Cemetery trip highlights first day of Montana History Conference in Helena

Posted September 30, 2019

This story originally appeared in the Helena Independent Record.  Written by Tyler Manning.

A group of history fans saw how ground-penetrating radar can be used to help discover unmarked graves Thursday, which was the first day of the 46th Montana History Conference in Helena. 

During a trip to the Silver City Cemetery north of Helena, University of Montana Ph.D. candidate Ethan Ryan, an archaeologist and ground-penetrating radar specialist, explained that he uses a 400 megahertz device with an electromagnetic pulse to detect anomalies underground. He can then use surface clues and disturbances to determine whether an unmarked grave might be nearby. 

Before the group went to the cemetery, Pam Attardo, preservation officer for the City of Helena and Lewis and Clark County, spoke about the ongoing preservation efforts happening there. She said the cemetery dates back to the days of the Wild West and is home to a number of graves, both marked and unmarked.

This was one of many panels at the three-day Montana History Conference at the Marriott Delta Helena Colonial Hotel. There are also seminars about Native American history, women and drug use, Montana’s first licensed physicians and even a historical account of cannibalism on the American frontier. 

According to Kirby Lambert, outreach and interpretation program manager for the Montana Historical Society, the conference was born from a passion for Montana’s history.

“The Historical Society has a dual mission of preserving Montana history and disseminating knowledge about that history. The history conference is a great way to do that,” Lambert said, adding that attendees include “people come from all parts of Montana, and some from out of state. Session topics are diverse to appeal to a broad audience. We also offer workshops that appeal primarily to teachers and archivists.”