DeSales Professor and Students Uncover Civil War Artifacts at Gettysburg Dig
Katherine Ramsland, assistant professor of psychology at DeSales University and a specialist in forensic investigations, and a group of six students helped in the search for Civil War artifacts, during an archaeological dig in Gettysburg, Pa. last spring.
For three days in mid May, Ramsland and students from her forensic psychology class joined James Starrs, world renowned forensic scientist, and his team in the excavation of Daniel Lady Farm, the site of a Civil War battle in July 1863. The goal of the dig was to locate the remains of lost Confederate soldiers and identify them through DNA. It was sponsored by the Gettysburg Preservation Association (GBPA).
"The dig is a hands-on learning tool for forensic science," said Roberta Micklo, '03, from Pottsville, Pa. "Working with Dr. Starrs and his talented team was exciting. The dig incorporated many academic fields, such as archeology, forensics, anthropology and geology. Although my main interest is forensics, I developed an appreciation for all the fields."
During the Battle of Gettysburg, a hospital for Confederate soldiers and officers had been set up on Daniel Lady Farm. Ten years later, in 1873, the remains of eight soldiers were exhumed from a field across from the main house and barn, and sent to cemeteries in the South. The GBPA believes that several soldiers may have been left behind. The James Starrs forensic team was asked to conduct an archaeological dig to locate the remains of the soldiers and identify them through DNA as Confederates who are still unaccounted for.
Starrs, a George Washington University professor, is well known for his work on national cases, such as the Boston strangler, the Lindbergh kidnapping and the hatchet murders of the Bordens.
"The use of ground penetrating radar and metal detectors was intriguing," said Micklo, who graduated from DeSales with a bachelor degree in psychology. "We found a child's candlestick from the Civil War Era, which will be placed in a museum in Gettysburg."
The students became interested in the project when they heard Starrs mention the Gettysburg project during his lecture at DeSales last fall. In addition to Micklo, the group included Melissa Ring, Sandra Balducci, Christy Kennedy and Christine Roeder. Tiffany Souders, a DeSales alumna, also took part.
"The dig was extremely scientific," said Souders, who graduated from DeSales in May 2002, with a bachelor's degree in criminal justice. "It consisted of more than just digging aimlessly in a field. I was impressed with the variety of professions present, such as geologists and archaeologists, and to see them working towards one common goal was intriguing."
The initial dig began with a cadaver dog, which searched the grounds for areas that indicated human remains. Then a metal detector and ground-penetrating radar were used to show anomalies under ground. Flags marked the key spots where participants were to dig until they hit bedrock. Among the artifacts found were antique pottery, an unspent bullet, exploded shrapnel, a heel plate from a military issue boot and also a few bones, which will be tested to determine their origin.
"I had the opportunity to see the cadaver smelling dog make 'hits' on human scents underground, although it seemed that artifacts, not human remains, were what the dog primarily picked up on," said Souders, a native of Allentown, who currently works for the Lehigh County Office of Children and Youth.
"It exceeded all my expectations. It was a real hands-on experience involving sifting, digging and placing markers," said Balducci, an ACCESS student from Allentown, whose future plans include working with abused children. "It was wonderful to be surrounded by such focused and talented people."
Four institutions of higher education were represented on the project - DeSales, George Washington University, Gettysburg College and York College. The students were exposed to a great deal of detailed knowledge and the lessons of history from professionals on the dig including a forensic anthropologist, a team pathologist, forensic photographers, videographer, and a forensic radiologist.
Starrs and members of his team explained the significance of soil layers and soil subsidence, and taught students how to dig carefully and screen soil for artifacts. The artifacts were collected, labeled and bagged by an expert in the handling of forensic evidence.
After the three days, the dig was closed to prepare for the second phase, which will take place at a later date.
Press Release: DeSales Professor and Students Uncover Civil War Artifacts at Gettysburg Dig | Posted on: 7/29/2003
For more info:
Tom McNamara, Executive Director of Communications
DeSales University | 2255 Station Avenue | Center Valley, PA 18034
610.282.1100 x1219 | Tom.McNamara@desales.edu