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The Archeological Survey: Methods and Uses






Introduction and Definitions

A Brief History of Archeological Survey

The Variety of Archeological Survey

Basic Archeological Site Survey Methods

Special Types of Survey

Recording and Reporting

Predictive Survey for Comprehensive Planning



Forms Used in Recording Archeological Survey Data

Archeological Predictive Studies

Example of an Archeological Review Procedure Using Predictive Data

Automated Management of Data and Research Results on Archeological Surveys

State Archeological Co-ops: Their Evolution, Dangers, and Value

The Archeological Survey: Methods and Uses
U.S. Dept. of the Interior


As discussed earlier, one of the significant deficiencies of the data on file about Griffin Valley prior to our survey was the fact that there was no way to determine how they were gathered. We knew from Beakey's survey that there were at least two sites in the valley, but we had no way of knowing whether his survey had been so detailed as to eliminate the likelihood that there were additional sites or whether, as in fact was the case, he had merely informally visited two sites and recorded them. In recording and reporting an archeological survey it is vital to avoid this deficiency. This requires following a simple rule: Report exactly what was done and why, and identify any uncertainties.

Reporting the Research Design and Plan

An archeological survey report should describe the research design that guided the work, including operational definitions as to what was worth recording. Reasons for selecting the design should be discussed. For small projects, reference to a readily available regional or statewide design should be sufficient. The report should also discuss how the research design was translated into an actual survey plan--i.e., what the design meant to the archeologist in the field.

Reporting Survey Methods

Early in any survey report, the methods employed in both background research and field work should be discussed. In many cases these may be separated into "background research" and "field work" chapters of the report. However it is done, it is important to report:

1. What kinds of background data were thought to be needed, and what methods were used to find and consult them?

2. What sources of background data were actually consulted?

3. What difficulties, if any, were encountered in background research? What changes did these occasion in the research plan?

4. What new or unexpected sources were discovered? What changes did they require in the research plan?

5. What methods were employed in the field to search for sites? These should be described in sufficient detail to permit the reader to understand them fully and to appreciate the reasons for employing them.

6. What variations among methods occurred at different phases of the survey or in different parts of the study area?

7. When archeological sites were discovered, what methods were used to define their boundaries and internal composition, to determine what categories of data they were likely to contain, and to define their significance?

8. What areas were examined with negative results?

The reasons for choosing one method over another should be clearly explained. Portions of the study area where different methods were used should be indicated on maps, as shown in Figure VI-1. In most cases, it is not necessary or efficient to report exactly where each team member walked or dug a shovel-test, but it should be possible for the reader of the report to reconstruct which methods were used in any given portion of the study area, to understand what these methods meant in terms of such factors as team deployment and subsurface exploration, and to understand the reasoning that went into selecting the methods employed.

Figure IV-1. Examples of Documentation of Field Coverage.

Reporting Survey Results

Reporting sites: Most States and many Federal agencies, universities, museums and archeological organizations use standard forms for recording sites. These should be used if they provide adequate data for purposes of determining National Register eligibility (see 36 CFR 63 and HOW TO COMPLETE NATIONAL REGISTER FORMS, Appendix II). If they do not provide adequate data, or if the research design applicable to the survey requires additional data, they should be supplemented. It is generally helpful to the reader of the report to summarize the form-recorded data in the text of the report. If there is the probability that describing the sites in detail in the report, or providing their exact locations, might lead to their destruction or damage by vandals or treasure seekers, the report itself may present only summary data, with detailed information provided separately to those who need it for purposes of eligibility determination and planning. The results of test or other excavations, and of any special analyses conducted, should be reported. If collections of archeological material were obtained, their depository should be identified, as should the depository of original field notes and associated data.

Reporting other discoveries: Discoveries that are pertinent to archeology and historic preservation, but are not archeological sites per se, should also be reported. Examples of such discoveries include but are not limited to: properties of possible architectural, cultural, or historical importance that apparently do not contain archeological data; geological and geomorphological features that may bear on local paleoenvironmental studies; relict plant communities, pack rat middens, and other biological features that may be of assistance in paleoenvironmental studies; and very recent cultural properties that may in the future be recognized as eligible for inclusion in the National Register. No one should be discouraged from reporting field information that might lead to the discovery of a previously unknown historic property. Data that are of a proprietary nature and do not directly describe archeological sites or other historic properties (e.g., proprietary information on geology received in confidence from a mineral exploration company) should not be reported without permission of the owner.

Reporting areas of uncertainty: If there are portions of the study area that appear likely to contain archeological sites which could not be identified (e.g., places where deep alluvium, very thick brush, or modern construction made it impossible to inspect a location where background research suggests the likelihood that archeological sites are present), these locations should be identified in the report. The reasons for uncertainty about their archeological potential should also be noted and if there are reasonable means of resolving this uncertainty through further work, they should be presented.

Reporting Conclusions

All discovered sites should be evaluated to determine their eligibility for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places by following the guidelines found in HOW TO COMPLETE NATIONAL REGISTER FORMS, Appendix II. If the survey was conducted in connection with project planning, recommendations may be offered for impact mitigation with respect to any property thought to be eligible for inclusion in the National Register. The reasons for concluding that any given site is either eligible or ineligible should be clearly presented; for discussions of archeological significance see McGimsey & Davis 1977:31-34; Schiffer & House 1977:45-47; Glassow 1977a, and 1977b; Wildesen 1977; Schiffer & Gumerman 1977; King, Hickman & Berg 1977, King 1977, Talmadge & Chesler 1977, and IAS 1977.

Hopefully the survey itself will have generated information that is useful to understanding local history or prehistory. Conclusions concerning local or general research problems in anthropology, history, or other sciences and humanities should be presented. Any local or other public interests that have been identified in the historic properties of the area should be discussed.

Keeping Track of Field Operations

High quality reporting demands a high level of control over the nature of field operations. This means fairly detailed record keeping. Several examples of forms used to keep track of field survey data are given in Appendix A; these include:

1. A form used in the survey of New Melones Reservoir in California, to record daily work team operations (Moratto 1976:3:135).

2. A form used to keep track of survey operations along sewer line segments in New York State (Berg & Emery 1976).

3. A set of forms used by the U.S. Forest Service, Region 9, to summarize data on the conduct of archeological reconnaissances (U.S. Forest Service 1976).

Developing systems for keeping track of survey data is an important part of pre-survey planning. The exact type of system employed will vary with the nature of the project and the area but the forms in Appendix A, all of which are in the public domain, may provide useful ideas.

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