18th century tombstones deciphered with new 3D technology

Published on April 9, 2013
Tombstones at the Fort Gaspareaux National Historic Site near Baie Verte, NB.


SACKVILLE, N.B. – A Mount Allison anthropology professor is using new technology to preserve the past. Grant Aylesworth has begun a project, in partnership with the archaeological services unit of the Government of New Brunswick, reading “illegible” tombstones from the 1700s using 3D software technology.

The research team carried out their work at Fort Gaspareaux National Historic Site near Baie Verte, N.B. Aylesworth has been able to read previously illegible inscriptions on 250-year-old tombstones using 3D software models derived from photos taken with a regular digital camera.

“This new technology is enabling us to digitally preserve the old tombstones, important for many researchers, most notably historians and genealogists. More importantly, this has allowed us to bring back the name of a person that was lost to history, before we get to the point that there really is nothing left to read,” says Aylesworth.

Brent Suttie, project executive, archaeological resources with New Brunswick’s department of tourism, heritage and culture says, “This is a relatively new technology, but in collaborating with Mount Allison on its implementation, we can already see that it presents enormous opportunities for archaeologists and the public alike to start documenting and reconstructingthese monuments in a way that was not previously possible.  The fact that the technology is freely available and once learned, is rather easy to implement holds great potential for archaeologists, researchers, and genealogists. ”

The research team is working to standardize and simplify the process so others can document the thousands of other degrading cemetery monuments in the province. These tombstones, often considered illegible, deteriorate further each year.

So far, the results have found the name of an English soldier who served at the fort, but, given the historical significance of the localarea, Aylesworth is hoping to continue his research in the Fort Gaspareaux area and is planning to involve students in local field research this summer. “The 1700s was an important time in history for this area with the Acadian deportation and other significant events,” he says. “We’d like to expand our research and make this process more accessible to local communities and researchers in New Brunswick and beyond.”

Aylesworth teaches classes in North American and Central American archeology and anthropology at Mount Allison University. He has worked on many archaeological digs in Belize, Honduras, the USA, and the Maritimes, including the recent excavations in Pennfield NB, which proved that aboriginal people were living in the province more than 12,000 years ago.