Aviation and Archaeology

August 31, 2017 Posted by: Emma Woodruff and Lindsey Newhall

"Flying in a helicopter feels like you are floating! Being able to see the landscape from the air gives you a new perspective on the area. Thousands of caribou trails that have been carved into the mountainsides and vegetation are visible for as far as the eye can see. Grizzly bear and muskoxen sightings are also a more relaxed experience from hundreds of feet in the air!"
-From the field journal of Emma Woodruff, National Park Service archaeologist

Aerial shot of mountains and green tundra against a blue sky in Noatak National Preserve.Open ground is more visible from the air, helping the archaeologists determine where to survey.

For two weeks in July and August 2017, an archaeology crew searched Noatak National Preserve for new archaeological sites to record.  A pilot and helicopter provided vital assistance.  Flying from landform to landform allowed the archaeologists to record more sites during their short time in Noatak.

From the air, archaeologists are able to see landforms better and identify areas that are likely to have an archaeological site. Usually, open ground on terraces are good places to look. While people in the past moved all over the landscape, artifacts are easiest to spot in areas with little or no vegetation.

Helicopter in Noatak National Preserve takes crew to a likely landform for archaeological survey.A helicopter takes the archaeology team to a likely landform in Noatak.

Once on the ground, archaeologists spread out and survey the area on foot. When they find a site, they stop and record it with a hand-drawn map, a digital GPS map, and a lot of notes. A small shovel test (about 30x30cm) is often dug at the site to see how much, if any, of a site is underneath the surface, and hopefully to find datable charcoal or bone. Anything we find in the shovel test is collected. Artifacts on the surface are only collected if they are in danger of being lost due to natural or human forces.

Aerial view of archaeological site in Noatak National Preserve.
Archaeological site from the air.

Archaeoloy is an important compontent of the research done in our parks as it helps us understand, protect, and preserve the cultural history of our park lands, part of the mission of the National Park Service.  

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Last updated: August 31, 2017

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