It’s not Halloween yet, so no need to dress up, but this blog is all about locating unmarked graves. It may seem funny, but for historians and family members, locating unmarked graves of historical persons or ancestors can be an educational and even spiritually fulfilling endeavor. While it may seem far-fetched, Ground-Penetrating Radar (GPR) is often used to find unmarked graves. There is no such thing as a “grave site finder,” at least nothing specialized to that application, but GPR can yield results without disturbing the resting place of the deceased.  

How does GPR find unmarked graves?

Ground-penetrating radar functions by broadcasting a radar signal into the ground and reading the waves that bounce back, which makes it uniquely suited to be a grave finder. The display will typically show layers of soil in a regular pattern and distribution. This regularity highlights disturbances, cavities, or anomalies. These anomalies can be anything from caskets or personal effects of the deceased to a cavity formed by decomposition.

Good conditions and expertise are key for locating unmarked graves

The ideal conditions for using a GPR as an unmarked grave site finder are dry, sandy soil free of any known subsurface features. Things like tree roots, utilities, or underground storage tanks may render a search less than conclusive. Similarly, wet or dense clay or loam can pose a problem, as the GPR signal does not penetrate as deeply when there is soil with higher conductivity.


(Rough terrain and lots of brush make for a difficult time when trying to find grave sites.)


The method of finding unmarked graves is a little different from locating utilities, too. While most utilities are continuous for at least 10 feet, unmarked graves have a relatively small footprint. It may benefit the technician to move as many as ten or twenty feet from a known utility so they can “connect the dots” between the points at which the utility has been detected. A grave site scan, however, necessitates a methodical, narrow scan, covering every inch of the selected area. This ensures there are no potential grave sites going unnoticed.

A GPR scan can even, in many cases, determine the condition of a grave. A larger, more solid aberration usually denotes a grave which has remained relatively intact. A smaller or uneven anomaly might signify an older grave, more deteriorated by the passing of time and the elements.

locating unmarked graves


(This photo shows a potential grave site, as seen on the GPR screen.)


Why would you want to find an unmarked grave, anyway?

GPR is so good as a grave site finder that many law enforcement agencies use this equipment in their investigations that involve potentially unmarked graves. The most widespread use of this grave site finding technology, though, is in cemeteries. Many cemeteries are over 100 years old, and time wears on these sites as it does on the living. Gravestones can move due to erosion, or be missing entirely, records may be missing or unhelpful, and the boundaries of a particular cemetery may also change over time. All of these factors contribute to the potential necessity for GPR as a non-invasive method of finding grave sites.

Contact us for finding unmarked graves.

Finding unmarked graves can be a source of adventure (see this Travel Channel feature on searching for the grave of legendary train and bank robber Butch Cassidy), but it may also help law enforcement agents solve a murder. Finally, though, it may give a family an accurate place to mourn or memorialize their loved ones. Whatever your legitimate interest in seeking out unmarked graves is, check out our website or contact Encompass Inspections: experienced professionals are here to help you.