Archeologists probe Ontario historical site for graves
The Canadian Press
Published Thursday, July 28, 2011 7:30AM EDT
DRESDEN, Ont. - Archeologists plan to begin a high-tech search today for lost graves at the Uncle Tom's Cabin historic site in southwestern Ontario.
The site in Dresden is home to two historic cemeteries belonging to the British American Institute and the Henson family.
Although many tombstones are visible at the two cemeteries, their positions do not always precisely mark the location of the underlying graves.
Archeologists from the University of Western Ontario and the Ontario Heritage Trust will use ground-penetrating radar in their search of the site.
Josiah Henson was one of the founders of a settlement for fugitive slaves at Dresden in the 1830s and his name became synonymous with the character Uncle Tom in Harriet Beecher Stowe's 1852 novel "Uncle Tom's Cabin."
Henson was born into slavery in Maryland and escaped to Canada in 1830 after 41 years working as a slave.
"Historic cemeteries are notorious for having many more burials than are marked by gravestones or recorded in the cemetery records," said Edward Eastaugh, who will lead Western's survey team.
Dena Doroszenko, archeologist for the Ontario Heritage Trust, which owns and operates the historic site, said it is important to know the exact location of all the graves in the cemetery.
Ground-penetrating radar sends radar waves into the ground that are reflected back off buried features and objects, allowing archeologists to map their position.
"This is extremely useful in archeology, particularly in situations where it is important to avoid disturbing the site as much as possible," said Neal Ferris of Western.
The work is taking place just prior to Emancipation Day on Monday, which marks the 177th anniversary of the abolition of slavery in the British colonies.