Helping Bring an Old Cemetery to Life

From Minnesota Alumni Magazine Fall 2014

By Meleah Maynard

In June, University of Minnesota Associate Professor of Archaeology Katherine Hayes was busy doing research and teaching a field school in archaeological survey methods on New York’s Shelter Island when she found out that the Eastville Community Historical Society needed help.

For years, the Society had worked to preserve and maintain the historic St. David A.M.E. Zion Church Cemetery in nearby Sag Harbor, New York, which was founded in 1857 after local African Americans had built the church. The burial site for African American and Native American members of the congregation, the cemetery is located in one of the oldest multiethnic working-class communities in the nation.

Though the Society had received a site preservation grant from the Archaeological Institute of America in 2013, it was far short of the $8,000 needed to fund a geographic information systems (GIS) mapping and ground-penetrating radar (GPR) survey that could identify how many people have been buried in the 160-year-old cemetery and where (there are no grave markers). Since Hayes and her students were already using GIS and GPR in their fieldwork, she offered to have her students survey the cemetery free of charge. Information gleaned from GPR, which works well in cemeteries because it does not disturb the soil, will be used to map the boundaries of the cemetery to protect against residential encroachment.

Gary Cole, whose great-grandmother Rose Johnson is buried in the cemetery, visited the site for the first time after the survey was completed. He told the East Hampton Star he was grateful to the historical society and the University of Minnesota. “As a member of the Johnson family I’m here to thank you on behalf of my family.”

Says Hays, “The experience definitely inspired me and the students to do more projects that help communities, so I’ll be looking for other opportunities.”


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