A Statewide Geographic Information System (GIS) as a Predictive Tool for Locating Deeply Buried Archeological Deposits in Nebraska

Background and Projective Overview During 2016-2018, the Nebraska State Historical Society (now History Nebraska, HN) and the Kansas Geological Survey (KGS) collaborated on a research project funded through the NDOT Research Program. The effort created a GIS-based prediction tool to better estimate where deeply buried, and difficult to identify, archeological sites are likely to occur. The project serves to assist NDOT environmental planners and cultural resource consultants with an enhanced method to identify and avoid significant cultural properties during the transportation planning process (Layzell and Mandel 2018 and Layzell et al. 2018). Several large areas of Nebraska were not covered because available data were simply too limited. These areas include the following major drainage basins: Niobrara, White, central segments of the Platte, South Platte, and portions of the Loup (including the vast Sand Hills region drained by the North Loup, South Loup, Middle Loup, Dismal and Calamus rivers as well as numerous lakes). Improved data sets are now available for those drainages and we propose in this research project to extend the coverage to the entire state. To ensure state-wide coverage, the present proposal also includes field work to collect new data for select drainage basins. The GIS-based model developed during Phase 1 is already in use. The HN, Highway Archeology Program regularly consults the GIS to determine if portions of a project warrant deep mechanical testing or coring to establish the presence of significant deeply buried sites. As but one example, when cross-checked with preliminary construction plans, the model has assisted in narrowing down placement of back hoe trenches along the proposed US-275 expansion from West Point to Scribner. This is a major NDOT construction project and the placement of trenches based on the GIS will identify any deeply buried sites which might need to be further studied or avoided. Traditional methods used to discover archeological sites include pedestrian surface surveys and relatively shallow hand-dug shovel or soil core testing. While these methods are appropriate for locating surface and near­ surface sites on ridges, hilltops, and on the surface of valley floors, they do not adequately identify archeological remains buried in stream valleys (alluvial terraces, floodplains, fans and valley margin walls). These cultural deposits are often deeply buried and difficult to detect without testing using backhoes and mechanical cores. Central Great Plains research involving geomorphology combined with archeology (or geoarcheology) has succeeded in amassing a large volume of data that can be used to make informed predictions about what landform contexts may host these important deeply buried (yet difficult to locate) archeological resources. The proposed project is designed to systematically gather this disparate information, create a digital repository of it, and distill the data in a Geographic Information System (GIS) format for all areas of the state not covered during Phase I of the program. For cultural resource specialists involved in project planning and development, this will greatly enhance the ability to predict where these types of resources may or may not occur. As a result planners and cultural resource specialists will be in a better position to determine if additional targeted investigations are necessary or if a project area is likely to be free of deeply buried sites. Geoarcheological studies have demonstrated that patterns of erosion and deposition strongly influence the preservation and visibility of archeological deposits. The remains of human occupation pass through a geologic filter to become the archeological record. Understanding the nature of the temporal and spatial patterns that this filter has imposed on the archeological record is the first step in identifying archeological patterns. This information is crucial for identifying the geologic potential for significant buried cultural deposits in different segments of drainage systems, and, therefore, is important to managing cultural resources in the context of transportation and environmental planning. For example, during the early and middle Holocene (9,000-4,000 years ago) in the central Great Plains, erosion and net transport of sediment out of low-order streams (< 4th_order) have removed most of the archeological record before 4,000 years ago from these small drainages. However, during the same period, sites older than 4,000 years were buried in floodplain settings and alluvial fans within the valleys of intermediate and high-order streams (> 4th_order) that were zones of net sedimentation. Hence, different geologic processes operating concurrently within a single drainage basin may differentially preserve the archeological record and lead to erroneous conclusions about prehistoric settlement patterns and assumptions about where deeply buried sites exist from the perspective of planning and resource management. Another aspect of landscape evolution that is important to archeological resource management is soil stratigraphy. Buried soils in late-Quaternary deposits represent previous land surfaces that were exposed for sufficient periods to develop recognizable soil profile characteristics. Hence, they represent former stable land surfaces. If one assumes that the probability of cultural utilization of a particular landscape position is equal for each year, it follows that the surfaces that remain exposed for the longest time would represent those with the highest probability of containing cultural materials. Because buried soils represent former stable surfaces, evidence for human occupation would more likely be associated with them. This reasoning also implies that a soil that had the most time to develop before it was buried would have the highest potential for containing cultural materials at any given location. Thus, buried soils are useful indicators for locating archeological deposits and for assessing an important aspect of the geologic potential for buried cultural deposits. Knowledge of the temporal and spatial pattern of buried soils in a landscape provides archeologists with a powerful tool for identifying areas with high potential for significant buried cultural deposits and for assessing prehistoric cultural patterns. The most useful way to characterize the buried alluvial landscape is through definition of Landform-Sediment Assemblages (LSAs). These are landforms and underlying genetically related packages of sediment and associated soils with predictable age relationships. The impetus for considering LSAs in an archeological context is the premise that the archeological record is a component of the sedimentary record; hence, physical processes that remove, modify, and bury sediments control the preservation and visibility of the record of the human past. Conceptualizing the landscape in this manner provides archeologists with a range of powerful tools for locating, evaluating, and interpreting cultural resources preserved in sediments that constitute the modern landscape. Objective The proposed project will be developed by HN as a collaborative effort with the KGS. In addition to senior project staff at HN and KGS, graduate research assistants from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Kansas University will be employed. The proposed project will add to the existing Phase I GIS-based data repository of all Nebraska geoarcheological information including: published and unpublished reports or portions of reports, bibliographies, stratigraphic profiles, radiocarbon ages, maps, notes, and photographs. These data will be linked to specific LSAs in specific stream valleys and drainage basins. The GIS will allow us to visualize the data in the form of maps and diagrams and reveal temporal and spatial patterns of landscape evolution in drainage basins. Moreover, the GIS will allow users to look at the data in a way that is quickly understood and easily shared. The complete statewide data set also will be organized in such a way that cultural resource specialists and transportation planners will be able to access a specific stream valley or portions of it and review the extant information for that area but a/so be able to use a GIS prediction tool to evaluate in general terms if the landscape has high, moderate or low potential to contain buried archeology and in specific settings such as floodplain, terrace, or fan. Depending on the past level of research effort and data quality, the predictive aspects of the GIS-layer will have the ability to extrapolate from one stream valley to others in the same basin of like rank-order. The results of the product are designed to be used in conjunction with more traditional archeological identification and assessment tools employed to understand shallower archeological materials. The GIS will be housed at and maintained by the HN State Archeology Office. However, it will be available to transportation planners at NDOT and FHWA and also to consultants either through remote site updates or on-line. After the conclusion of the proposed project, the GIS and associated data repository will be continually updated as new information becomes available. Therefore, as time passes and data gaps are filled, the predictive capability and planning utility of the program will increase. Because the high, medium, and low site potential assignments noted above are based on correlations between known archeological site locations and a number of environmental variables, the utility of the project will improve as new archeological and environmental data become available.


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    • Status: Active
    • Funding: $97,398.00
    • Sponsor Organizations:

      Nebraska Department of Transportation

      1500 Nebraska 2
      Lincoln, NE  United States  68502
    • Project Managers:

      Halsey, Lieska

    • Principal Investigators:

      Bozell, Rob

    • Start Date: 20190701
    • Expected Completion Date: 20210930
    • Actual Completion Date: 0
    • USDOT Program: Transportation, Planning, Research, and Development

    Subject/Index Terms

    Filing Info

    • Accession Number: 01705848
    • Record Type: Research project
    • Source Agency: Nebraska Department of Transportation
    • Files: RIP, STATEDOT
    • Created Date: May 23 2019 5:06PM