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What does the Archaeologist do?

The primary objectives of a Phase I Archaeological Survey are to identify within reason, if historic properties in accordance with Section 106 are present in an area of potential effect (APE) and to conduct a preliminary assessment of their historical significance using National Register of Historic Places (NRPH) criteria. The archaeologist first conducts an archaeological assessment or literature review with the respective Office of the State Archaeologist or the State Historic Preservation Office to discover if any previously recorded sites lie within the proposed project area or within a pre-determined radius. Research will also include soil maps, Sanborn Fire Maps, historic aerial imagery, Government Land Office (GLO) maps, historic USGS maps, LIDAR images and other relevant historic documentation.

Next, the archaeologist formulates a research design to conduct preliminary fieldwork such as a Phase I archaeological survey utilizing standardized archaeological methods and techniques such as pedestrian survey, shovel testing and soil coring.

The Phase I archaeological survey typically includes a complete coverage archaeological field survey of the project area. The archaeological survey is conducted to identify previously unrecorded historic properties. For example, a Phase I archaeological survey for a cellular tower would be concerned with the “direct effects” in the APE. This means the direct impact of the cellular tower, utility corridor and access road to any possible cultural resources in or on the ground that may be impacted by the construction and existence of the proposed cellular tower. Also, a literature search of the respective states archaeological datbase would be conducted to search for previously recorded archaeological sites existing within a given radius (from one-half to two miles depending upon tower height) of the proposed tower site.

The proposed project area is intensively investigated by several pedestrian transects as well as subsurface shovel tests and soil probes. Multiple soil probes are typically distributed over the proposed tower site to confirm or deny the level of disturbance of the soil horizons and the possible addition of fill. Soil probes are also used to examine for potential buried soils containing cultural material. Urban locations are usually quite different than rural locations as determinations are often made that an entire area has been previously disturbed during the construction of surrounding buildings, industrial park, streets, sewers, driveways, utility trenches and landscaping.

After all the research and fieldwork is completed, the archaeologist writes a comprehensive report detailing the descriptive of the project area as well as the archaeological context of the area. The report notes any potential impact to all historic properties within the APE. The report then reaches a conclusion and makes recommendations with respect to the project and any historic properties that may or may not be impacted by the project.

What are cultural resources?

Cultural resources consist of artifacts, landforms and sites associated with past human activities. Artifacts such as projectile points, chipping debris from making stone tools, pottery, fire-cracked-rock, and other stone tools are cultural resources. Features within an archaeological site are also cultural resources. Features are non-portable expressions from past human activity within the soil. Examples of features are storage pits, walls, ditches, middens, hearths and house floors. Features are distinguished from artifacts in that they cannot be separated from their location without changing their form. Cultural resources also include prehistoric and historic Native American archaeological sites, traditional cultural properties, historic Euro-American archaeological sites, historic buildings, as well as elements or areas of the natural landscape having traditional cultural significance.

The Levels of Archaeological Investigation

Phase I Archaeological Survey

The Phase I archaeological survey is the preliminary level of archaeological investigation of an area affected by federal, state and private undertakings. The Phase I archaeological survey provides an introductory level of archaeological surveillance in a project area. If ground visibility is sufficient, the project area can be evaluated by pedestrian survey at systematic intervals and observed for evidence of archaeological material. If the ground visibility is deemed to be insufficient for the detection of potential artifacts, then the area can be evaluated by shovel tests placed at systematic intervals and subsequently screened for archaeological material. However, if no archaeological material is discovered by either survey technique, the Phase I survey can be the final stage of the archaeological investigation. This is the most common level of archaeological investigation and archaeological inquiry usually ends here.

Phase II Evaluation by Limited Excavation

Phase II testing takes place when additional data is needed to assess eligibility in meeting the criteria for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places. This testing also can take place to provide further information that would be required to develop a mitigation plan for the archaeological site. The Phase II level of site testing combines scientific fieldwork such as systematic excavation of multiple 1 x 2-meter and 2 x 2-meters test units upon the site to evaluate the integrity of the site through the analysis of soils, artifacts and features. Scientific documentation and further research is then used to arrive at conclusions concerning a site and the specific attributes and the scientific and historical significance as well as the inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places. This is the second most common level of archaeological investigation.

The Phase III Mitigation of Adverse Effect

This level of archaeological investigation is employed when the historic property has been determined to be eligible for inclusion into the National Register of Historic Places and there is an adverse effect to the historic property by a project. Before this mitigation takes place a research design is carefully prepared and systematic archaeological methods and techniques are employed to accurately and efficiently retrieve scientific data during the excavation process. Due to the fact that most historic properties are very large, this usually requires a combination of hand and machine assisted excavation. However, not every site reaches the data recovery stage. Consultants, agencies and the SHPO may propose other solutions. This is the least frequently performed level of archaeological investigation

Wetland Delineations

Midwest Archaeological Consultants is also capable of completing wetland delineations.