Remote Sensing and Burial Ground Research

A critical focus of the Institute of Prairie and Indigenous Archaeology has become the development and application of low-impact archaeological methods, primarily at the service of communities. The integration of geophysical and remote sensing techniques, such as ground-penetrating radar and drones, has become crucial in non-destructively surveying sites of importance for communities and is a cost-effective and time-sensitive alternative to traditional excavation. The predominant use of these techniques has been surveying unmarked graves at the behest of Indigenous communities and applications to historic and precontact archaeological sites. 


Kisha Supernant pulls a 400 MHz GPR across a burial ground near Edmonton.

The rate of development and environmental change have endangered many sacred spaces across Canada, and subsequently, the graves of family members and ancestors need to be protected. Moreover, the ability to locate unmarked graves and provide archaeological evidence has become critical in applications of justice. Using ground-penetrating radar, IPIA researchers can identify areas that contain unmarked graves and sometimes identify specific graves. Boundaries of burial grounds can be delineated in order to be protected. We also work with communities to conduct historical research on these sacred places in order to find associated names and families. We are currently also working with the National Center for Truth and Reconciliation in establishing a protocol for the survey of Indian Residential Schools. So far, we have done surveys in historic cemeteries, in areas of suspected unmarked burials outside of known cemeteries, and around Indian Residential Schools. Please contact us if your community is interested in conducting an unmarked grave survey.  

Planning an Unmarked Grave Survey?  Please see our new Story Map for information about what to expect and contact information! Also see this Resource Guide for the Collection of Oral History in Relation to the Search for IRS Unmarked Burials for more information to help you plan your unmarked grave survey. 

Community Partners on Burial Ground Projects:

  • Papaschase First Nation
  • Enoch Cree Nation
  • Chipewyan Prairie First Nation
  • Muskoday First Nation
  • Muskowekwan First Nation

List of current techniques directly available through the IPIA:

  • Ground-penetrating radar (200, 400 and 900 MHz center frequency antennas)
  • Magnetic gradiometry
  • UAV/drone- multispectral imagery
  • UAV/drone- orthoimagery and photogrammetry
  • GIS Analysis and predictive modelling
  • Other techniques made available through our collaborations within the University of Alberta

This research has been funded in part by the Kule Institute for Advanced Study at the University of Alberta.

Archaeological Sites

IPIA researchers are also active collaborators on projects designed to locate ancient villages and homelands. Using ground-penetrating radar, magnetic gradiometry, and UAV-mounted sensors, we have been able to successfully locate architectural features, hearths and artifacts from sites across Western Canada. Similarly, we have also been able to reconstruct past landscapes (palaeotopography) in southern Alberta. We are currently working on how these techniques may help communities monitor detrimental impacts on their past. Furthermore, collaborations with traditional knowledge keepers have allowed us to create new narratives about sites and living spaces with little excavation, helping to decolonize the stories told about the history of these places. As we continue to expand our expertise, more and more information can be generated without the need of expensive and time-consuming projects. The IPIA welcomes all collaborations regarding potential archaeological projects in Alberta and Saskatchewan. 

Community Partners:

  • Métis Nation of Alberta
  • Lax’ Kw'alaams and Metlakatla Tsimshian communities

Principal Investigator: Dr. Kisha Supernant (Link to IPIA Director page)

In the shadow of the mountains. Current and former IPIA scholars investigating paleotopography of the Wally’s Beach Site in southern Alberta. Shown here is Dr. Gabriel Yanicki, Canadian Museum of History (and former IPIA student) pulling the GPR.