Nov. 5 (UPI) -- Researchers have identified a likely Holocaust mass grave site in Lithuania using ground-penetrating radar.
The discovery -- to be presented at this week's Geological Society of America meeting in Indianapolis -- offers a blueprint for locating other mass grave sites in the Baltic.
"The larger context is that, within the Holocaust in Lithuania, every small and large town has a mass gravesite," Harry Jol, physical geographer at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, said in a news release.
Currently, researchers must rely on eye-witness accounts and field surveys to locate and confirm the presence of mass grave sites. The use of ground-penetrating radar could make the job of finding mass graves easier.
Radar images can reveal patterned disturbances in shallow sediment layers -- patterns left by large-scale digging and burials.
"We're basically able to slice into the ground the same way the oil and gas industry does and build a three-dimensional model of the near subsurface," Jol said. "When those breaks occur, and with some of the patterns we see, that indicates that something has cut through those glacial-fluvial sediments."
Such patterns revealed the presence of the burial of 28 individuals in Lithuania's Rokiškis region.
The Nazis often recruited local farmers to dig burial trenches.
"The Nazis then went to the Jewish population and said: 'We're going to move you to another location where you can join other Jews, take three days of supplies with you,'" Jol said. "Then, as they were walking out to the train or depot, they were shuttled off into the forest, executed and buried in a pit."
Per Jewish custom, burial sites are not to be disturbed. But their discovery can help fill-in the historical record and connect ancestors with a place to pay their respects.
The confirmation of mass burial sites can also help communities earn formal recognition from governments and international groups -- funding from which can ensure sites are commemorated and properly preserved.