John W. Olson



Do you support maintaining and celebrating the rich heritage of Bozeman, Montana’s historic buildings, districts and neighborhoods? Then you’ve come to the right place. Check here for updates on events, meetings, and resources to join your voice with ours and ensure that Bozeman’s historic integrity is preserved for generations to come!!!

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Support Historic Preservation in bozeman Montana. Join your voice to ours in protecting and preserving Bozeman's historic integrity!

Hey Everybody, Its Giving Tuesday!

Posted: December 1, 2015 by extremehistory in Uncategorized



If you have enjoyed our programs and if we have made you think about the past in a new way, would you consider supporting us with a donation? We work very hard to bring you quality history programming and projects throughout the year. Your support means we can continue providing history programming throughout the coming year and beyond. Click the “donate now” button on the left  and thank you for your continued support!

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Indigenous People’s Day is a day worth celebrating!

Posted: November 24, 2015 by extremehistory in Uncategorized

Please join us on November 30, 2015 from 6-8pm at the Bozeman Library Community Room for this amazing discussion.


Indigenous People’s Day

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Image  —  Posted: November 18, 2015 by extremehistory in Uncategorized
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By John W. Olsen

You’re not alone.

This coming Wednesday marks the 61st occurrence of Veteran’s Day since it became a Federal Holiday in 1954.  For many years men and women have fought for and died for our country and unfortunately a certain portion of them died by their own hand:  Suicide.

Suicide has been associated with mental illness and something being wrong with a person and is inaccurate.  A great analogy I found on is that if you have a broken limb, you go to the doctor or the Emergency Room and get it taken care of.  Why is it not the same for suicide and why is there so much difficulty to talk about?  Check out the following link to find out more about the stigma of suicide. This stigma is very slowly being changed and it is still a difficult battle.

When I went online to find out the number of veterans who commit suicide it is hard to find a definitive answer.  One thing is certain, though, the difference between military and civilian rates of suicide are staggering.  Going to and looking at the 2012 Suicide report and at the bottom of the page is a link to the full 59 page report.  This data, of course, is not complete as there are states that haven’t released information, information released does not acknowledge the event was a suicide, or it does acknowledge the individual was a veteran.  This information is broken down into many different categories.

In January of this year the LA Times ran an article about a study that “…included all 1,282,074 veterans who served in active-duty units between 2001 and 2007 and left the military during that period” and “It tracked the veterans after service until the end of the 2009, finding a total of 1,868 suicides.  That equates to an annual suicide rate of 29.5 per 100,000 veterans, or roughly 50% higher than the rate among other civilians with similar demographic characteristics”  In June of this year the LA Times ran another article this time focusing on female veterans and found “Female military veterans commit suicide at nearly six times the rate of other women”

Trying to find actual information on veteran suicides in a historical context is difficult at best.  There are some websites that list that approximately 58,000 veterans died during Vietnam and some say that the suicides resulting from that conflict are anywhere between 9,000 – 100,000.

World War II veteran suicide rates after the war didn’t even seem to be on the radar until more recently.  According to a spokeswoman for the VA the idea of mental health, especially PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), wasn’t something that was discussed or even comprehended back then and you definitely couldn’t have gotten care for this at the VA.  It was suggested that many veterans self-medicated with drinking and other outlets.

Today the VA and other mental health providers understand the extreme pressures members of the armed forces have had to endure and symptoms of which don’t necessarily appear immediately.  It is true that we do have more resources and hotlines available for veterans and yet we still have men and women taking their own lives.  We still have a ways to go.

Thank you to all the veterans for your service, your patriotism, and your sacrifice.  We would not be here without you.

Perhaps the most courageous act a veteran who is considering suicide can do is to ask for help.  Below is a list of resources for veterans and civilians.




1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255)


586-3333 – Help line


John W. Olson

USN 1989 – 1992

Our own Marsha Fulton shares her research on 19th century Spiritualism in this presentation for the 2015 Montana History Conference.