Elena Maria Sesma
Grant TypePost PhD Research Grant
Institutional AffiliationKentucky, U. of
Grant numberGr. 10273
Approve DateApril 13, 2022
Project TitleSesma, Elena (Kentucky, U. of) "Documenting Historic African American Cemeteries with New Heritage Sciences Methods"
African American cemeteries in the United States are vulnerable to erasure due to historical and contemporary discrimination against Black communities, and the fact that many early burying grounds were small in scale and left minimal material footprint. The historical erasure of these sites from maps and public consciousness means they are frequently damaged or destroyed in development projects. This project asks whether new heritage science methodologies can be used to detect and document historic cemeteries- including those with little surviving evidence on the ground surface- with noninvasive, aerial surveys. The project combines Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR), Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR), magnetometry, and aerial imaging surveys of historic and predominantly African American cemeteries in Kentucky to assess for patterns representative of cemeteries and burial grounds. Community collaboration contextualizes the significance of these sites to contemporary descendants and their concerns regarding the protection and preservation of such sites. This work applies an innovative cross-collaborative model using modern heritage science tools to advance current anthropological practices. It demonstrates how archaeologists can pursue anti-racist and sustainable research practices that prioritize the needs of historically marginalized communities, protect local heritage sites and sacred spaces, and contribute to societal level dialogues on civil rights.