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Lisa Bright

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December 5, 2014

Visualizing Cemeteries

December 5, 2014 | By | No Comments

I’ve had to shift the focus of my CHI project, from creating an open access database of the onsite collected data. The project is still something I would like to tackle, but it is simply not scalable enough to complete fully next semester. Therefore, my plan is to create a interactive visualization of specific portions of data (age, sex, ancestry, grave goods) by utilizing the geographic spatial data that was collected during the excavation process. This has led me to ponder how others have visualized the data from individual cemeteries.

But first, a little more background on the project. The Santa Clara Valley Medical Center Historic Cemetery (hereafter referred to as VMC) was rediscovered in the spring of 2012 during construction of a hospital expansion. Sometime in the late 1930’s, the cemetery was removed from county maps, and in the 1950’s a parking lot was placed on top. Because there was no way to alter the construction plans to not impact the cemetery, the individuals in the new buildings foot print needed to be removed. I worked as part of a team to excavate a total of 1,004 individuals.

Santa Clara County Hospital

Source – Reminiscences of Santa Clara Valley and San Jose by Amaury Mars 1901

The cemetery was directly connected to the county hospital, which opened in 1871. The cemetery includes individuals that were interred directly from the hospital, individuals buried at the counties expense, as well as community members that could not afford burial at one of the other cemeteries. Historical records show that the cemetery was in use from approximately 1876-1925. Records also indicate that there were, at the time of its closing, nearly 1,500 individuals buried there.

Cemeteries are places where people tend to focus on specific individuals interred there, rather than the demography of the cemetery as a whole.   Cemeteries, in general, are memorials not only to the people buried there, but also reflect the time they were buried. But how do you recreate the visual aspects of a cemetery that lacked grave markers, was removed from the visual landscape by being covered over, and in fact no longer exists in its entirety because of the rescue salvation excavation?   Reconstructing the individual markers of the cemetery by coding individual graves age, sex, etc. can reestablish the original feel of the cemetery.

A geographic information system (GIS) is a computer program that creates spatial maps based on spatial data that allows users to visualize and analyze data in order to reveal patterns. At the VMC cemetery, multiple points were taken per burial that will allow the geographical distribution of each internment to be visualized on a map. Because the individuals in this cemetery are currently nameless, visualizing the biological and cultural trends across the cemetery should allow myself, and other researchers, to better understand placement within the cemetery. My hope is that at the end of this project, the combination of osteological, archaeological, and GIS data will give the VMC cemetery a cleared picture of the individuals buried there.

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