Due to the tremendous variety of burial customs and traditions among Native American tribes, it can be difficult to locate a Native American burial site. Burial grounds are typically uncovered when archeologists or surveyors discover them while studying a particular area and are often identified using scientific tools and professional judgment. When analyzing a potential Indian burial site, archeologists first search for signs of previous habitation. If there was a village or settlement nearby, it is likely that archeologists will uncover grave sites. Archeologists use several different techniques for locating specific burial sites, such as soil coring, ground-penetrating radar and conductivity.
Insert a small, thin, hollow tube into the ground to perform soil coring. Soil fills the tube, which allows the archeologist to take a sample and compare it to undisturbed ground nearby. However, even trained professionals sometimes fail to tell the difference between disturbed and undisturbed ground, making this method somewhat unreliable.
Examine the ground using ground-penetrating radar, a non-invasive technique that creates a 2- or 3-D image of the soil and any foreign objects therein. An archeologist or surveyor can see whether a skeleton or burial vault exists, and how far down these objects might be found. This method is generally accurate and does not require that the grave site be disturbed, which makes it a useful tool for identifying an Indian grave for excavation.
Remove a soil sample in order to complete conductivity, another reliable, non-invasive method of locating a burial site. When the ground is disturbed to bury a human body, different types of minerals and metals are unearthed and brought near the surface. The mix of different elements at the top of the soil can be measured by a magnetic field test, which is used to create a geological map that surveyors can use to find suspected burial grounds.
If a homeowner or building contractor accidentally unearths what they suspect to be an Indian burial ground, it is best to contact the police right away. All digging should stop, and the police will contact the Department of Natural Resources, which will authorize a survey of the property.
Locating an Indian burial ground should not be attempted by amateurs. Those who disturb the graves or burial grounds of Native Americans can face severe legal and financial penalties, and be subject to criminal prosecution.
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