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Case Study - Historic Mercer Campus

Historic Mercer Campus

Finding the original buildings from one of Georgia's oldest educational institutions


Mercer University


Penfield, GA


Archaeological Prospection; Cemetery Mapping

Rediscovering the past at one of Georgia's most prestigious universities

Bigman Geophysical was contacted to conduct an investigation into the buried landscape at the original campus of Mercer University. The university was initially established as a pair of humble log cabins but grew to become an unknown number of buildings that filled the campus area. Eventually, the institution was so successful that it relocated to a larger area, where it is active today.There is no surviving map of the original campus and the prestigious university sought a non-destructive exploration of the grounds to determine whether any useful information could be gleaned about the historic site.

We deployed ground-penetrating radar and magnetic gradiometry to the campus and conducted a full-coverage investigation of the whole area. Although these tools are seen as the “gold standard” for archaeological geophysics, few investigations have taken place doing full coverage with both systems over such a large area. The fleet of equipment and geophysical archaeologists brought onto the project were well suited for the task; they completed the project in only four days on-site.


Project Metrics

  • Three days on site
  • Two Geophysical systems
  • Cost-effective survey, below $50,000
  • Educational discount applied
  • Additional structures found
  • Agricultural field mapped

Expert analysis, outstanding results

Both of the datasets generated proved to be extraordinarily high quality and a great value to the analysis of the historic site. The magnetic gradiometer produced detailed imagery of numerous responses where metal and ash had been deposited into soils and point returns for countless metal artifacts. The ground-penetrating radar imaged the whole area at such a level of detail that even soil compaction from pedestrian footpaths could be seen, and rectangular features believed to be the remains of the original wooden cabins and other campus buildings projected neatly into place. Even tree roots were captured with a shocking level of detail.


Bigman Geophysical successfully imaged seven features of interest that are believed to be the facilities used for the Old Mercer University campus. The returns included signatures that indicated probable log cabins and an agricultural field of great historical importance that was known to historical records as the site where advances in agricultural technology were developed that had a tremendous impact on the economy of the American South in the nineteenth century. Mercer University was thrilled with its results and has already contracted further explorations.


Results Slideshow