Projects in Parks
The national parks are home to a wide variety of research and educational projects. These reports touch on all aspects of archeology, including, for example, site survey, analysis, curation, consultation, education, technology, and ongoing efforts to recover sites being destroyed by erosion.
Readers of the monthly Archeology E-gram newsletter will recognize the project descriptions linked below, listed in order from the most recent issue back to the first “Projects in Parks” report in August 2005.
Archeologists from the University of Alaska Museum and the NPS recently worked at three unique prehistoric lakeside village sites in northwestern Alaska. The sites contain large, rock-lined communal structures and dozens of petroglyphs, making them unique for Alaska. Emerging threats from erosion, natural disturbances, and vandalism led researchers to document and evaluate the sites, shedding light on their mysteries and while enhancing their preservation.
A fragment of basket. The tip of a digging stick. The shaft of an ancient spearthrower. Very rarely do such items preserve in the archeological record, but these works of ingenuity and craftsmanship, reflective of past human presence and lifeways in sub-alpine and alpine environments, have been preserved in nearly perfect condition in ice patches for hundreds—or even thousands—of years. But higher temperatures endanger ice patches and the delicate contents within.
Yellowstone Lake in Wyoming is North America’s largest high-elevation lake. Archeologists have long sought to understand the lake’s role in the seasonal subsistence and settlement patterns of the region’s many Native American groups. For the past five years, the Montana-Yellowstone Archaeological Project (MYAP) has focused on research to identify and investigate archeological sites around the lake’s shores.
More than 40 shipwrecks are located within the waters which now make up Biscayne NP in southern Florida. Among those wrecks, the English China Wreck is one of the best preserved. Unfortunately, looting and unintended damage caused by fishing and diving threaten the site's integrity and artifacts. These threats, along with a search for proof of the ship's identity, led the NPS and partner George Washington University to conduct field excavations during the summer of 2011.
Kalaupapa National Historical Park, on Molokai Island, is best known as the isolated peninsula where people afflicted with Hansen’s Disease (leprosy) were sent between the years 1866-1965. However, the park also preserves thousands of archeological features which represent pre-leprosy settlement life. In April and May 2013, cultural resource staff from Kalaupapa National Historical Park inventoried a remote landshelf on Molokai’s north shore, called Kuka’iwa’a.
Fort Vancouver, as the colonial “Capital” of the Pacific Northwest in the 1820-1840s, supported a multi-ethnic village of 600-1,000 occupants. A number of the villagers were Hawaiian men who worked in the agricultural fields and sawmills of the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) operations. Identification of Hawaiian residences and activities has been an important element of studies of Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, Vancouver, Washington, since the 1960s.
Harpers Ferry NHP archeology program is involved in an ongoing investigation of the Lower Armory Grounds. NPS archeologists recently studied a tailrace tunnel that supplied water to power Armory factories. The investigation has revealed a number of unique and unusual features that facilitate a more complete understanding of the organization of the armory workshops and management of the sources of energy for manufacturing arms.
The Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) Canal is one of the most intact and impressive surviving examples of the American canal-building era. Construction began on July 4, 1828; on its completion in 1850, the canal stretched 185 miles from Washington, D.C. to Cumberland, Maryland. The untold stories of the lives of the workers that constructed the canal have the potential to add another dimension to the C&O Canal’s historical significance.
While preparing a grave site for a rare burial of a World War II veteran at the Vicksburg National Cemetery, workers were dismayed to find that the plot was already occupied by a casket. There was neither a headstone nor a record of interment to suggest that the plot was occupied. National Park Service (NPS) staff at Vicksburg promptly began efforts to identify additional unmarked and unrecorded burials, and sift through decades of archives to identify the unknown soldiers.
A recent NHPA compliance project at Moores Creek National Battlefield, North Carolina, offered archeologists an opportunity to verify whether the 1776 Battle of Moores Creek actually took place within the national battlefield boundaries. NPS archeologists and resources managers conducted an archeological survey with the help of the Eastern North Carolina Metal Detecting Association and other volunteers.
Modern historical archeology, albeit in its most rudimentary form, had its earliest beginnings at George Washington Birthplace National Monument 130 years ago and has continued, growing in scholarship and method through the 20th and 21st centuries. Much of this archeology, under the stewardship of the National Park Service, has made significant contributions to both the prehistoric and historical archeology of the Chesapeake region.
The NPS and South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology conducted an archeological field school at the Salt River Bay NHP and EP, St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, near the landing site of Christopher Columbus’ second voyage and St. Croix’s major indigenous ceremonial center. Students applied a two-fold approach to collect field data on a nearly 1,500-year old archeological site, and to develop oral history data regarding historic land use on the island.
Historical archeology is often about testing assertions made in historical documents against physical remains in the archeological record. This process of verifying the written record was used to unravel and document the stone masonry of the spring enclosure at Fort Davis National Historic Site. The results illustrate the unique perspective archeology brings to sites occupied relatively recently and provides a view of peoples’ daily lives that isn’t discussed in written accounts.
One of the most famous figures in the history of colonial Maryland is frontiersman Thomas Cresap. Cresap was a hired ruffian, an Indian trader, a land speculator, a farmer, and a soldier. During the French and Indian War his house was, for a time, the furthest westward point of British control in the Middle Atlantic region. Archeologists recently discovered the site of his home in the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park.
Recent excavations at the site of L’Hermitage, a former plantation on the grounds of Monocacy National Battlefield in Frederick, Maryland, revealed several 18th and 19th century slave quarters. These dwellings were spaced and oriented in a way that exposes the careful planning and focus on order and symmetry on the part of the slaveholders, aimed at promoting supervision, control, and function over the lives and work of their enslaved charges.
The world of the Ancestral Puebloans, or Anasazi, has been a major research area for archeologists of the Southwest, who have examined the nature and evolution of these prehistoric people from many angles. Emily Brown, a former NPS archeologist, is taking a fresh approach to the Ancestral Puebloans: she is studying the instruments that were used to make music.
Researchers at the Abó Painted Rocks site in Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument, New Mexico used Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR), an active laser ranging sensor system, to record highly accurate geo-referenced 3D points, creating a detailed baseline condition assessment. The assessment can be used by monument staff for future monitoring efforts and developing informed treatment strategies for preservaton of Abó's pictographs.
Archeological studies of the formation of large pueblo villages in Mesa Verde NP suggest that populations moved from dispersed homesteads and hamlets into larger aggregated communities. Researchers found evidence that public architecture and infrastructure had the potential to greatly enhance the agricultural productivity and population carrying capacity in one area of the park, Morefield Canyon, sowing the seeds for the later massive cliff dwellings that give Mesa Verde its fame.
A four-year archeological exploration of Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve's Kingsley Plantation focuses on the slave quarters from the early nineteenth-century. This analysis of the ceramics assemblage compared to that of the archetypal antebellum plantation of Cannon’s Point Plantation, GA is a fundamental first step to interpreting the role of material objects in the slaves’ daily lives.
Tree-ring dating, or dendrochronology, has been an integral part of archeological research at Mesa Verde National Park (NP) since 1923, when members of the National Geographic Society’s First Beam Expedition collected samples from Cliff Palace, Spruce Tree House, and other sites (Douglass 1929, 1942; Nash 1999; Nichols 1963; Smiley 1947). The full dendrochornological potential of the park, however, has not yet been tapped.
Engravings along the base of El Morro National Monument's Inscription Rock range from prehistoric petroglyphs to the earliest known European inscription, Don Juan de Oñate's engraved memorial, dated 1605. Dramatic new evidence — a range of metal artifacts — has emerged linking El Morro with the earliest major Spanish entrada in the desert Southwest – the 1540-1542 expedition of Capitan General Francisco Vázquez de Coronado.
Alaska Park Science is a semi-annual journal that shares the results of research in Alaska's 15 national parks and preserves. The attractive crisp photos and straightforward text make the research accessible to the general reader, and communicates to the public the importance of the archeology that is conducted in the parks. Since the first volume was published in 2002, Alaska Park Science has published over 14 articles about archeology and prehistory in 10 parks.
The Midwest Archeological Center (MWAC) worked with Midwest Region Fire Program to design and carry out experiments to collect information about the effects of fire on various classes of archeological materials. The goals of this project were to assess the fire/archeology interface to provide managers of Midwestern parks with information that will aid in decision-making concerning the stewardship of archeological and natural resources.
In 2009, Midwest Archeological Center archeologists inventoried two abandoned cemeteries in the wooded backcountry of Hot Springs NP. The smaller cemetery contains 27 internments marked by field stones and depressions. Genealogical research suggests that this was an African American cemetery. Comparison of data for it and the larger Euroamerican cemetery show significant physical and cultural differences.
One of the primary destinations for visitors to Valley Forge National Historical Park is the modest stone house that served as General George Washington’s Headquarters during the Revolutionary War winter encampment of 1777-1778. In 2009, Washington’s Headquarters was re-opened following a series of repairs and renovations that provided the perfect opportunity to gather significant archeological data in a manner that was highly visible to park visitors.
At least 10 wrecks of large ships, dating from 1870s to the 1950s, lie within the boundaries of Isle Royale National Park. These sites comprise one of the most intact collections of shipwrecks in the National Park System. Preserved by the cold, fresh waters of Lake Superior, shipwrecks and submerged terrestrial sites offer amazing insights into Great Lakes shipping, commercial fishing, and the early settlement of Isle Royale.
The NPS Shared Beringian Heritage Program encourages local and international participation in the preservation and understanding of cultural resources on both sides of the Bering Straits. Between 1998 and 2000, the Shared Beringian Heritage Program funded the Golovin Native Corporation in northwestern Alaska to carry out archeological investigations at sites on corporation lands, giving high school students opportunities to document their region’s history.
In the spring of 2006, NPS staff found a cache of objects in an attic of the Enlisted Men’s Barracks at Fort Washington, Maryland, a fortification overlooking the Potomac River, now part of the NPS National Capital Parks. NPS archeological staff investigated a collection of diverse items that has the potential to enlarge our understanding of living conditions at the fort during and after the Civil War.
From 1604 to 1607, a French expedition explored the southeastern Canadian and New England coasts. The first winter base for this expedition is now within the boundary of Saint Croix Island International Historic Site, an NPS unit. Archeological data, written accounts, drawings, and maps from the French reports of the exploration provide a wealth of information about the Native people, their ways of life, and their settlements.
Effigy Mounds National Monument, located on the Mississippi River in northeastern Iowa, protects over 200 mounds of Native American origin, 31 of which are bird and bear effigy mounds. New technologies are revealing their secrets. The elevated perspective that aerial photography and LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) provide allows more detailed and complete comprehension of the full extent of mounds on the landscape.
Prior to rejoining the Army in 1860 and then becoming the 18th president, Ulysses S. Grant, a slaveholder, farmed White Haven, his wife’s family’s property outside of St. Louis, Missouri. NPS archeologists have been uncovering clues at Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site that help us to better understand conditions of slavery in the two decades before the Civil War.
The Bad Pass Trail through rugged Bighorn Canyon NRA has been traversed since the earliest human habitation of the continent, bringing people from the Bighorn Basin to abundant bison herds beyond the mountains. People left behind traces of camps along the trail, including the rocks that once held down the bottoms of their tipis. As many as 1,000 stone circles within the park boundary are being documented and investigated under the NPS archeological site condition assessment mandate.
Preservation of the 200 year old church founded by Father Eusebio Kino at Tumacácori National Monument requires much painstaking research. This research enables more effective restoration of the adobe ruin. NPS archeologists summarize their findings in three reports that discuss surface decoration, materials and techniques, and layout of the Spanish adobe church and mission – including a rare look at an 18th century mission garden.
In the late 1500s, indigenous hunter-gatherers on the northern California coast met Spanish and English explorers for the first time. Their encounter with the 16th-century visitors foreshadowed the Spanish and Russian colonization of northern California nearly 200 years later. Archeological research at Point Reyes National Seashore is examining the implications of this series of encounters by synthesizing archeological data from terrestrial and underwater cultural contexts.
Large-scale excavations at Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site, on the Upper Missouri River, resulted in a large collection of cultural material spanning four decades from 1828 to 1867. The Fort Union Trading Post clay tobacco pipe collection and analysis of the collection has provided a fascinating look at manufacture, trade, symbolism, and use of 19th-century smoking paraphernalia.
John Campbell worked for almost 30 years with Alaska Native people who lived on lands that became Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve. His field records document an extraordinary time for the Nunamiut Iñupiat, whose life style was shifting from seasonal settlements to fixed habitations at Anaktuvuk Pass. His papers, an important cultural resource, were secured and prepared for accession as an NPS collection by park archeologist, Jeff Rasic.
Following the end of the Civil War, a large number of African Americans moved north looking for greater employment and freedom. A smaller but significant number migrated west, as part of the newly created African American military regiments that became known as the Buffalo Soldiers. Archeologists have found evidence of their service in the Guadalupe Mountains, where they fought the Warm Springs Apache and their allies.
In 1864, the U. S. Army carried out a surprise attack on a non-combatant encampment of Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians along the Big Sandy Creek in southeastern Colorado, killing about 160 men, women, and children, including elderly or infirm. To preserve the memory of this tragic event, the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site was established following a multi-disciplinary effort to identify the actual location of the attack.
Klondike Gold Rush NHP, in Skagway, is one of the most popular attractions in Alaska, offering tourists a chance to see restored Gold Rush era buildings and exhibits. Thirty years of historical archeology in Skagway exemplifies how historic preservation laws and regulations, together with good historic archeology, can enrich our knowledge about the Gold Rush era for the benefit of scholars and park visitors alike.
During the summer of 2007, the Montana Yellowstone Archeological Project field school carried out survey and excavation in the 700-acre Boundary Lands parcel of Yellowstone NP. Research goals included the identification of stratified prehistoric occupations along the Yellowstone River, as well as the relocation of the former Northern Pacific railroad station of Cinnabar, occupied between 1883 and 1903.
Little is known about the interactions between indigenous populations, Europeans, and Africans during the early colonization of the U.S. Virgin Island of St. John. The Virgin Island NP Archeological Program has recently undertaken research to identify sites that date to European contact and colonization in order to explore and better understand social relations between Taino and Island-Carib Indians, Europeans, and Africans during this tempestuous period of Caribbean history.
Canaveral National Seashore, located along Florida’s eastern coast, is associated with the intrepid spirit of men and women who explore and colonize space. It is also associated with another fascinating story of exploration and colonization. In the mid-1500s, both France and Spain sought control over the eastern coast of La Florida. Recently published archeological investigations at Canaveral NS have uncovered evidence to better understand the conflict between French and Spanish settlers and the fate of defeated French survivors.
Archeologists and volunteers using metal detectors have found new evidence to understand the Revolutionary war battle fought at Kings Mountain, South Carolina, in 1780. The data derived from objects found by metal-detecting was more accurate and more complete than previously known, giving a more nuanced understanding of the battle. The dedication, enthusiasm, and skill of the volunteers were crucial to carrying out a project to map metal objects relating the battle.
Nicodemus National Historic Site preserves, protects, and interprets the only remaining western town established by African Americans during the Reconstruction Era. In May and June 2006, students of Dr. Margaret Wood, Washburn University, conducted archeological testing on the Thomas Johnson/Henry Williams farm site to identify and explore archeological sites related to the settlement period and early occupation of Nicodemus.
Fort Vancouver, in Vancouver, Washington, was a Hudson’s Bay Company trading post from 1825-1860. Archeological research at Fort Vancouver National Historic Site has resulted in over 2 million catalogued artifacts. This study focuses on over 20,000 English-manufactured ceramic sherds excavated from households at HBC Fort Vancouver, providing an ideal setting to explore the complexity of culture, class, and identity through material culture.
In 2003, NPS archeologists began a multi-year archeological study of the Thomas Farm, located within the boundaries of Monocacy National Battlefield. Among the most important results of the Thomas Farm study is the discovery of the Middle Ford ferry and tavern. Archeological and historic research at the site provides insight into the earliest settlement and occupation of Frederick County, Maryland, and the surrounding region.
The monumental masonry structures and cultural landscape of Chaco Culture National Historical Park are both a lasting testimony to the complex civilization that flourished in the 9-12th centuries AD, and a witness to the cumulative impact of decades of exposure on the scientific and interpretive values of archaeological remains. Beginning in the late 1980s, the NPS embarked on a program of intentional site reburial in an effort to stem the tide of deterioration and loss.
In 2007, Cape Krusenstern National Monument began a project to survey and inventory the entire 10-mile Cape Krusenstern beach ridge complex in an effort to integrate the cultural resource and environmental data into a comprehensive management plan. The plan will help NPS address coastal erosion and local land use issues as well as cultural resources documentation, preservation, and protection.
On October 17, 2006, representatives of the Spanish Ministry of Education, Culture and Sports and the U.S. The NPS signed a loan agreement for artifacts from Spanish shipwreck sites to be displayed in a new visitor’s center at Assateague Island National Seashore, Virginia. The Park Service is honored to care for these objects on behalf of Spain, and to make the objects available for scientific study and public appreciation.
Discovering deeply buried archeological sites requires careful planning and special techniques. Testing to a depth of 11 feet in selected areas along the floodplain of the Potomac River succeeded in finding 16 new sites in the C&O Canal National Historical Park. Archeologists selected two sites for further exploration and made exciting and significant discoveries. As with many archeological resources, erosion presents a serious threat to these endangered sites.
A four-year archeological survey and inventory of Rock Creek Park in Washington, DC, found a series of Native American camp sites used repeatedly between 2500 BC and AD 1400, colonial tenancies, 19th-century dwellings, and Civil War military artifacts from the Battle of Fort Stevens in 1864. Many of the archeological sites can be associated with historical characters from John Carroll of Annapolis to African-American tenants of the 1890s.
When 6 acres of the former Armory were added to Harpers Ferry National Historical Park in West Virginia, the park acquired not only the original site of John Brown’s Fort but also the archeological remains of other important structures including the Wager Warehouse and the Smith and Forging Shop. Archeologists surveyed, tested, and mapped these important resources.
When Captain John Smith observed the waters surrounding Jamestown Island four centuries ago, he was impressed by the sheer quantity of fish. Today archeologists are impressed by the quantity of archeological resources discovered between the waterline and as far as 1000 feet offshore. Careful scanning with sonar as well as diving in the murky water revealed at least 26 shipwrecks as well as landings, wharves, and piers along the shoreline.
How do you celebrate the enduring legacy of Benjamin Franklin, one of our most familiar inventors, scientists, and “inquiring minds” of the revolutionary era? Archeologists assessed the archeological research that has been done at Franklin Court in Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia. The archeological collections provide insight into Franklin at home with his family and reveal more about his fascination with science.
Chaco Culture National Historical Park in New Mexico has been investigated by archeologists for over a century. Unfortunately, the resulting artifact collections, notes, photographs, and drawings are widely scattered and difficult to track and find. The Chaco Digital Initiative addresses this problem, making it possible to test and revise archeological interpretations of Chaco culture using the full range of resources.
Archeologists often try to stabilize sites to protect them from deterioration, but in many cases erosion cannot be stopped. In Katmai National Park & Preserve on the Alaska Peninsula, across from Kodiak Island, erosion exposed human remains at the Cutbank site. Archeologists and culturally affiliated Alaska Native groups worked together to develop a research design to address questions of mutual interest. They found some surprises.
At Katmai National Park & Preserve on the Alaska Peninsula, across from Kodiak Island, there is still much to learn about the history of ancient occupation along the Alagnak River. Archeological testing at a village site occupied between about 2300 and 1200 years ago reveals both details about village life and the need to monitor, evaluate, and respond to the erosional threats to this important place.
During its first comprehensive inventory for archeological resources, Sitka National Historical Park in Alaska discovered the location of the Tlingit fort built to prepare for battle with Russian colonists. Materials from the Battle of Sitka in 1804 include several cannon balls and musket balls. The inventory team used metal detectors and other geophysical methods in addition to other survey techniques to identify the fort site and areas that will receive further investigation.
Long before boundaries of national parks were established, Native Americans traveled widely in the mountain ranges of the Pacific Northwest. Archeologists had little information about where people hunted, harvested, and camped and decided to survey for sites in the high altitude regions of Olympic, Mount Rainier, and North Cascades National Parks. Surprising survey results reveal extended use of high altitude areas in prehistoric times.