Geophysical Survey and Island Archaeology

Steven Pendery
Northeast Region Archaeology Program
National Park Service
Delivered at 2003 Boston Harbor Islands Science Symposium.

This presentation explores the historical and research connections between islands in two National Park Service units – the Boston Harbor Islands NRA and St. Croix Island in Calais, Maine. Nearly 400 years ago, the French explorer Samuel Champlain accompanied an expedition led by Pierre Dugua with the intention to establish a permanent settlement in New France. St. Croix Island was initially settled for this purpose, and Champlain then embarked to map the coast to the south and west and to identify other possible settlement sites. He not only visited and mapped the Boston Harbor Islands, but he named the Charles River after the expedition leader. He rejected Boston and other locations and their lead settlement was eventually moved to Nova Scotia and later to Quebec.

The National Park Service is charged with the inventory of its archaeological resources and to ensure their protection. Both St. Croix Island and the Boston Harbor Islands are subjected to both natural and human disturbance. Erosion presents one of the greatest threats to island archeological resources. The first step in identifying island archaeological sites is to employ methods of non-destructive geophysical survey. The ground-penetrating radar, magnetometer, and conductivity/resistivity have been successfully used to locate archaeological sites on the mainland. These methods identify anomalous areas that can later be scheduled for subsurface archaeological testing. The methods and initial results of two island geophysical surveys, at St. Croix Island in Maine and at George’s Island in the Boston Harbor are reviewed in the broader context of how archaeology has contributed to our understanding of French and English island fortification and settlement in New England.

Last updated: February 26, 2015

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