Images show evidence of what could be one of Canada’s oldest graveyards

Archeologist Sara Beanlands says there is compelling evidence to at the unmarked site in western Nova Scotia

Researchers using ground-penetrating radar have found what they believe is one of the oldest European graveyards in Canada.

Archeologist Sara Beanlands says there is compelling evidence to suggest the unmarked site in western Nova Scotia is the final resting place for Acadian settlers buried near a fort as early as the 1680s.

The radar images, gathered one day last month at the Fort Anne National Historic Site in Annapolis Royal, show neat rows of 19 ghostly green and red shapes.

“With respect to Acadian history, this was — and (nearby) Port Royal is — the cradle of Acadian civilization,” says Beanlands, senior archeologist at Halifax-based Boreas Heritage Consulting.

“Many of the Acadians today who can trace their ancestry back to Port Royal, their ancestors will be buried somewhere in that Acadian cemetery.”

Originally built by the Scots as early as 1629, Fort Anne was later taken over by the French, before it fell to British troops in 1710.

“It’s one of the most contested landscapes in this part of the world,” Beanlands says. “People have been drawn to this area for thousands of years … This was home for the Mik’maq long before any European explorers.”

She says the underground anomalies picked by the ground-penetrating radar — a device that looks like an electric lawn mower — could be an extension of a nearby British cemetery.

The well-known Garrison Graveyard has 230 headstones that date back to 1720.

READ MORE: Indigenous woman’s grave site brings pilgrims to former B.C. residential school

At the turn of the 17th century, the Acadians used wooden grave markers, which have long since rotted away.

However, church records and maps from the early 1700s indicate an Acadian cemetery was also located outside the walls of the star-shaped fort, a reconstructed fortification that became Canada’s first administered national historic site in 1917.

Beanlands’ research included the use of aerial drones and Lidar — short for Light Detection and Ranging — to produce an extremely accurate picture of the site’s contours.

The radar was used to produce a three-dimensional cross-section of the plot, which is about 10 metres by 18 metres and extends three metres underground.

“For the first time, we have been able to take this technology … into Fort Anne and see through a new set of eyes in a way that is completely non-destructive,” Beanlands says. “It gives us the ability to see things we have never been able to see before.”

Though the glowing anomalies don’t show much, their arrangement is unmistakable. At a depth of one metre, the irregular shapes appear at regular intervals — and they are aligned along a north-south axis that is in line with the British graves.

“We’re familiar with what burials look like in the data,” says Beanlands. “The most compelling evidence is … the patterning of the anomalies.”

However, the only way to confirm the presence of graves would be to conduct an expensive and time-consuming archeological dig. But that’s not going to happen, Beanlands says.

“So we could never know — we could never say with absolute certainty,” she says. “What we need is more data.”

An expanded search could start as early as next month, with help from Parks Canada, the Nova Scotia Community College’s Applied Geomatics Research Group and Mapannapolis, a volunteer organization that creates web-based maps of heritage sites.

By Michael MacDonald in Halifax

The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Figures reveal spike in highway traffic jams between Abbotsford and Langley

Nearly one in 20 westbound vehicles between Abbotsford and Langley clocked at under 60 km/h

Taser takedown in Chilliwack complex after incident gets violent

Male suspect became agitated under questioning and repeatedly punched an officer

Harrison looks to test viability of solar power

Harrison has applied for a grant to see whether solar power is an option for its village buildings

Agassiz man pleads guilty in snake venom death of toddler

Plea comes more than five years after the incident in North Vancouver

Funding uncertain, but Agassiz’s Storytime in the Park will go on, organizer says

The literacy program takes place each summer in Agassiz, Harrison and Seabird Island

VIDEO: Agassiz remembers local officer at grave-marking ceremony

Montague White-Fraser had been buried in the Old Cemetery for 92 years without a headstone

Canadian high school science courses behind on climate change, says UBC study

Researchers found performance on key areas varies by province and territory

UPDATE: One dead after house fire in rural Maple Ridge

Dewdney Trunk Road closed, traffic being re-routed

Six inducted into BC Hockey Hall of Fame

The 26th ceremony in Penticton welcomed powerful figures both from on and off the ice

Highway 1 closed near Revelstoke

No estimated time for opening

CRA program to help poor file taxes yields noticeable bump in people helped

Extra money allows volunteer-driven clinics to operate year-round

RCMP investigate two shootings in the Lower Mainland

Incidents happened in Surrey, with a victim being treated at Langley Memorial Hospital

Recall: Certain Pacific oysters may pose threat of paralytic shellfish poisoning

Consumers urged to either return affected packages or throw them out

Most Read