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A variety of tools, including remote sensing, have been used by the Oklahoma Archeological Survey, based at the University of Oklahoma, when it joins others investigating the initial target sites of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.

Oklahoma State Archaeologist Kary Stackelbeck, Oklahoma Archeology Survey Director Amanda Regnier and Senior Researcher Scott Hammerstedt made their recommendations for moving forward with the physical evidence investigation at the Public Oversight Committee meeting held at the Rudisill Regional Library on July 18. Results were presented to the Oversight Committee on Monday, December 16, 2019.

Oaklawn Cemetery, Newblock Park and Rolling Oaks Cemetery (formerly Booker T. Washington) have been identified for remote sensing.

Remote sensing in archaeology is a term that covers a number of techniques to see what might be under the surface of the ground. The state archaeologist and research archaeologists on the project will determine what tools are best used to see if there are any anomalies in the dirt.

Remote sensing measures contrasts between archaeological features and the natural background. In Tulsa, the team plans on using magnetometry, electrical resistance and ground-penetrating radar. Of course, this may change once they get on site and begin the process.

Magnetometry uses the earth’s magnetic field to detect subtle magnetic variations in soil. Whenever humans dig a hole, start a fire or plow a field, that activity can make the soil more magnetic. The strength of the variation can indicate something unexpected in the lower layers of the dirt. People build fires, build structures, bring in stone and other materials from far away; all of this affects the magnetism of the dirt. Magnetometers are fast, easy to operate and can cover a large area.

Electrical resistance measures the resistance, or moisture content, of soil to an electrical current. This method looks for changes in the soil, such as brick, compacted soil, pits or paths. The earth features low contrast because those things hold moisture. Electrical resistance is useful for older sites, such as prehistoric sites. It is not affected by metal and can detect subtle anomalies. It is slower and can be affected by current soil conditions.

 Ground-penetrating radar uses an antenna to send a radar pulse that reflects off of a buried object. The velocity of waves changes depending on the material through which they travel, allowing researchers to determine how deep the anomaly might be. Ground-penetrating radar is often used in cemeteries to discover where remains may or may not be buried.

The Oklahoma Archeological Survey is honored to be part of this historic investigation and hope their equipment and expertise yields results and brings closure to those members of the community affected by the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.


 About the University of Oklahoma

Founded in 1890, the University of Oklahoma is a public research university located in Norman, Oklahoma. OU serves the educational, cultural, economic and health care needs of the state, region and nation. For more information visit

About the Oklahoma Archeology Survey
The Oklahoma Archeological Survey is part of the University of Oklahoma College of Arts and Sciences. It is dedicated to researching, preserving and educating the public about Oklahoma's archaeological heritage.