Introduction to CRM Part 3: Archaeological Survey

Using information compiled in the office, the next step of an HRIA is to leave the comforts of home behind and to venture into the field. Although there is a perception of archaeologists working at large excavations, often dressed in khakis and maybe wearing a fedora, archaeological survey is the most common type of field work in the CRM sector. So for now, we will focus on archaeological survey and discuss archaeological mitigation in an upcoming blog.

The purpose of an archaeological survey is to visit the high potential target areas we identified in our background research and GIS review in order to see if there are any historic or archaeological sites. We travel to these high potential locations using various means of transport including trucks, ATVs, Argos, the occasional helicopter for the most remote locations, and a lot of hiking (Figures 1 and 2).

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Figure 1. Teresa and Vince in an Argo travelling to target areas.
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Figure 2. Archaeology happens in all weather as Teresa and Brittany hike in snow to our target areas.

When we arrive at these locations, we use experience and expertise to determine if the landform has potential for archaeological and historic sites. For example, is this spot flat and dry? Would we like to camp or hunt from here? High, dry areas, and spots that have nice views are often tested. In fact sometimes we identify a site in the exact spot where we dropped our gear for lunch, as we naturally tend to stop on the best part of the landform (Figure 3).

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Figure 3. Our gear placed at a positive shovel test, flagged with red flagging tape.

 

The most common method of subsurface sampling that we use is screened shovel tests (Figure 4). This means we dig holes about 40 cm square and 30 to 40 cm deep and screen all of the sediment in portable screens. If there are any tree throws or surface exposures, we also conduct opportunistic examinations of these for artifacts (Figure 5).

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Figure 4. Matt is shovel testing.
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Figure 5. Picture of a tree throw that allows for opportunistic sampling.

There are several different sampling strategies that we use, these include systematic, semi-systematic, and judgmental testing. Systematic testing is the term we use when we place tests using a set interval, for example digging a test every 10 m along a landform. For judgmental testing we do not use a set interval instead we place shovel tests on the best part of a landform based on our past experience and conceptual models of how people lived on different types of landforms. Finally, semi-systematic testing is a combination of the previous two. For this method we place tests on the best locations of a land-form while trying to maintain a certain overall density of testing.

The shape of the landform helps determine what type of sampling strategy to use to test a target. A long uniform ridge might be better suited for hybrid or systematic testing, while a hillock might be more often tested in a judgmental manner (Figure 6).

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Figure 6. Brittany testing a target using a semi-systematic strategy.

If the tests are negative, then we write our notes and move on to another location to survey. However, this does not mean that we can definitely say there is not a site at the location. Negative results only reduce the chance there’s a site at a location. To be 100% sure, we’d have to do a lot more excavation (Figure 7).

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Figure 7. Although a nice area near water, we did not identify a site here.

On the other hand when we do identify a site, then we stay at the location to undertake further evaluative testing (Figure 8).

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Figure 8. Vince is very happy after identifying a site when he found a point in a shovel test.
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Author: bromano

I am an archaeologist with Tree Time Services Inc. conducting Historic Resources Impact Assessments in Alberta. I first gained experience in Alberta working as a field technician excavating at the Quarry of the Ancestors. This experience deepened my appreciation for the province’s rich heritage and prompted me to pursue more work in Alberta. I have experience in archaeology around the world and in other parts of Canada. I have excavated in Greece, as a student on the Pylos-Iklaina Archaeological Project and as a volunteer for the Kastro Kallithea Archaeological Project. I have also excavated in Ontario on the Mackenzie 2, Electric Woodpecker 1 and 2 sites. I extensive experience conducting research in an academic setting during the course of my Bachelor’s and my Master’s. I have also gained research experience as both a Research Assistant and as a Teacher’s Assistant using a wide variety of materials. This includes experience in archival research. I worked for the University of Alberta at their Alberta Land and Settlement Infrastructure Project. During my time there, I examined thousands of scanned microfilm reels concerning early homestead records. This has not only greatly expanded my knowledge of Alberta and its various communities, but the homesteading process and what life was like for Alberta’s early settlers. I have also work experience in museums. As an interpreter for both the Kenosewun Museum and Captain Kennedy House Museum in 2008 and 2009, I was responsible for interpretive program development including tours, special events, and displays. I conducted and coordinated research with my assistants on a variety of subjects, ranging from local histories to native fauna and flora. I have also volunteered in atlatl exhibition at the Bodo Archaeological Society’s open house and I welcome any other opportunity to help with community outreach.

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