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Mortuary Mapping

Lisa Bright (PhD Student, Anthropology) Related

The Santa Clara Valley Medical Center (SCVMC) Historic Cemetery was re-discovered in 2012 due to construction related to expansion and seismic retrofitting at the west end of the hospital property.

  The construction plans could not be altered to avoid the cemetery so a large-scale excavation was conducted by URS and D&D Osteology to exhume the remains of the 1,004 individuals located inside the project area.  The cemetery was used from approximately 1875 to 1935 and it served as the county potter’s field where unknown individuals were buried at the counties expense, and individuals that could not afford the burial fees at privately owned cemeteries could be buried at a reduced rate.  At some point between 1935 and 1937 the cemetery was removed from area maps, and in the 1950’s a parking lot was installed over a majority of the area.  It remained an active parking lot until the construction activities in 2012. 

The SCVMC cemetery presents a rare opportunity to study the lives of individuals in Santa Clara County during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.  Very few large historic cemeteries have been excavated in the United States, and the SCVMC cemetery is the only one of its kind on the West Coast.  However, the data collected from historic cemeteries is often limited to presentation in site reports, theses/dissertations, and scholarly journal articles.  Although this is not a bad way to disseminate the information, communication with the public is often lacking. 

This project began in conjunction with Lisa Brights’ Ph.D. research, which focuses on the health and nutrition of the individuals interred at the SCVMC cemetery.  Because the remains will be cremated after ten years of study, Bright wanted to create a space where research from the collection would remain easily accessible after the collection is gone.  With this in mind, she set out to create not only digital maps of the cemetery, but a space to share background information and other relevant data. This site represents the beginning of a larger project. 

Mortuary mapping is a website with three main parts: background information, excavation details, and geospatial maps.  The main portion of the site has maps that display different components of the individuals excavated at SCVMC.  The maps present information such as age or sex geospatially within the cemetery.  Users can view the cemetery as a whole, or zoom in and click on individual burials.  This will bring up a pop-up window that displays more information about that burial.  The maps were all created using Cartodb, the original shp. files produced by the archaeological firm, and osteological/artifact data collected during exaction.  It is Brights’ hope that the Mortuary Mapping site will be expanded in the future to include information from other cemeteries.

Visit The Mortuary Mapping Website »