Bringing the Past to the Present for the Future



Tuesday, June 5, 2007

The Emergence of Geoarchaeology in Research and Cultural Research Management: Part II

Joseph Schuldenrein-Principal and President of Geoarcheology Research Associates.

In Part I of this two-part series on geoarchaeology in cultural resource management (CRM) that appeared in the November issue of The SAA Archaeological Record, the general concepts and principles of geoarchaeology were discussed, and fieldwork and sampling were introduced. In this final article, a detailed assessment of geoarchaeology’s utility for compliance work in CRM is provided. Geoarchaeology
can and should be integrated in each phase of the compliance process. Reference here is made to the discovery/survey (Phase I), testing (Phase II), and data recovery (Phase III) stages of an undertaking. Withinthese broad parameters, the degree to which earth science approaches are applied varies by specific Scopes of Work (SOW), regulatory requirements (federal, state, and municipal), and even by contractor.
In this brief summary, I touch on some of the more critical elements of geoarchaeological application as they relate to the Section 106 compliance process.

Applications in the Compliance Process: Phase I and II
Most CRM archaeologists make their livings documenting simple artifact scatters and testing whether or not they extend into the substrate. It has been estimated that in excess of 80 percent of CRM projects do not extend beyond Phase I, and another 15 percent are concluded at the testing phase. For prehistoric projects in particular, it should be noted that landscape considerations factor significantly into the
research strategies utilized for both phases.

Most teams consult U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) topographic maps to obtain broad guidelines for field relations—landforms and terrain gradients—and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)/Soil Conservation Service (SCS) county soil maps to obtain a preview of subsurface “soil” composition in advance of shovel testing. Less frequently, aerial photos and/or bedrock geology maps are consulted. While these strategies remain relevant, they have been in use for well over 25 years and have major shortcomings. County soil maps, for example, are produced largely for agricultural purposes and have limited information regarding buried deposits below 3 ft, and they pay scant attention to depositional sources even in alluvial contexts. For archaeological purposes, the question of buried soils is paramount. Approaches should be reassessed in light of key mapping and technological advances made by the
USGS, individual state geological surveys, and other planning agencies that assist in large-scale terrain analysis. Paper maps or online plots are widely available at minimal cost. Land use maps are also useful and can be supplied by clients (e.g., developers or engineering firms) who have done advance work on a given project.

Currently, the most valuable geoarchaeological resource for Phase I and II research is the surficial geology map, which presents the distribution as well as the age of surface sediments. These maps are typically issued by state geological surveys and represent the collective mapping efforts of staff experts in regional Quaternary and bedrock geology. In some states, only partial coverage is available. In states that are partially capped by glacial deposits, for example, detailed surface mapping may only cover glaciated regions.

It is necessary for the geoarchaeological consultant to be familiar with the map availability for a particular project area. Expeditious application of this resource provides the researcher with a preview of the antiquity and composition of the terrain that his/her project is likely to encounter.

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