Cemetery Preservation

In June 2018, The Montana History Foundation hosted a Cemetery Preservation Technology Workshop in order to provide education and training on the technologies available in the field of cemetery preservation. In addition to classroom demonstrations, this workshop included field demonstrations and working field trips to area cemeteries.

In order to determine which technology or tool to use for historic cemetery preservation,

  • Observe and identify challenges,
  • Look for patterns, and
  • Research resources

The Montana History Foundation offers grant funding to historic cemeteries and sacred sites. Our organization, and others, can help with the cost of using these technologies to preserve your historic cemetery. 

Canine Forensics is a relatively new method of using trained dogs to identify and map areas of human burial. Canines trained to alert on specific scents have long been utilized in law enforcement, U.S. Customs, the military and search and rescue work.  The Historical Human Remains Detection (HHRD) canine is the newest in the evolution of detection canines. Its training and certification make it a unique resource available for the purpose of assisting in the search for historical and prehistoric graves.

These trained canines are used to delineate boundaries and identify burial sites up to 1,000 years old. This is a highly effective technology for mountainous cemeteries where it is difficult to bring in other equipment and/or where burials have been disrupted by erosion, making GPR and other methods ineffective. It can be utilized by archaeologists who use a wide range of multidisciplinary techniques to locate historic and prehistoric burials. The specifically trained HHRD dog is an additional tool that can be layered to collaborate with other methods of detection.

Adela Morris, president and CEO of the Institute for Canine Forensics (ICF), presented at the workshop with her dog Jasper along with her business partner, John Grebenkemper, and his dog Kayle. ICF has been requested by cultural resource management firms, archaeologists, American Indian tribes, construction companies, federal, state and local agencies, cemetery preservation foundations and families looking to locate lost family cemeteries. For more information or to contract with ICF for your project, contact ICF at:

(650) 503-4473
[email protected] 

Workshop Resources:
Adela Morris presentation
John Grebenkemper presentation
China Row ICF Final Report
Marysville Cemetery ICF Final Report


Cemetery Botany plays a role in creating a landscape within a cemetery, that vegetation tells the story of that place to archaeologists. Phytoarchaeology, the study of plants in archaeology, can be useful for dating archaeological sites. Further specialization within this study provides researchers the ability to analyze plants as a burial indicator, including the symbolism of certain types and properties of plants. Related studies include:

  • Landscape archaeology is the study of the ways in which people in the past constructed and used the environment around them.
  • Historical archaeology, a form of archaeology, seeks to understand places, things, and issues from the past or present.
  • Historical ecology focuses on the interactions between humans and their environment over long-term periods of time, typically over the course of centuries.
  • Historical ethnobotany is understanding past interrelationships between people and plants using written records and iconography.  

Understanding the vegetation of a place is one piece to understanding the history of an area. 

John S. Harris, University of Montana Ph.D. student, joined the Cemetery Preservation Technology Workshop and led a session on cemetery site vegetation. In addition to presenting at the workshop, John joined the working field trip to the Marysville, MT cemetery, where he analyzed and cataloged his vegetation analysis. John can be reached at [email protected].

Workshop Resources:
Cemetery Botany Notes from John S. Harris
*Thanks to John for sharing his draft version for your reference
Botany findings in Marysville, MT

Data Collection is the process of gathering and measuring information. This is especially important in historic cemeteries, where information (literally) weathers away each day. On-site data collection provides a record which can then be input into an online database, allowing historians and family members to locate grave sites. 

Documenting cemeteries not only honors the dead but also the living. By documenting headstones, monuments, and cemetery symbols, we can better notice patterns, track where bodies are buried, and improve preservation and maintenance.

Genealogical Research Resources:

www.ancestry.com (subscription)
www.familysearch.org (free)
www.findmypast.com (subscription)
www.myheritage.com (subscription)

Online Cemetery Databases:


Online Newspaper Resources:

www.chroniclingamerica.com (free)
http://montananewspapers.org (free)
www.newspapers.com (subscription)

Crystal Alegria, Co-Director of The Extreme History Project in Bozeman, Montana, presented and led a demonstration of her data collection marker assessment form at the workshop. Crystal can be reached at [email protected].

Workshop Resources:
Crystal Alegria presentation

Drones or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) high quality images; produce digital elevation maps; and, using photogrammetry, 3D maps of a cemetery. These tools are especially helpful in an abandoned cemetery. To get a better understanding of a site, sometimes you need to get above it. Drones provide this detailed information at a relatively inexpensive cost. 

Before you purchase or operate a drone/UAV, first check with Federal Aviation Administration regulations. Regulations limit the weight of your UAV, the height you may operate it at, and identify which permissions are necessary. 

When purchasing a drone, research what features you will need. How large is the area you’ll be canvassing? How long will it need to fly? Fixed-rotors tend to have more power, but multi-rotors are a fraction of the cost. 

James Strait, Tribal and Cultural Resource Officer with the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, operates the UAV program for the state. James led a demonstration of drone photography in a local cemetery at the workshop. He has been called on to work in abandoned mines, remediation, hard rock, and opencut programs. All of these experiences have given him a greater understanding of wide applicability of this technology tool. James can be reached at [email protected].

Workshop Resources:
James Strait presentation
Sample drone footage from workshop

Forensic Archaeology uses archaeology methods to recover human remains and evidence in a forensic context. It is related to several other methods:

  • Physical Anthropology is a sub discipline of anthropology; it is the study of skeletal remains.
  • Bioarchaeology is the study of the human biology in the archaeological context (i.e. human remains, mortuary practices, chemical and molecular).
  • Forensic anthropology is the application of physical anthropology in the legal setting for identification
  • Mortuary archaeology is the archaeology of mortuary contexts including human remains, graves, monumental archaeology that houses mortuary remains, and grave goods.

The goals of forensic anthropology and archaeology are to identify the individual by class characteristics (sex, age, ancestry, height, weight, and health) and individual characteristics (pathology, trauma, dental restorations). The goals of mortuary archaeology and bioarchaeology are the complete recovery of remains, the interpretation of grave goods, and the in-situ analysis of human remains and artifacts.

Kirsten Green, a visiting assistant professor at the University of Montana, also consults with the State Medical Examiner’s Office on forensic cases. Kirsten presented on “Forensic and Mortuary Archaeology” at the Cemetery Preservation Workshop. She can be reached at [email protected].

Workshop Resources:
Kirsten Green presentation

GPS – Global Positioning Systems is used by many communities to locate and map burials. GPS, of course, is widely available and relatively inexpensive, making its use more widespread. Data collected through GPS locating can identify all burial sites and stones within a given cemetery and is often used in conjunction with GIS. Spatial data from GPS can then be used to create extensive site maps locating burials and linking these sites to additional data such as headstone information.

GIS – Geographic Information System can be used in many ways. By using existing maps and additional information, GIS can assist communities in creating a cemetery map system so that they can better track burials, sell burials, and plan for future cemetery management. GIS can also be used to create layers of historical information, searchable at an individual level or used to create mobile-friendly walking or driving tours, etc. GIS can integrate data from all of the methods into a compact package. GPS, photogrammetry, GPR and other data can all be georeferenced in GIS to produce highly complex results.


https://storymaps.arcgis.com – Story maps use Geographic Information System (GIS) tools to combine geospatial data with photos, video, audio, and text to visually represent an idea, theme or event. Story maps are designed for all audiences with access to the Internet. Users do not need experience with GIS software to read or use story maps.

www.QGIS.org – A free and open source geographic information system.

http://doc.arcgis.com/en/collector/ – Collector for ArcGIS. Use your smartphone or tablet to collect and update information in the field, whether connected or disconnected from the internet.

Mapit GIS – Spatial Asset Collection, GPS Surveys and Data Management for Android.

Renting or Borrowing a GPS Device

Many organizations will allow you to rent or borrow a GPS device. Here are some places to check:

  • Local college or university
  • Local engineering firm
  • Local Cultural Resource Management (CRM) companies

John W. Olson led a demonstration on GPS and GIS at a local cemetery during the workshop. John can be reached at [email protected].

Workshop Resources:
John Olson presentation

Ground Penetrating Radar is a geophysical method that uses radar pulses to capture images of the subsurface of the ground. This technique uses electromagnetic radiation in the microwave band (UHF/VHF frequencies) to detect the reflected signals from subsurface structures. The radar detects below-ground disturbances, such as coffins, vaults, water lines, and other human-made disturbances. The sites can then be marked (often first with surface spray paint), then the location coordinates can be mapped and identified.

Ethan Ryan, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Montana, led the afternoon excursion to East Helena Cemetery where attendees benefited from hands-on experience locating unmarked graves. Ethan can be reached at [email protected].

Workshop Resources:
Ethan Ryan presentation

Monument repair is necessary in most historic cemeteries. Damage to headstones and monuments can be due to accidents or vandalism. Weather and wildlife can also disrupt and displace monuments, though the majority of damaged headstones can be repaired. 

Before repairing monuments, keep in mind that permanent changes are irreversible to historic stones. Caring for historic monuments is best done using a non-hazardous, biodegradable solution which can be poured or sprayed on, then gently scrubbed with a nylon brush and then rinsed. D2 is an example of a commonly available biodegradable compound. 

Mold, moss, and lichen can be safely and easily removed using this low-tech, yet effective method.

John Rummel, owner of Montana Granite, presented on different methods of headstone maintenance and repair. The Rummel family are now the fourth generation of Montana Granite monument makers and craftsmen. John can be reached at [email protected].

Photogrammetry makes measurements from photographs, especially to recover the exact positions of surface points. This technique has been successful in documenting rock art by taking multiple views of the subject and “sewing” the images together with software, using exact measurement points to build a three dimensional model. Often this construct will allow researchers to read a previously illegible inscription or better view faded or faint markings. 

RTI: Reflectance Transformation Imaging uses digital cameras and a controlled array of light sources to capture the surface shapes and colors of monuments. It enables interactive relighting from any direction through software. The digital images can then be mathematically enhanced to potentially reveal surface shape, color, texture, and other attributes. The resulting construct often provides the researcher to see/view a previously indecipherable inscription or image. This technology is highly useful for headstone or monument inscriptions that are otherwise illegible. 

Tim Urbaniak, Emeritus Professor of Drafting and Design Technology from Montana State University, walked workshop attendees through applying technologies to read historic inscriptions on headstones. Tim manages TRU Technologies LLC, a company specializing in applying technologies to archaeological and anthropological research. Tim can be reached at [email protected]

Workshop Resources:
Tim Urbaniak presentation

Video on photogrammetry

Reading Cemeteries and Stones involves examining the built and unbuilt environment of a cemetery and scrutinizing headstones for the connotations embedded within their form, structure, and style. The font choice for a headstone, for example, can display the worldview of that time and place, and the social position and association, kinship, ethnicity, and religious affiliation of the interred individual.

Cemeteries elicit emotional responses through their designs and embedded ideologies. Analyzing the placement of a grave can lead to an enhanced knowledge of the interred individual. For instance, the arrangement of the grave and accompanying headstone, the direction it faces, and the space it occupies and the firm or loose boundaries of that space can all denote different facts about the individual. Headstones can also be filled with religious and non-religious symbols and protective designs.

Dr. C. Riley Auge’s research projects include the cemeteries of Virginia and Nevada City. Dr. Auge gave a presentation on “Hidden Dimensions: Recognizing Embedded Beliefs and Customs in Burial Practices.” Contact Dr. Auge at [email protected].

Workshop Resources: 
Riley Auge presentation

Click Here to Download a Copy of the Workshop Program

Crystal Alegria, Co-Director and MT Project Archaeology Coordinator, The Extreme History Project
Crystal B. Alegria has worked in the field of heritage outreach and education for the past sixteen years with an emphasis on community history, curriculum development, and archaeological site stewardship. Crystal is the co-director and co-founder of The Extreme History Project, a nonprofit based in Bozeman, MT that brings history to the public. She is also the Montana coordinator for Project Archaeology, a national heritage education program based at Montana State University. Crystal was the president of the Montana Archaeological Society and currently serves on the Bozeman Historic Preservation Advisory Board and the Bozeman Preservation Advocacy Group. She has a B.S. in Anthropology and an M.A. in History from Montana State University.

Riley Auge, Curator of Anthropological Collections Facility, University of Montana
Riley Auge, Ph.D., RPA, holds an M.A. in Folklore and Mythology and a Ph.D. in Anthropology/Archaeology. She has spent 17 years researching the material manifestations of traditional belief systems of various cultural and ethnic groups. She recently received the Society for Historical Archaeology’s Kathleen Kirk Gilmore Award for her dissertation Silent Sentinels: Archaeology, Magic, and the Gendered Control of Domestic Boundaries in New England, 1620-1725, which will be published this fall. She has published articles in national and international journals on the material culture of ritual and magic, presented at national and international conferences on the subject, and teaches classes and workshops on ritual, religion, and magic. Her research projects include the cemeteries of Virginia and Nevada City, MT. She is currently a curator for the University of Montana’s Anthropological Collections Facility and teaches in the University of Montana anthropology department.

Ellen Baumler, Interpretive Historian, Montana Historical Society
Ellen Baumler earned her Ph.D. in English, Classics and History from the University of Kansas. She has been the interpretive historian and National Register sign program coordinator at the Montana Historical Society since 1992. Ellen is a longtime member of the Humanities Montana Speakers Bureau, a 2011 recipient of the Governor’s Award for the Humanities, and co-curator of the Society’s recent award-winning Chinese exhibit, “Forgotten Pioneers.” The author of many books and articles, Ellen’s current project is a book on mortuary customs and cemeteries in Montana. She has also authored National Register nominations including those for Helena’s Home of Peace and Benton Avenue cemeteries.

John Grebenkemper, Historic Human Remains Detection Canine Handler, Institute for Canine Forensics (ICF)
John Grebenkemper joined the Institute for Canine Forensics in 2007 after retiring from computer design. His dog, Kayle, is a certified Historic Human Remains Detection dog. He and Kayle have traveled extensively to various archaeological projects to locate burial locations. The oldest burial they have found has been dated as 9,000 years old. This past summer they traveled to the South Pacific on a National Geographic project to look for the remains of Amelia Earhart. The material found on that expedition is currently under analysis to extract the degraded DNA. Before joining ICF, John spent 40 years working in the fields of physics and engineering research. He received a Ph.D. from Stanford University, has published more than 20 technical papers, and received 8 U.S. patents.

Kirsten Green, Visiting Assistant Professor, University of Montana
Kirsten received her B.S. in Anthropology from Southern Methodist University in 2006, then received her M.A. in Forensic Anthropology from the University of Montana in 2008. She received her Ph.D. in Physical Anthropology from the University of Montana in 2016 with research on stable isotope analysis of burials from a Maya site in Belize. Between her masters and Ph.D. programs, she worked for several Customer Relationship Management (CRM) companies in California before landing a job at the State of California as an associate environmental planner. She is currently a visiting assistant professor at the University of Montana in the Anthropology Department. Kirsten teaches osteology, Forensic & mortuary archaeology, introduction to physical anthropology, and a seminar in bioarchaeology. Kirsten also consults with the State Medical Examiner’s Office on forensic cases for the State of Montana. She continues her work in Belize each summer excavating, documenting, and cataloging burials for several sites in the Belize River Valley.

John S. Harris, University of Montana
How might surface vegetation divulge the past story of a place to archaeologists? How do archaeologists know what to look for in site vegetation? These overlooked questions preoccupied John Harris’ master’s thesis, “The Sylvan Blindspot.” He holds an M.A. in Anthropology from the University of Montana, whereas a Ph.D. student, he investigates the vegetal signatures of past human activities at historic log cabins and cemetery sites in Western Montana. His research interests include landscape archaeology, historical archaeology, historical ecology, and historical ethnobotany.

Adela Morris, President and CEO, Institute for Canine Forensics (ICF) 
Adela Morris has been active in human remains detection with her dogs since 1986 and has deployed her dogs on hundreds of searches specializing in cold cases, crime scenes and historic and prehistoric burials. She is an instructor and evaluator for Human Remains Detection dogs. Adela is the founder and director of the Institute for Canine Forensics (ICF), a nonprofit organization that specializes in locating historic and prehistoric burials. She’s also the founder of the Canine Specialized Search Team, a volunteer resource for the Santa Clara County (CA) Sheriff’s Office. Jasper is her 6th certified detection dog and Jett, her 16-month-old puppy, is currently working on his ICF historical human remains certification. 

John W. Olson, Archaeologist/GIS Specialist, The Extreme History Project
John W. Olson graduated Montana State University in May 2016 with a Bachelor of Science in Anthropology, focus on Archaeology, and a minor in Geographic Information Sciences (GIS). He has volunteered and worked for The Extreme History Project since 2013, and leads historic tours in downtown Bozeman. He is the GPS/GIS project coordinator for the Nevada City Cemetery GPS Mapping Project since March 2015 and has been part of the project to create the cemetery database. While working as the store manager and buyer for the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, MT, he is investigating options and opportunities for pursuing a master’s degree in archaeology and furthering his education in GIS.

Charlene Porsild, President & CEO, The Montana History Foundation
Charlene Porsild, a native of Canada’s Yukon, is an author and historian with a passion for the mountain west. An avid trail user, Charlene enjoys hiking with her sweet pups, Cinnamon and Jack. When not hustling for history, find Charlene exploring Montana’s many ghost towns and historic cemeteries with her family.

John, Robert, and Daren Rummel, Montana Granite Craftsmen
Montana Granite is a locally owned and operated family business, providing almost a hundred years of experience to Montana families. The Rummel family and Montana Granite have a long-established history in the Helena community, dating back to 1930 when John Rummel opened the first shop on Montana Avenue after working with John Kain at the Kain Granite Company. Sixteen years later, the family built the current monument shop on Forestvale Road and then in 1958, expanded to Great Falls. Montana Granite Company of Helena changed hands in 1971 when Ken Ludtke and his family purchased it. They serviced Helena until the early 2000’s when they sold it back to the Rummels who are now the fourth generation of Montana Granite monument makers and craftsmen.

Ethan Ryan, Archaeologist/GPR Specialist, University of Montana
Ethan Ryan is currently in the Ph.D. program for Anthropology/Archaeology at the University of Montana. He has been the ground penetrating radar specialist for iResponse, LLC., an affiliate of the Chippewa Cree Cultural Resource Office of Rocky Boy’s Reservation since Feb 2017. Ethan previously worked for the Bureau of Land Management and has worked on large-scale research projects in Alaska, British Columbia, Montana, and Wyoming. Ethan’s specialties in addition to GPR include GIS, lithic analysis, and spatial analysis. In his free time, he enjoys fly-fishing, hiking, and playing music in two Missoula-based bands.

James Straight, Tribal and Cultural Resource Officer, Montana Department of Environmental Quality
James Strait is the tribal and cultural resources officer, as well as the unmanned aerial systems (UAS) manager for the Montana Department of Environmental Quality. James holds a B.S. in Anthropology from Iowa State University and an M.A. in Archaeology, specializing in the Northern Plains and stone tool analysis from the University of Arkansas. James has worked in the private sector doing cultural resource management throughout the Midwest, Southeast, and Southwest, but his primary focus in archaeology has been in Montana, Wyoming and the Dakotas. Since joining DEQ in 2009, James has worked for the facility siting program. The UAS program within DEQ was started by James in 2012, and has become an invaluable toolset for many of the programs within DEQ such as small miner exploration, remediation and abandoned mine lands.

Mary F. Striegel, Chief, Materials Conservation, National Park Service
Mary Striegel is responsible for NCPTT’s Materials Conservation Program. Mary’s current work focuses on the evaluation of preservation treatments for preventing damage to cultural resources. Among several projects, she and her staff oversee NCPTT’s National Cemetery Preservation Initiative. Through this initiative, the program investigates preservation treatments geared towards cemeteries and develops seminars and workshops nationwide. Mary came to NCPTT in 1995 from the Getty Conservation Institute. She earned her Ph.D. in inorganic chemistry from Washington University in St. Louis, where she pursued interdisciplinary research on residual stresses in numismatics.

Tim Urbaniak, Professor (Emeritus) of Drafting and Design Technology, Montana State University, TRU Technologies, LLC
For 20 years, Dr. Timothy Urbaniak led projects that explored archaeology and history through applications of technology. As the past director of the Montana State University Billings Archaeological Field Team, he has led students and volunteers in projects and field schools that have included rock art and historic inscription surveys, 3D reconstructions of historic sites, digital imaging applications, surveying technologies, desktop virtual reality, three-dimensional scanning and applications of multimedia. In 2014, he completed his Ph.D. in Anthropology at the University of Montana where he studied historic inscriptions and their role as a form of residual cultural communication. He is now retired emeritus from teaching following his 29th year at Montana State University in the Drafting and Design Program and currently manages TRU Technologies LLC, a company specializing in applying technologies to archaeological and anthropological research. His research work exploring and documenting historic inscriptions continues.

This project is paid for in part by a grant from the National Park Service. The views and conclusions contained in this document are those of the Montana History Foundation and should not be interpreted as representing the opinions or policies of the U.S. Government. Mention of trade names or commercial products does not constitute their endorsement by the U.S. Government.  This program was developed under a grant from the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training, a unit of the National Park Service. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the Montana History Foundation and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the National Park Service or the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training.