Archaeology volunteers sought for cemetery project

augusta county historical societyThe Augusta County Historical Society “digs” local history. To that end society board members Dr. Dennis Blanton and Nancy Sorrells have formed an Augusta County Archaeological Research Team to help document the area’s rich underground story.

Blanton, Assistant Professor of Anthropology at James Madison University, and Sorrells, a local historian, are looking for community volunteers as part of a pilot project for the society.

The group’s first project involves the Kersh family cemetery located on the grounds of the Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport. Two hundred years ago this cemetery was part of the Kersh farm. Revolutionary War veteran Mathias Kersh and his wife Anna Margaret, who both died in the early 19th century, are buried here along with an unknown number of others. Like many small cemeteries, time and Mother Nature have taken their toll on the graveyard. The farm was acquired by the airport in 1956, descendants of those buried there moved away, and the cemetery fell into such disrepair that even the iron fence around the plot was removed after trees damaged it.

A new partnership between the society, the airport, and family descendants has emerged to research and preserve the cemetery and add interpretive signage. Before the restoration can be completed, however, archaeological investigation must be undertaken to understand the historic boundaries of the cemetery. In particular, the team must determine if there are burials outside the boundaries of where the iron fence once stood.

That is where the need for volunteers comes into play. On Tuesday October 16 the Kersh team will be conducting shallow, machine-aided trenching and shovel tests around the cemetery perimeter to learn more about the number of burials and historic size of the cemetery. The team will NOT be digging around any human remains. Four to six volunteers are needed in the morning and again in the afternoon on that day to clean the soil surface and help document the findings. Depending on the progress on this day, another work day might be scheduled later in the month.

Volunteers can email, call, or text Nancy Sorrells for more information and to sign up for four-hour shifts (8 a.m.-noon or 1-5 p.m.). There is some flexibility for those who can only work a portion of a four-hour shift as well. Additional instructions and a release form will be sent to those who sign up. There is no prior archaeological experience necessary. Tools and other equipment will be provided. For more information or to sign up, contact Nancy Sorrells at or 540-292-4170.

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