MHCC Anthropology Students Find Missing Graves

Posted December 2, 2010   

Anthropology students at Mt. Hood Community College (MHCC) found a way to make their classroom studies come alive – searching for lost graves in a cemetery.

The City of Mosier, located in the Columbia River Gorge east of The Dalles, Ore., contacted MHCC and invited Sharon Methvin’s anthropology 102 class to locate missing graves in the Mosier Pioneer Cemetery. The cemetery dates back to the 1800s and is the burial site for 13 bodies – six of which no longer have grave markers. Before re-opening the site to future burials, the city must first locate all the existing graves.

“This is a wonderful, collaborative opportunity for our students and for the community of Mosier,” says Methvin. She describes the project as “a living, learning laboratory for anthropology students, who, in turn, provided much-needed labor and expertise to locate and record the remaining pioneer burials in the cemetery.”

Under Methvin’s instruction, all 16 students participated in the project, which included much preparation and planning, followed by a full day of land surveying, mapping and scarifying the earth in a bluff overgrown with vegetation.

Similar to CSI (crime scene investigators) seen on television, the students conducted an intensive, systematic grid search and scoured the area for evidence. A bit of headstone, discolored soil – they flagged anything that might provide a clue.

After several hours of tedious work, the students began to piece the clues together.

They unearthed five basalt or marble pieces that appear to belong to three grave markers, the locations of which were previously unknown to the Mosier community.

“One of the most exciting finds was a marble marker with the initials ‘J.M.’ inscribed into the piece, which might be a reference to Jonah Mosier, the city’s founder,” says Methvin, who plans to bring new and returning students to the cemetery next spring to complete the search. “Who knows what they’ll find!”

“It was definitely a lot more work than I expected,” says student Natasha Singler. “It was a chance to be part of a dig, and also to get to know my classmates. It was a great experience.”

“It’s not romantic at all like Indiana Jones, but once you find something, it’s actually pretty cool,” says student Andrew Black.

“I’m very proud of our students. They did all their pre-field work and were armed with knowledge, tools and determination when they headed up the Gorge,” says Methvin. “I was equally impressed with how hard they worked at putting into practice the archeological dig skills they learned in the classroom.”

Despite the tedious work and physical labor, “their faces were beaming on the drive home, satisfied their efforts had paid off,” Methvin says. “Some had poison oak to show their friends -- battle scars for a day in the field.” 

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 Last Modified: 12/2/2010 03:02:54 PM