Sunday, December 11, 2011

Update on Milltown Cemetery Investigation of Geophysical Anomalies

Joint Press Release by Trustees of Milltown Cemetery and
Northern Archeological Consultancy Ltd.

30th November 2011

Investigation of Geophysical Anomalies

Milltown Cemetery Belfast

In spring and early summer 2011, on the instructions of Father Martin Graham and on behalf of The Milltown Cemetery Trustees, a non-intrusive geophysical investigation was carried out by RSK STATS Geoconsult Ltd within an area of Milltown Cemetery and Bog Meadows, Belfast totaling 37 acres in size. Of this, 6 acres were located at the bottom of the current Milltown Cemetery, whilst the remaining 31 acres were within the Bog Meadows which is owned by the Ulster Wildlife Trust.  This survey was commissioned to determine the possible presence and location of graves in the vicinity of the current cemetery. In order to do this several geophysical techniques were utilised to provide the most reliable and complete information with regards to the possible presence and location of graves in the various ground types around the site.

It should be noted that while the geophysical surveys have provided some evidence for graves at the site it has identified some anomalies which may derive from other causes The survey was a highly specialised piece of work, but as noted throughout the report it cannot be definitive in asserting whether or not a specific location had been used for human burial. To confirm or refute the presence of burials it is necessary to investigate by trenching.

As a result of the techniques employed a combined anomaly map, illustrating areas of potential disturbance was produced and a series of recommendations made.

It was recommended that a representative sample of medium and low confidence possible graves indicated by the data be targeted in areas across the 6-acre and 31-acre sections to prove the nature of these obstructions. It was also recommended that broader areas within the resistivity data that potentially correlate with graves be investigated using appropriate forensic techniques. Where data suggests heterogeneous ground and where the geophysical signals from any graves present may have been masked the areas should be investigated in order to rule out the presence of graves. Where magnetic data show discrete signals that correlate with the location of anomalies indicated from the radar data all or a sample of these locations should be investigated. It was recommended to target a number of the anomalies that are in close proximity to anomalies considered to be more likely due to graves, and also a small representative sample of locations elsewhere in order to provide confidence that these anomaly types are not likely to represent graves.

Proposed works
Subsequent to a geophysical survey at Milltown Cemetery carried out in early Summer 2011, Northern Archaeological Consultancy Ltd were contracted, in September 2011, to propose a test trenching exercise to fulfill the recommendations of the geophysical survey and subsequently investigate a sample of recorded anomalies to determine whether or not they are burial related.

It was proposed that a series of test trenches be hand excavated through a selection of the anomalies to determine whether they are present as a result of burials and if not to establish, if possible, the cause of the anomaly. As well as this we have been asked to investigate two areas currently laid out as burial plots within the cemetery to establish whether or not there are burials present, and to investigate part of the area of the easternmost cemetery road as it appears that there are a series of anomalies running along it which suggest burials along its current length.  The 51 locations (3 in the area relating to the drainage works for the Ulster Wildlife Trust and 45 in the area relating to the area surveyed during the Phase 2 Survey have been chosen to examine a variety of anomaly types and as wide an extent of the site as possible, without disturbing more than necessary. As the area with the greatest concentration of targets has been returned to the cemetery with the assumption that the vast majority of contacts are burials it is been deemed unnecessary to investigate that section other than to investigate the former car park areas and the road, as well as the specific areas requested in the southern and northern parts of the cemetery. The trenches, will be laid out on the ground by the persons who conducted the survey; RSK.

A series of 51, 1m wide trenches, totaling around 585m in length, will be excavated by hand, to establish the underlying ground conditions and to locate the nature and extend of burials across the site.  Where appropriate, the excavation may require using a mini digger or other small mechanical excavator with a flat bucket (sheugh bucket), to remove rubble or lift hard surfaces but will not be used in locating burials. The sod and vegetation will be lifted, stored separately and re-laid after back filling to minimise disturbance after the investigation is over. To be certain if burials are present or absent the excavation will continue to the water table, undisturbed subsoil or to the surface of any burial or reason for the anomaly.  Manual techniques will be used where suspected burials are encountered, or if delicate work is required.  It is likely that most of the anomalies are visible or present within 1m of the surface, though this may not be the case if multiple burials are present.

Work will be carried out in three phases with trenching in Phase 1 being 9 trenches (Trenches 1 to 9) totaling around 220m located in the current cemetery and in the 6 acres returned to the Trustees of Milltown. 38 trenches total around 335m in length (Trenches 10 to 47) and are located in the land currently owned by the Ulster Wildlife Trust. A further 4 trenches 47-51, around 30m in length, have been requested following consultation with all concerned parties, these will be undertaken as Phase 3.

Trenches will be backfilled as the work progresses rather than left open to minimise potential for injury or further disturbance. This part of the work will be carried out using a mechanical excavator as will hard surface and rubble removal, under the direction and supervision of the archaeologist. 

Any burials or archaeological sites or features discovered during archaeological trial trenching will be preserved in situ. If it is deemed to be a potential grave it will be investigated to the level where it is possible to determine whether or not it is an actual human burial. If a burial is uncovered the relevant contacts will be informed. They will be located using GPS, and marked on a master plan created using an EDM.  A report detailing this information will be created and submitted to the relevant persons subsequent to the investigation.  Please note that no excavation or removal of burials and/or archaeological remains will be undertaken during this investigation and that no invasive archaeological excavation can be undertaken prior to NIEA consultation and approval of a scheme of works.

Unauthorised burials
There is the potential for burials to be uncovered during this investigation that were not sanctioned by the Catholic Church or the management and staff of the cemetery  If such  burials are uncovered within the area in the ownership or formerly in the ownership of the trustees of Milltown Cemetery it is an unauthorised burial. If this is the case the site investigation will be halted in that area, Father Martin Graham, and the other representatives of the cemetery and Ulster Wildlife Trust will be contacted and the PSNI will be informed.   Their requirements will then be followed.

For more information, contact

Fr Edward McGee
Down and Connor Diocese
Media Liaison Officer
Tel. 07811144268

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