Using Machine Learning and Spatial Statistics to Measure the Geometric Structure of Archaeological Spaces

By Lindsey Cochran, Assistant Professor, East Tennessee State University; Grant Snitker, Director of the Cultural Resource Sciences and Fire Lab, New Mexico Consortium

An urgent question for archaeologists as we race to react to the climate crisis is: what are we losing? The biased nature of the collective archaeological dataset presents an unequal assessment of heritage at risk. As we know, today’s cultural landscape boundaries are different than those in the past. The majority of known cultural heritage sites are driven by cultural resource management and compliance, meaning known sites are often located near roadways, pipelines, reservoirs, and military installations. We propose that in addition to assessing which cultural heritage sites are at risk, archaeologists should also work to understand how under-investigated landscapes contribute to how we evaluate landscapes most likely to change enough to threaten, damage, or destroy our ability to interpret the past for future generations.

Figure 1. An optimized hot spot analysis of the relative densities of known archaeological sites in Georgia, USA. This map shows statistically significant hot and cold spots of identified archaeological sites using the Getis-Ord Gi* statistic. The red hotspot is Fort Stewart Army Base where NHPA catalyzed a fuller survey of cultural resources. Cells with no value indicate an absence of documented archaeology sites. Cells represent density of known sites within that hexagon, not site locations.

Within those known sites, archaeologists most often only excavate a small fraction of an area where people may have left cultural materials behind. Of those, only a few certain materials persist over time and are available for recovery. So when we ask “which non-renewable cultural heritage resources are we losing” because the climate emergency, the answer is that we’re not really sure.  Rather than using only the things people left behind, we propose to leverage the bias inherent in archaeology: non-uniform excavation strategies within and between sites, and differential preservation of material culture, by using historical maps to supplement the places in-between excavations.

Historical maps allow archaeologists to gain a greater understanding of how past people viewed and navigated the world around them. However, these documents were created by people and for a purpose, meaning that historical maps depicting the same place at the same time, but created by different people, can tell dramatically different stories. Despite an element of inherent bias, historical maps are a tether to, at minimum, a cultural understanding a landscape and the potential presence of previously undocumented archaeological resources.

Here, we propose to leverage our biases: What could be known that we haven’t thought to investigate (yet)? For example, on the coast of Georgia, USA, can we use historical maps to estimate the location of resources that have little or no documentation, specifically Irish landholdings, farmsteads, small plantations? What elements of the landscape influence the presence or absence of a resource that has not yet been archaeologically documented?

We propose that historical documents, specifically historical maps, can be used as input data to investigate where significant archaeological sites may be located, the landscapes they occupy, and what future risks form climate change they might experience.  

Then, machine learning algorithms can be used to identify places on the landscape where there may be very significant cultural heritage resources that we are unaware of. These locations can then be cross-referenced with NOAA models of climate change or an archaeological triage assessment of those models to identify which potentially significant areas should be first surveyed prior to probable destruction.

Our case study is from a coastal t-sheet from Sapelo Island, Georgia, USA created by H.S. DuVal in 1857 and reported to his superintendent, A.W. Evans in the same year. Alone, these documents contain useful information about how the landscape has changed over the last 200+ years. One such example is a simple note: “A new channel developed leading into Sapelo sound, Ga., three-quarters of a mile southward, and better than the one in use, 1860” (1863:78). The reconnaissance map maker is potentially indicating the new use of the Cabretta inlet, which is now undergoing rapid change. The report of DuVal to Evans also contains useful information about the cultural context of the survey—plantation owner Thomas Spalding hosted DuVal and encouraged him to place one of his five transect lines through the Gullah-Geechee Behavior Settlement.

Proof of Concept Methodological Steps

In this proof-of-concept study, we georectify and vectorize elements of the historical landscape that were noted by the reconnaissance surveyor that could have influenced the presence or absence of an historical site. Those elements are then used as testing and training samples to determine if there are relatively standard cultural and environmental landscape attributes that can be used to determine is likelihood of the presence or absence of a plantation site on the Georgia coast.

We have established four basic steps to this machine-learning methods for identifying plantation sites using datasets derived from historical maps:

1. Georectify the historic map to place it into real space.

Figure 2. Location of Sapelo Island, Georgia with the DuVal (1857) reconnaissance map georectified to the modern landscape.

2. Digitize model inputs within the landscape using archaeological experiences like pedestrian surveys and Phase I/II surveys, historical sources, and expert inputs to create landscape variables. In this case, we used vector inputs within the computational extent of the project area, vegetated areas, potentially arable land, proximity to structures, proximity to roads, and proximity to other cultural features (Figure 3).

Figure 3. Binary and continuous variables for classification into the machine learning algorithm.

3. Create a training set for the random forest classifier. A random forest classifier is a supervised machine learning algorithm that essentially grows multiple uncorrelated decision trees (Figure 4). After training samples are run through the many decision trees, results are aggregated into a majority class. The benefits of a random forest classifier are that the estimates fit a number of decision trees and sub-samples of the data to improve accuracy of the model and reduce over-fitting the training samples (Figure 5).

Figure 4. Random forest classifier in machine learning. (Image from

Figure 5. Testing versus training inputs, closeup of the Spalding Sugar Plantation, Sapelo Island, Georgia, USA

4. Classify the entire landscape based on the training results (Figure 6).

Figure 6. Results of the random forest classifier. Yellow indicates a high probability of the presence of an element of a plantation site, whereas blue indicates a high probability of the absence of a similar site.

Overall, the model performs well to identify already known and potential plantation sites and activity areas within our study landscape. The model processing and production took place in R, which means that the processing steps and code is freely available, shareable, adaptable, and replicable. Finally, we are working to automate the digitization and vectorization process. However, because the historical map-makers are human, each map contains elements that need to be interpreted by a human. A computer might interpret the ink blot highlighted in Figure 7 as a structure, rather than an accidental mark made by the mapmaker.  While this process was time intensive and limited to what is observed in each map, the next steps of this project are to expand our case studies beyond Georgia’s barrier islands and to the more inland sites that have been the subject of fewer or no studies at all.

Figure 7. A red circle is around a selection of archaeologically verified slave cabin, whereas the blue squares are around ink-blots pretending to be archaeologically significant.


What makes archaeology so interesting to us is that the nature of archaeology prohibits a complete understanding of our data. The puzzle will always remain a puzzle, but ideally with fewer missing pieces as research projects continue. Despite the ever-incomplete nature of our discipline, historical archaeologists have a unique relationship with a dataset uncommonly used when researching heritage at risk sites.

We propose the development of a carefully interpreted machine learning approach, such as the one presented here, for using existing datasets in a new way to address a developing crisis. A create reinterpretation of existing data may facilitate our disciplinary creation of endangered sites lists that include probabilities of an area to contain as-of-yet undocumented resources. We suggest that a part of our response to the climate emergency includes a conversation about prioritization: should we direct more resources to preserving sites that what we already know about or to identify what we could know but may never have the chance to know.


Bache, A.D.

1864     Report of the Superintendent of the Coast Survey, Showing the Progress of the Survey during the Year 1863. Washington Government Printing Office. Washington, D.C. Accessed 6 Feb 2023. <>

DuVal, H. S.

1857 Topographical Reconnaissance of Sapelo Island, Georgia. United States Coastal Survey, A. D. Bache, Superintendent. Atlanta: Surveyor General Department, Office of the Georgia Secretary of State.

Evans, A.W.

1857 Letter of the Secretary of the Treasury, Communicating the Report of the Superintendent of the Coast Survey, Showing the Progress of That Work During the Year Ending November 1, 1857. Appendix No. 39: 347-377.  < rescue/cgs/001_pdf/CSC-0006.PDF>.

Drowning in the Drink: Climate Change and the Threat to Coastal Moonshine Still Sites

By Katherine G. Parker, Doctoral candidate, Department of Anthropology, University of Tennessee, Knoxville

When first I met with Bob Morgan, then the Heritage Program Manager for Francis Marion National Forest (FMNF) in South Carolina, in 2019 to discuss my interest in researching families involved in moonshining on land that the Forest Service now owned, he warned me that there wouldn’t be much left. The Bureau of Forestry, which had preceded the US Forest Service, had bulldozed every remnant of human activity on the landscape that they could find when they acquired the land from declining timber companies in the mid-twentieth century. Yet despite the Bureau’s best efforts to scrub the forest clean of thousands of years of the past (and fortunately for this project), dozens of seemingly innocuous piles of metal are still crouched along the banks of streams that are too small to be found on most maps, littered across a stretch of the forest near Hell-Hole Swamp (Figure 1).

Figure 1. View of a typical moonshine still site on the Francis Marion National Forest in Berkeley County, South Carolina.

Given the swampy, low-lying nature of the setting where moonshine stills are often found, it is unsurprising that these sites evaded the mechanical sweeps that cleared away other anthropogenic traces. Even for many archaeologists today, these sites continue to be missed, overlooked, or written off as not worth the effort—and admittedly, the residual collection of rusting barrels along the murky waters of Cane Gully Branch are easily dismissed. At first glance, these sites do not immediately evoke the sense of importance or industry that they once commanded as the core production center for Al Capone’s Southern moonshining capital (The Charleston News and Courier 1972; Miles 2015; Fleming Smith 2020; McCray 2021). Of even greater concern is that, because of the very environmental situations that allowed these sites to evade detection from law enforcement and federal machinery, these archaeological resources now face an even greater threat: climate change.

Documenting Moonshine in the South Carolina Lowcountry

The FMNF Still Sites project began in 2019 to identify, document, and interpret the extent of moonshining in this portion of the Lowcountry. In the years since, the project has identified several additional moonshine still sites in the vicinity of Hell Hole Swamp, conducted test unit excavations at two of them, and begun developing a series of identification criteria and recommendations to aid archaeologists who encounter still sites on routine surveys. One of the challenges faced by our team as we’ve worked to comb the FMNF for new still sites has been our ability to conduct delineations when these sites are actively flooded (Figure 2). The degree of flooding varies widely at these still sites depending on the time of year and on climatic events that force overflow from higher order river drainages into the intermittent stream channels that moonshiners historically favored. During our November 2020 survey, for example, we were forced to postpone delineations and subsurface testing at two sites that were flooded with 6-14 inches of water deposited by Hurricane Eta (by then a tropical storm; Figure 3). According to NOAA, November 2020 proved to be a record-breaking hurricane season for the Atlantic with 30 named storms—the largest count on record since 2005 (NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information 2020).

Figure 2. Archaeologist Katherine Parker documents one of the barrels from a partially flooded moonshine still site on the Francis Marion National Forest.

Figure 3. Archaeologists Kiersten Weber (background, left) and Jordan Schaefer (right) measure site boundaries at a flooded still site during the November 2020 survey after Tropical Storm Eta.

Given that material culture remains that we find at still sites are primarily metal, the frequent wet-dry flooding cycles post a particularly high risk for site loss (Figure 4). The lack of stable environmental conditions exacerbate the oxidation process that degrades these metal artifacts, which in turn drastically accelerates the rate at which the metal breaks down. Because most moonshine stills are identified by the presence of above-ground debris, the most obvious of which are metal barrels and buckets, the loss of these visible markers means that future stills in coastal settings may never be recorded.

Figure 4. Cyclical flooding episodes from climatic events like Tropical Storm Eta threaten the stability of metal artifacts, such as the barrel shown here, on coastal moonshine still sites. 

The Importance of Coastal Moonshine

Moonshine has long been a popular subject for the public, as indicated by the wide range of movies, reality television shows, culture icons such as Gator McKlusky, Popcorn Sutton, and Tickle, and the growing heritage tourism industry centered around Southern moonshining. However, these depictions have shaped our view of who makes moonshine and where; when we think about moonshining, we often think of rural mountain hollers, of wily men with long beards and overalls (or slick suits and fast cars). Rarely do we think about the fact that moonshine was made everywhere, by individuals with different racial, class, and gender identities—spanning centuries of American history rather than the mere 13 years of national Prohibition and intervening decades since. Stories about individuals like Nathan “Nearest” Green, a formerly enslaved man and moonshiner from Lynchburg, Tennessee who taught Jack Daniels the charcoal filtration method that defines Tennessee whiskey today (Risen 2016; Weaver 2019; Uncle Nearest, Inc. 2022), highlight the gaps in what we think we know about moonshining in the past.

As archaeological sites, still sites present the opportunity to better understand divergent histories of moonshining beyond well-trod hillbilly stereotypes—but only if they last long enough for archaeologists to find them.

Interested in learning more about the archaeology of moonshining in the South Carolina Lowcountry? Hear more during the North American Heritage at Risk (NAHAR) virtual lecture on Friday, June 9th, 2023 at 9 am EST.



Fleming Smith, Rachel

2020    SC’s Moonshine Culture and Its Long, Bullet-Riddled History. The Post and Courier January 10, Online Edition edition.   

McCray, Shamira

2021    Booze for Al Capone: Archaeologists Study SC Illegal Moonshine Sites near Charleston. The Post and Courier February 18, Online Edition edition. 

Miles, Suzannah

2015    Moonshine Over Hell Hole Swamp. Charleston Magazine December.     

NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information

2020    Monthly Tropical Cyclones Report for November 2020. Electronic Document. December.  

Risen, Clay

2016    Jack Daniel’s Embraces a Hidden Ingredient: Help From a Slave. New York Times June 25.         

The Charleston News and Courier

1972    Hell Hole Swamp Festival Scheduled for Jamestown. The Charleston News and Courier April 23.          

Uncle Nearest, Inc.

2022    Our History. Electronic Document. Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey.  

Weaver, Fawn

2019    The Story of Nearest Green. Short Film. The Nearest Green Foundation.

Historical Archaeology and the New Political Landscape in 2023

By Terry Klein, Executive Director, SRI Foundation

The new year brings a news political reality to Washington, D.C. The most significant political change from last year is the Republican takeover of the U.S. House of Representatives. While the Republican majority is narrow, it gives Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) the authority to decide which bills receive votes in the chamber. Likewise, the new Republican chairs of the House committees will determine which bills get hearings and votes in committee.

House Republican leaders have pledged to use their leadership roles to convene hearings to examine the Biden administration’s record and to build support for their legislative proposals. Expect to see the House Republicans sharply question Department of Interior officials on Biden administration energy policies during televised hearings.

Speaker McCarthy will likely pass many bills that are doomed in the Democratic-controlled Senate. These “messaging bills” are opportunities for House Republicans to demonstrate their policy priorities and signal to their voters what they value. However, it is widely understood that Senate Majority Leader Schumer will not bring many of these largely partisan bills up for a vote in the Senate, so such legislation has no viable path to enactment. To have a real chance of passage, a bill must get significant buy-in from House Republicans, Senate Democrats, and secure 60 votes in the Senate.

One possibility for bipartisan agreement is a bill to streamline the federal permitting process. Despite substantial interest in the issue, Senator Manchin’s (D-WV) efforts to pass a bill failed twice in the Senate last year. He’s still committed to the goal, however. Just last week, he and Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-AR), the new chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, were meeting to negotiate the details of a federal permitting bill.

Federal permitting reform remains a hot topic because of the recent massive investments in American infrastructure. All that investment will generate lots of cultural resources management work. As funding from the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act, in addition to the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act,  flows to communities across the country, there will be high demand to secure permits for new projects. This demand may keep public and Congressional attention focused on how to improve the federal permitting process.

House Republican leaders reportedly plan to unveil a major bill promoting greater energy production by promoting energy development on public lands, easing mining regulations, and streamlining the federal permitting process. Details of that legislation will likely become available in March, according to recent news reports. We’ll be on the lookout for any provisions that could threaten historic resources by narrowing the scope of impacts that are considered, reducing public involvement, or imposing unrealistic deadlines for environmental reviews.

We’ll also be mobilizing support for a bill to reauthorize the Historic Preservation Fund (HPF), which funds the work of State and Tribal Historic Preservation Offices, competitive grant programs, and the National Register of Historic Places. At present, Congressional authorization for this important program is set to expire on September 30, 2023. We will work with key members of Congress to support a bill that extends the authorization of the HPF and increases the total authorization level, which has remained unchanged since 1977.

As part of our efforts to secure funds for the national historic preservation program, we’ll be advocating for full funding of the new African American Burial Grounds Preservation Program, which was authorized in the omnibus spending bill last December. SHA members have advocated for this program over the past five years, and we will continue working to ensure its success.

In addition to monitoring legislative activity, SHA Government Affairs will continue working with the administration to develop regulations that enhance America’s historic preservation program. The administration’s plans for 2023 include revisions to several regulations that will directly impact historical archaeology: the rules governing the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), Traditional Cultural Properties, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) proposal to end its use of Appendix C. Each one of these proposals includes an opportunity for the public to weigh in on the changes under consideration.

SHA submitted a letter supporting many of the administration’s proposed changes to NAGPRA. We applauded efforts to ensure timely completion of the repatriation process, inclusion of indigenous knowledge, and a greater focus on enforcement. However, we also recognized that NAGPRA consultations involve significant amounts of work for tribes and urged the administration to identify sources of funding to help tribes complete the process. As the administration works to develop and stand up this new program, we will help keep SHA members and other stakeholders informed about each step of the process.

In the upcoming months, we’ll be submitting comments on the National Register Revised Bulletin 38: Guidelines for Evaluating and Documenting Traditional Cultural Properties. At present, the National Park Service is conducting consultation and outreach on the upcoming revisions. The deadline for comments is April 30, 2023, so SHA members have time to evaluate the proposed changes and raise any concerns they may have. We look forward to incorporating your feedback into a thoughtful, substantive comment letter this spring.

Finally, we are very pleased to see the USACE decision to rescind Appendix C, something that the Coalition has been urging the Army to do for several years. Appendix C procedures were never approved as a counterpart regulation by the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP). The procedures have been problematic in several ways and have left the USACE vulnerable to litigation. Furthermore, the Appendix C procedures have been applied inconsistently across the country and have limited the USACE’s ability to be a good steward of America’s cultural heritage. According the new proposal, USACE would instead rely on ACHP’s regulations and joint USACE/ACHP guidance for implementation of Section 106.

The changed political landscape this year increases the likelihood of a highly politicized hearings and a robust debate on energy development. Prospects for enactment of any significant new legislation are low, however, given the power split in Washington and the compromises that would be required. SHA will continue working to support a strong historic preservation program through legislative lobbying and participation in the regulatory notice and comment process.

If you are interested in getting involved, please consider joining SHA’s Government Affairs Committee! If interested, please contact Terry Klein at or Marion Werkheiser ( We look forward to working alongside you to advance the protection of our historical archaeological heritage!

“Tech Appeal” in Coastal Archaeological Site Monitoring: Experiences with Terrestrial Laser Scanning and Photogrammetry in Northwest Florida

Nicole Grinnan, Research Associate, Florida Public Archaeology Network; PhD Candidate, University of St Andrews; with contributions from Jeffery Robinson, Master’s Student, University of West Florida

This blog post has been adapted from a presentation given at The Society for Historical Archaeology’s 2023 Conference on Historical and Underwater Archaeology in Lisbon, Portugal.

Though archaeology is sometimes accused of being a “dusty” science – both figuratively and literally – the field is constantly evolving as new technologies are adapted from other applications. Tools like ground penetrating radar (GPR), sub-bottom profilers, LiDAR, and laser scanners have revolutionized how archaeologists can efficiently and accurately collect data without even putting a shovel in the ground (or a foot on the seafloor). Accessible, advanced computing power in tandem with exciting software developments has also provided archaeology with the ability to process, store, and work with larger data sets.

In recent years, the Florida Public Archaeology Network (FPAN) has sought to integrate new technologies into its efforts to monitor archaeological sites at risk from the impacts of anthropogenic climate change. Many of these sites are located along Florida’s most vulnerable areas: its coastlines. In addition to concerns about “slower” climate impacts like sea level rise, the increase in devastating hurricanes striking the Florida coast have created urgency among many archaeologists in the state to get baseline records of these coastal sites before they are lost completely. In 2019, FPAN’s Northeast Region was awarded a Florida Division of Historical Resources Special Category Grant to monitor and record sites across the state through the Heritage Monitoring Scouts Florida (HMS Florida) community science program. While many of the sites visited during the duration of the grant (1,059 unique sites in total) were monitored using a standardized form, FPAN recorded 13 additional sites with its FARO Focus 350s Terrestrial Laser Scanner (Image 1). Outputs from these laser scans included point clouds, scaled 3D models and images of the sites, and Digital Elevation Models (DEMs). While only a small number of the overall sites monitored during the grant were able to be scanned, we now have a wealth of information on the status of those 13 sites at the time they were monitored.

Image 1. FPAN’s Nicole Grinnan and UWF graduate student Jeffery Robinson conduct initial set-up the TLS unit, which includes leveling the device prior to each scan. (Photo courtesy of Sandra Averhart, WUWF Public Media)

Image 1. FPAN’s Nicole Grinnan and UWF graduate student Jeffery Robinson conduct initial set-up the TLS unit, which includes leveling the device prior to each scan. (Photo courtesy of Sandra Averhart, WUWF Public Media)

During our initial experiences with terrestrial laser scanning (TLS) in Northwest Florida, a question inevitably arose: is this a technology that can be easily applied to archaeological site monitoring across the board? While numerous talented and tech-savvy archaeologists have successfully used TLS in their work, it struck me while in the field that TLS may not be the beacon of hope for site recording that we had initially hoped it might be. Not only are TLS units expensive to purchase in the current market (often somewhere along the order of $15,000+), but they also require costly periodic recalibration and proprietary software to remove point cloud data captured in the field. These expenses may be prohibitive for research institutions and governmental agencies unless grant funds can be spent to purchase a unit. While I can’t deny the ease of pressing a button and waiting eight minutes behind a dune to capture 360 degrees of data, TLS does also require a large kit of equipment that can be extraordinarily cumbersome to get to remote sites on land (Image 2). Units are sensitive to atmospheric conditions like humidity and temperature, with almost no resistance to water (a constant fear while working in Florida’s sudden, rainy onslaughts).

Image 2. FPAN’s Mike Thomin and Jeffery Robinson haul just some of the TLS equipment across Gulf Islands National Seashore. No mean feat, we eventually purchased the fishing cart to help us haul gear to sites like these. (Photo and animation courtesy of Nicole Grinnan)

Image 2. FPAN’s Mike Thomin and Jeffery Robinson haul just some of the TLS equipment across Gulf Islands National Seashore. No mean feat, we eventually purchased the fishing cart to help us haul gear to sites like these. (Photo and animation courtesy of Nicole Grinnan)

Originally designed for survey, construction, and architecture, TLS relies on the strong geometry of built environments – like right angles formed at the intersection of building walls or the high contrast between different construction materials – to align multiple scans during computer processing. Since a majority of the coastal archaeological sites we monitored in Northwest Florida were shell middens or Civil War-era earthworks, we installed white target spheres on our sites so that the TLS unit would have points with which to later align the scans (Image 3). The spheres added much more equipment to our overall kit and were often difficult to place on more tenuous landscapes like eroding bluffs. While scanning more “natural” sites like shell middens and Civil War-era earthworks was not an impossible task, it did provide for a more challenging day of scanning. In the case of sites completely covered in vegetation (as many sites are here in Florida), TLS was completely ineffective because it relies on “line-of-sight” observations.

Image 3. Koppa target sphere helped us create geometry fir TLS at sites along natural shorelines, especially in areas with significant vegetation.

Image 3. Koppa target sphere helped us create geometry for TLS at sites along natural shorelines, especially in areas with significant vegetation. (Photo courtesy Nicole Grinnan)

Aware of our experiences with TLS and having worked with it during his own projects, FPAN Public Archaeology Assistant and UWF Anthropology graduate student Jeffery Robinson proposed a Master’s thesis that would compare TLS with another technology now being used in a variety of archaeology applications: photogrammetry. Like TLS, photogrammetry produces point clouds of data that can be used to create products like 3D models, DEMs, or ortho-images. Unlike TLS, photogrammetry does not require any special tool or instrument; a camera and a good photo-taking strategy is generally all that is needed to capture data. Photo scales and printed targets can be useful in areas with low geometry (like natural shorelines), but they are generally not significant in terms of cost or equipment load. Processing images to create photogrammetric products may require the purchase of certain software, though open-source and free options are available (with some limits on functionality). With the quick swap of a camera lens, photogrammetry can also capture either large scale sites and environments or small, macro-scale artifacts. For his research, Jeffery selected three at-risk sites in Northwest Florida to monitor over the course of two years with each technology: Butcherpen Mound (8SR00029) in the Gulf Islands National Seashore Naval Live Oaks Area, Middle Middens (8ES04128) on Santa Rosa Island, and the World War I-era Battery Cooper (8ES00089) also in the Gulf Islands National Seashore Fort Pickens Area. Overall, photogrammetric recording of these sites took more time than recording via TLS. The reduced equipment load for photogrammetry, however, more than made up for the time needed to set up and level the TLS unit, install spherical targets, and transport the TLS unit to and from the site (Image 4). As neither TLS nor photogrammetry can collect data on occluded site components, photogrammetry is also less useful in places with heavy vegetation.

 Image 4. Mike Thomin photographs a site on Santa Rosa Island during a photogrammetric survey. Equipment for photogrammetry generally requires only a photographer, a camera, and photos scales or printed targets.

Image 4. Mike Thomin photographs a site on Santa Rosa Island during a photogrammetric survey. Equipment for photogrammetry generally requires only a photographer, a camera, and photos scales or printed targets. (Photo courtesy Nicole Grinnan)

Jeffery’s analysis of site change over time based on the TLS and photogrammetric data he produced is still ongoing, but our experiences in working with him drove home some of my early musings about whether integrating certain technologies into our everyday work was actually seamless. While I certainly don’t aspire to “singularity,” I felt that truly beneficial technology shouldn’t have myriad accessibility issues like cost, kit, and proprietary software. For that reason, recent efforts by FPAN to fully document sites in Northwest Florida have relied more on photogrammetry.

Though it may seem like this blog post is quick to dismiss the application of TLS in coastal sites monitoring based on our experiences, it is important to note that TLS can be extremely useful to record sites with high geometry (i.e., buildings and more built environments) that are accessible by road or paved path. One peripheral benefit of using our TLS unit in the field was that many passersby were extremely curious about what we were doing and how the technology worked. These impromptu outreach opportunities were excellent for discussing research with residents of and visitors to the area. Indeed, the use of TLS garnered so much attention that the local public radio station (WUWF 88.1) featured our efforts and Jeffery’s research in a three-part piece that won News Director Sandra Averhart first place in the 2021 Florida Association of Broadcast Journalist Awards in the Environmental Reporting Series category for radio (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3).

New technologies are incredible tools that archaeologists can harness to make their work easier and more efficient. As with many things, a cost-benefit analysis should be conducted prior to committing to one method. In the instance of utilizing Terrestrial Laser Scanning (TLS) or photogrammetry to monitor archaeological sites at-risk of climate impact in coastal Florida, staff in FPAN’s Northwest Region vastly preferred to photogrammetry due to its far more accessible nature. Given that the final products of both methods were virtually the same, we know how we’ll be packing for site monitoring missions into the foreseeable future.

North Carolina Archaeological Sites – Approaches to Handling Climate Threats

Allyson Ropp, Historic Preservation Archaeological Specialist, NC Office of State Archaeology; Ph.D. Student, Integrated Coastal Studies, East Carolina University

As I wrote about this time last year, North Carolina’s coastal archaeological sites are in a constant state of change. We are currently working to identify, document, and mitigate the effects of climatic change on these sites through different means. The complexity of North Carolina’s coastline and associated environmental changes make implementing standard mitigation and adaptation efforts challenging. This is not unique to North Carolina, but the struggle is evident in different sites across the state. Not only are our coastal sites facing erosion from storm surges, sea level rise, nuisance flooding, and increased stormy events, but they are facing areas of pooling water, saltwater intrusion, and the subsidence of the land. Throughout the coastal area, a considerable number of shipwrecks are also being impacted by these changing conditions, including sea level rise, storm frequency and intensity, and acidification. Each incident requires its own method to address the impacts on archaeological sites. Below are case studies outlining different approaches used to manage archaeological site changes to ensure their preservation.

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

Cape Hatteras

An aerial photograph of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse on the shoreline in 1999 with its path for movement laid out behind it (Photo Credit: National Park Service 1999).

Now a local and cultural landmark of the Outer Banks and managed by the National Park Service, the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse sits on the widest part of Hatteras Island. Hatteras Island is a barrier island. It is impacted daily by natural sediment transportation processes along the shoreline. As the sea level has risen, these daily processes and infrequent storm overwash have slowly moved barrier islands closer to the mainland and, consequently, closer to the original location of the lighthouse. The same processes are occurring today, as oceanfront vacation homes are falling into the ocean and major road closures occur almost monthly.

Several concerted efforts were made to protect the lighthouse from the encroaching seas and mitigate damage to the important and iconic structure. In the 1930s, the Coast Guard installed groins along the shoreline to support sedimentation. These groins are still visible today. However, while the groins may have supported sedimentation in some shoreline areas, they also supported erosion in other areas. This continued erosion caused the Coast Guard to move the light and abandon the tower. When the National Park Service took over management of the structure, they continued erosion control efforts, including groin building and beach renourishment. However, these were only temporary measures. In 1999, after years of public input and environmental impact studies, the National Park Service, with Congressional support, decided to move the lighthouse and its foundation inland one mile. Over twenty years after the first move, coastal erosion is still threatening the lighthouse, and moving the tower again may be back on the table.

Brunswick Town/Fort Anderson

Brunswick Town

Erosion at Brunswick Town/Fort Anderson State Historic Site. The left image shows the collapse of part of the Northern Battery and the installed rip rap to control continued erosion. The right image shows the water deterioration of the marsh and the southern end of the reefmaker system in the background (Photo credit: NC Office of State Archaeology 2021).

Brunswick Town/Fort Anderson State Historic Site is an archaeological site along the lower Cape Fear River. The historical site marks the first permanent settlement in the region, a major colonial and early-statehood port, and a Civil War Confederate fort. Following the end of the Civil War, the area fell out of use until it became an area of interest to archaeological researchers seeking to identify the location of the first permanent Lower Cape Fear River settlement. Since then, the site has become a part of the state’s Historic Sites and an area of continued archaeological exploration. The location, however, also exposes it to extensive threats from climatic change. The site faces erosion of major landforms and marsh coverage caused by daily sediment transport, storm surge, saltwater intrusion, water pooling, and land subsidence.

While most of the site is elevated above, major historically significant portions of the site are located on the shoreline, including two known colonial wharves and a battery wall. Initially, efforts focused on documenting the exposed archaeological components and collecting any artifacts that were evident on the surface. This allowed the site staff to understand the changes occurring. However, sustained extensive erosion around the colonial wharves and the partial collapse of the end of the northern battery led to the need for more comprehensive efforts. The team first installed rip rap and marine mattresses along the erosion areas to hold down the sediment. These temporary measures still allowed for continued erosion in these areas. Since 2017, the site staff have taken more extensive steps to support sediment accretion. They have installed reef-makers along the shoreline to attenuate the waves and support sediment deposition. Research and observational evidence have shown that this system is causing sediment deposition. This sedimentation has allowed for the stabilization of the archaeological site. However, it has facilitated the site’s coverage, making it impossible to recover information from the now-buried sections.

Shell Middens

Shell middens are a unique type of coastal archaeological site. In coastal North Carolina alone, there are approximately 600 shell middens that have been documented or are accounted for in the North Carolina site file. Shell middens (also known as shell heaps or shell mounds) are discard piles left by prehistoric communities. These middens consist primarily of used and discarded shells but typically contain other cultural materials, including ceramic, bone, and stone tools. The calcium carbonate in the shells helps create a more alkaline environment that allows for the preservation of the organic material housed inside the middens. However, their presence in coastal areas makes these middens vulnerable to environmental conditions. Sea level rise, shoreline erosion, wave energy, and storm surges have and will continue to alter these significant resources in coastal areas.

In the late 2000s-early 2010s, Lawrence Abbot, the Assistant State Archaeologist for the North Carolina Office of State Archaeology, undertook a study to identify the archaeological resources in the Coastal Plain that were susceptible to sea level rise. The study determined that of the 5753 archaeological sites within 30 feet of sea level, 581 had shell middens. Forty-two sites were also deemed eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. This desk-based study provided a basic inventory to begin future assessments of coastal areas. To effectively adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change, it is first vital to know where known resources are and the threats they face. For example, this desk-based assessment only identified sites within 30 feet of sea level. It did not account for the hundreds of other archaeological sites in the Coastal Plain that may be impacted by other climatic conditions. But it provided a starting point for future analysis.

These case studies show a vast array of methods and measures that have been used to protect archaeological resources from the impacts of climate change. While some are more substantial solutions, the information and efforts at all these sites over the ability to learn new information before sites change states.


Linked References

Abbott, Lawrence E., Jr.

2011    The Office of State Archaeology Sea Level Rise Project: Initial Results and Recommendations Concerning the Adaptation for Cultural Resources to Climate Change. White paper for the Department of Cultural Resources. Reported by the North Carolina Office of State Archaeology.

Atlantic Reefmaker

2022    Brunswick Town/Fort Anderson Shoreline Protection Phase 1, 2, & 3A. Atlantic Reefmaker. Accessed 26 October 2022.

Hampton, Jeff

2019    Hatteras lighthouse may have to move again as Outer Banks shoreline continues to shift. The Virginian-Pilot. Accessed 26 October 2022.

Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation & Forestry

2022    Whaleback Shell Midden: A thousand years of Native Americans seafood dinners. Bureau of Parks and Lands, Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry.,such%20as%20bones%2C%20ceramic%20pots%2C%20and%20stone%20tools. Accessed 27 October 2022.

National Park Service

2022    Moving the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior. Accessed 26 October 2022.

North Carolina Department of Transportation

2020    N.C. 12 to Remain Closed on Hatteras, Ocracoke Until at Least Tuesday Afternoon. North Carolina Department of Transportation. Accessed 26 October 2022.

North Carolina Historic Sites

2022    Brunswick Town/Fort Anderson. North Carolina Historic Sites, Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. Accessed 26 October 2022.

North Carolina Office of State Archaeology

2022    Brunswick Town Wave Attenuators. North Carolina Office of State Archaeology, Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. Accessed 26 October 2022.

Price, Mark

2022    Five-bedroom home collapses into ocean on Outer Banks, spreading debris along beaches. The News & Observer. Accessed 26 October 2022.

Ropp, Allyson

2021    Heritage in the Eye of the Storm – Hurricanes, Coastal Erosion, Sea Level Rise and the State of Coastal & Maritime Archaeology in the North Caroline Coastal Plain. Society for Historical Archaeology Blog. Accessed 26 October 2022.

Heritage (Professionals) at Risk

by William B Lees, PhD, RPA
The University of West Florida’s Florida Public Archaeology Network

Kaylen Eileen Gehrke’s death in the Kisatchie National Forest is tragic well beyond the circumstances of it being her first day on a new job in archaeology. Resultant calls for close attention to long-established heat safety protocols are well founded and I am not suggesting they were not followed in this case. Rather, I believe her passing should spark a larger discussion of how we approach an increasingly harsh climate. Yesterday, Kaylen’s death sparked a conversation between myself and University of West Florida colleagues Greg Cook (Anthropology) and John Jensen (History) about how we need to rethink safety in the face of changing conditions brought on by the climate emergency. For this forum, the question is, how do we continue to do the work of addressing the loss of heritage at risk due to climate, while doing it in a way that is safe for volunteers and professionals working in an increasingly harsh world. Heat is the focus of the recent tragedy, but rapid onset of violent storms and floods, fire, and dangerous conditions left over from these events (splintered forests, displaced wildlife, released toxins, unsafe roads and bridges) are worries as well. While conversations certainly will consider the strengthening of safety protocols and investment in mitigating technology, we also need to do some heavy thinking on how we approach fieldwork in a harsh new climate with as much savvy as we approach the excavation of a site. For example, while certain projects such as excavation can benefit from sun shelters or even conditioned air, should we refocus survey away from the hottest months of the year? The academic field season where we train our future professionals should be the first place this discussion begins. My conversation with Greg and John also considered the adoption of safety protocols familiar to underwater archaeology across the profession. Should all projects have a safety officer empowered to stop or modify work on their absolute authority based solely on the safety of the crew? Should that be assisted by someone remotely monitoring weather with advanced web resources? Should we empower crew members to sit out without adverse consequence if any environmental hazard makes them uncomfortable from a safety standpoint? These are standard in underwater archaeology. They certainly have resulted in the avoidance of many unfortunate events. Bottom line, it is time that we as individuals, and as members of a profession, address safety concerns that are accelerating as rapidly as site loss.

The Archaeology of Plastic Pollution

Kimberly J. Wooten, Archaeologist, Cultural Studies Office, California Department of Transportation

 July 1st marks the beginning of Plastic Free July, a month focused on encouraging the public to actively participate in reducing their daily plastic footprint. These personal actions help reduce our carbon footprint at the same time, as plastic is – in the most basic terms – a petroleum biproduct. In addition, plastic production is currently one of the fastest growing industrial contributors to climate change. In 2021, 300 million pounds of plastic was produced globally, with the amount of plastic waste entering our ocean systems jumping from 8 million tons in 2018 to 14 million tons in 2021 (IUCN 2018, 2021). Much of this plastic pollution comes in the form of single-use plastic packing. Single-use plastics are not generally the consumer’s intended purchase, but simply the packing that hold the real product, including items such as food wrappers, condiment packets, straws, plastic bottles, grocery bags, etc. Single-use plastic products also include plastic utensils, take-out boxes, to-go cups, and other items that make our lives seemingly more convenient but contribute to overflowing landfills. This change in plastic use is something we can strive for in our personal lives, as well as in our professional ones, where archaeological labs are filled with a variety of plastic items, including baggies, containers, pipettes, petri dishes, etc.

Once discarded, this overwhelming abundance of plastic waste potentially enters our global oceans by traveling from terrestrial locations, inadvertently washing down rivers and coastal locations. This same waste washes back ashore, cluttering remote beaches and creating masses of plastic pollution that interfere with marine life, habitats, and impact archaeological sites. These waste landscapes are made worse with the knowledge that only 10% of the plastic entering the oceans remains buoyant – shifting between shore and sea – with the remaining waste sinking below the surface. A relatively new term is being used in regard to international refuse management: waste colonialism. Penned by journalist Ruth Michaelson (2021), waste colonialism describes the process of consuming nations sending their waste to nations that often don’t have the processing capacity or infrastructure to handle the volume or content, creating dire refuse conditions in the recipient country. The material culture of plastic waste, with its limited reuse and long-term viability in the environment in terms of hundreds of years, is also the main contributor to waste colonialism. Even more insidious, as this plastic pollution enters the environment, it breaks down into microplastics that are small enough to be found in rain and snow, growing in plants, and even within the human body (Parker 2022) (Figure 1).

 Microplastic Sample

Figure 1. Microplastic sample from the North Atlantic containing a bright blue hydrozoan Velella velella with plastic embedded in its body. (Photo by author, 2019.)

That is a lot of plastic waste – or another way to think about it – a lot of archaeology. I am both an archaeologist and an environmental activist, advocating for the use of archaeology as a platform for raising public awareness about climate change, including the global plastic pollution crisis. At the same time, I recognize that plastic is a creating a monumental shift material culture, delineating the Anthropocene Era with new maritime and terrestrial archaeological deposits globally. From this perspective, it is difficult not to see plastic pollution as an issue to be explored and studied through contemporary archaeology. 

In the beginning of October 2019, I set sail with 13 other women on a two-week, 1600 nautical mile journey to study microplastics in the world’s oceans (Figure 2). Microplastics are decayed and fragmented plastic from larger objects – plastic bottles, oil drums, fishing nets, food packaging waste – generally measuring less than 5 millimeters across. As with intact plastics, microplastics can be found in both in the ocean and on land, often sifting down into the stratigraphic layers of water and soil. On occasion the product itself is small enough to be considered a microplastic, as with nurdles (see Figure 3). Weather permitting, microplastic samples were collected daily, and women from multiple nations and professions learned about plastic pollution, advocacy and activism, data collection, analysis, along with open ocean sailing skills.

Onboard the S.V. TravelEdge

Figure 2. Onboard the S.V. TravelEdge, the author conducts data analysis on samples taken from the North Atlantic Gyre, some 900 nautical miles off the coast of Portugal. (Photo courtesy of eXXpedition, 2019.)

As Valerie Hall wrote in the very first Heritage at Risk Committee (HARC) blog in 2018 “… HARC’s key goals include increasing advocacy efforts at the national and international levels, promoting expansion of heritage at risk themes at the annual conference, and increasing collaboration both with other committees within SHA and with professionals outside of the membership who study the impacts of climate change on our shared cultural resources.” The Heritage at Risk Committee has focused on the impacts of the climate crisis on archaeological resources ranging from coastal erosion and sea level rise, to damage to archaeological collections from hurricanes and wildfires. The committee looks at current and projected impacts to heritage sites, the methodologies to understand these growing impacts, and heritage monitoring to mitigate damages. Part of those climate impacts going forward may include adapting archaeological methods to understand changes in material culture, if not in form itself, then in the fabrication to plastic.

There have been multiple archaeological studies of contemporary waste, including both purchase and disposal patterns, with the most well-known being William Rathje’s (2002) Tucson Garbage Project. Other archaeological studies include material culture patterning of park litter, unsheltered camps, landfills, Burning Man city layout and refuse, and foreshore litter. Some studies have practical applications, including several campus litter studies which are used both to understand litter deposition and for teaching archaeological methods to students. Other studies use apps to crowd source and record plastic refuse data in ways that mirror archaeological survey. All these studies include plastic refuse by the nature of their post-1950s archaeology, after which plastic became much more common. Beginning with the Covid pandemic in 2020, archaeologists began recording pandemic-related waste, including categories for face masks, many of which are single-use plastic-based products (Figure 3).

Plastic single use mask

Figure 3. Plastic-based single-use mask discarded at Point Reyes, California. (Photo by author, 2021.)

In contrast, few studies have been conducted with the specific intention of using traditional archaeological methodologies to examine the impacts of plastic waste on heritage sites. Harold Mytum and James Meek (2021) conducted excavations at Castell Henllys, an Iron Age site in Wales, specifically to look at plastic waste. They divided the fort’s two reconstructed roundhouses into quadrants and focused on known activity areas of modern school children. While the roundhouses were experimental reconstructions, the excavations employed traditional methodologies, and the data collected and processed in a way that way both applicable to a known toolkit of archaeological techniques. In populated areas, such as highway corridors and urban neighborhoods, modern refuse often intrudes upon archaeological deposits and plastic waste is commonly noted on site records and during excavations as disturbance. Future studies of archaeological sites may move beyond this simple notation to include analysis of soils samples to see the depths to which microplastics have migrated into site soils (Figure 4).


Figure 4. Microplastics, including nurdles, along the wrack line of Keālia Beach in Kauai, Hawaii. (Photo by author, 2022.)

Earlier this year, the United Nations signed an historic agreement to control plastic pollution (United Nations 2022). The End Plastic Pollution: Towards an International Legally Binding Instrument resolution was endorsed by 175 member nations. The treaty’s language is directed at both single-use and microplastic pollution, looking at new ways to approach plastic waste, such as circular economies and sustainable consumption. In the United State, California passed Senate Bill 54 – Solid Waste: reporting, packaging, and plastic food service ware – on June 30, 2022. This bill provides the strongest plastic pollution legislation in the nation, requiring all single-use packaging to be either compostable or recyclable by 2032 (

Plastic pollution – including single-use plastics, discarded plastic products, and microplastics – negatively impacts terrestrial and maritime heritage resources. Going forward, it is important that historical and contemporary archaeologists develop a methodology to understand the and impacts of plastic waste to archaeological resources. Part of that discussion needs to be the methodologies and artifact typology to record plastic refuse. Ideally, this methodology needs to include a public outreach component that advocates for climate change and tangible plastic pollution solutions. With our hands directly on the material culture of plastic and our understanding of historical consumer behaviors of purchase, use, reuse, and disposal, who better to discuss the translation of these behaviors to the public?

If you would like to participate in Plastic Free July, visit Other online resources for increasing plastic pollution awareness and tools to combat it include the Story of Stuff ( and Beyond Plastics ( discuss plastics in an archaeological context further, please feel free to reach out to the author at



International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)
2018    Issues Brief: Marine Plastics. Gland Switzerland. <>.

2021    Issues Brief: Marine Plastics. Gland Switzerland. <>.

Michaelson, Ruth
2021    ‘Waste colonialism’: world grapples with west’s unwanted plastic. The Guardian. <>.

Mytum, Harold, and James Meek
2021    The Iron Age in the Plastic Age: Anthropocene Signatures at Castell Henllys. Antiquity 95(379):198-214.

Parker, Laura
2022    Microplastics are in our bodies. How much do they harm us? National Geographic. <>.

Rathje, William L.
2002    Garbology: The Archaeology of Fresh Garbage. In Public Benefits of Archaeology, Barbara J. Little, editor, pp. 85-100. University Press of Florida, Gainesville, FL.

United Nations
2022a  Nations sign up to end global scourge of plastic pollution. UN News.

Upcoming publications include:

Kimberly J. Wooten

2022    Global Impacts: Citizen Science and the Archaeology of Ocean Plastics. Citizen Science in Maritime Archaeology. University of Florida Press, Gainesville, FL.

2023    The Shape of Things: Archaeology, Environmentalism, and Plastic. Historical Archaeology.  In review.

SHA Special Publication and Author Perspective

Ships’ Graveyards: Abandoned Watercraft and the Archaeological Site Formation Process

April 5, 2022

Submitted by Mary L. Maniery
PAR Environmental Services, Inc., President
SHA Co-Publications Associate Editor

In March 2018, the SHA began a blog for the Society webpage to highlight our publications and our collaboration with various presses. While our co-publication program and partnerships with Springer, University of Nebraska Press, University of Florida Press, and University of Alabama Press expands our membership’s publication opportunities, the SHA has also continued to publish works independently through Amazon as Special Publications. SHA members can order “Ships Graveyards: Abandoned Watercraft and the Archaeological Site Formation Process” for $22.00 (paperback) or $11.00 (e-book).

If you are interested in contributing to a joint SHA published volume, please contact SHA’s Co-Publications Editor, Benjamin Ford (


Ships’ Graveyards: Abandoned Watercraft and the Archaeological Site Formation Process
Nathan Richards
Number of pages: 304; 15 tables; 50 figures

Society for Historical Archaeology Special Publication

Ships graveyards was originally published in 2008 as an SHA/University of Florida Press Co-Publication. The 2022 publication is a Second Edition, published solely by the SHA.

Ships’ Graveyards is an explicitly theoretical study that avoids the single-site bias prevalent in most underwater archaeology research. It also eschews the traditional examination of shipwreck sites as the core component of study in this field.

Instead, Nathan Richards seeks to discover what we can learn by examining intentionally abandoned vessels and to determine what the differences are between cultural site formation processes and those created “naturally” (that is, by shipwrecks and other nautical disasters).

Using Australian waters as a case study, Richards examines over 1,500 vessels abandoned over a period of more than 200 years. In offering such a detailed focus on an underutilized archaeological resource, he provides a model for the examination of similar sites and processes in many other locations around the world.


MM: What are some of your motivations for writing/spearheading this book?

NR: This is the 2nd edition of the work. The book was derived from my PhD dissertation (Flinders University, PhD in Archaeology, 2002). I was lucky enough to have my adviser (Dr. Mark Staniforth) submit it to SHA for consideration as a part of the dissertation prize (now called the Kathleen Kirk Gilmore Dissertation Award), and I was honored to win the award in 2003 (presented in 2004). The award came with a contract with University Press of Florida, which co-published the 1st edition with SHA in 2008. Through my work at Flinders University I became very interested in the application of processual comparative approaches to maritime archaeological subjects (also thanks to Professor Donald Pate, here) as I was exposed to ship abandonment areas scattered around the coastlines of Australia. This is an ongoing interest of mine, and I’ve been lucky to work on similar sites across the USA, and in Bermuda and Costa Rica.

MM: Who would you like to read this book? Who is your audience?

NR: In 2008, I was hoping the book would provide a theoretically-explicit perspective for looking at maritime archaeological data, and to help continue the development of the study of ship graveyards and to glean insights from watercraft discard behaviors. In 2013, I was fortunate to co-edit a book with Sami Seeb that highlighted some of the perspectives of scholars in this area (as The Archaeology of Watercraft Abandonment, Springer Press). In 2022, I still feel I have the same motivations, but I think I’ve become more interested in communicating how behavioral archaeological approaches continue to have relevance and application to maritime archaeological subjects. Realizing ship abandonment is very much a niche subject, I’d hope the audience would include a broad cross-section of maritime researchers, from students and avocational audiences to heritage managers and academics.
MM: Now that you have published this book, what kinds of things are you dreaming up next? What is in the works?
NR: As an adherent to Michael B. Schiffer’s work, I am interested in research themes that run the length and breadth of the subjects he wrote about over many decades regarding archaeological site formation and technological innovation and change – but adapted to the maritime domain. I have partial manuscripts concerned with the use-lives of individual vessels and fleets (wrecked and abandoned watercraft) to themes of technological adaptation and human agency. The sites range from fleets of abandoned barges run aground in the Caribbean, ferrous-hulled shipwrecks lost in locations like Hawai’i, and amphibious landing craft in the sounds of North Carolina. I just need to find the time to finish one!

Thanks to SHA for the opportunity to publish a 2nd edition of the work.

Virginia’s Inland Waters Heritage Risk Assessment and Survey

by Elizabeth A. Moore (Virginia Department of Historic Resources)

Location: Multiple Rivers in Virginia

Problem: Virginia has 64 rivers, river branches, major creeks, and runs totaling 2,452 linear miles and is home to 3,285 square miles of submerged lands that represent 7.7% of the state. Inland waterways are being impacted by elevated storm frequency and intensity that results in increased erosion, flooding, and damage to natural and cultural resources. In 2018, Hurricanes Michael and Florence took an inland path in Virginia, impacting 52 counties and cities. It became clear that DHR does not have sufficient survey data for archaeological resources in and adjacent to our waterways to assess threats and mitigate further storm damage. Survey of historic resources in and along some of Virginia’s rivers was conducted in the 1990s and early 2000s, and was published in a series of River Atlases by the Virginia Canals & Navigation Society (VC&NS). Revisions have been made to some of the volumes since then, but no systematic survey has been completed to examine previously undocumented areas or to update the condition of known sites.

Project Description: This assessment and survey effort will examine approximately 157 miles of sections on the Smith, Rappahannock, Dan, Banister, Appomattox, Rivanna, James, and New Rivers. This work has been divided into a series of survey efforts to be conducted by qualified consultants. These surveys will identify, document, and reassess storm impacts to cultural resources along riparian zones in portions of the Coastal Plain, Piedmont, and Mountain and Valley areas. Prior to fieldwork, survey teams will examine existing site data, paying particular attention to the information in the VC&NS River Atlases and accompanying photographic documentation of site conditions. LiDAR data analysis of a 200 meter swath on either side of waterway banklines will identify landforms consistent with cultural materials. Those features will be cross referenced against historical documentation, maps, and informant interviews. Contact will be made with key stakeholders including federally and state recognized Tribes, local government staff, residents, and local recreation and conservation groups. Fieldwork will consist of staff visual examination of riparian zones via small craft. This work is supported with a grant from the National Park Service’s Emergency Supplemental Historic Preservation Fund managed by the State, Tribal, and Local Plans and Grants Division.

Impacts: Long term impacts to sites in and on Virginia’s waterways include destruction and loss of ruins and standing historic structures (mills, dams, bridges, etc.); erosion and potential loss of sites on riverbanks and floodplains; damage to and loss of numerous submerged sites such as fish weirs and channels; and site burial from siltation.

Action: Acquiring and analyzing survey and assessment data is only the beginning of mitigating potential damage from increased storm activity. That assessment must be used to prioritize documentation and data recovery efforts before sites are lost. Three of the survey projects have been contracted, and tribal consultation and fieldwork has been completed. Results from the first of these projects on the Banister River in Pittsylvania County have been submitted to DHR. In a 20 mile stretch of the river, 23 archaeological sites were documented, 22 of them previously unrecorded. These sites include wing dams, dams, historic erosion control walls, bridge abutments, a mill, and a possible sluice. Nine fish weirs were documented, only one of which was previously recorded.

This project surveys only a fraction of Virginia’s inland waterways; models must be developed to prioritize additional survey areas. Strategies to mitigate data loss including erosion control or resource documentation and data collection must be developed and implemented. Engaging the public has proven to be critical to successful fieldwork. Local residents not only know the easiest and safest ways to access the rivers, but are often knowledgeable about historic resources in the water and on the riverbanks. Recreation and conservation groups value natural and cultural resources and these groups can be important partners in further site documentation and preservation.

44PY0529, fish weir, looking north. Photo by Dwayne Pickett, Hurt & Proffitt.

44PY0529, fish weir, looking north. Photo by Dwayne Pickett, Hurt & Proffitt.

44PY0529, fish weir, plan view. Water level at USGS gauge 02077000 4.22 feet.

44PY0529, fish weir, plan view. Water level at USGS gauge 02077000 4.22 feet.

Erosion gully along the right bank next to site 44PY0529 looking south. Photo by Dwayne Pickett, Hurt & Proffitt.

Erosion gully along the right bank next to site 44PY0529 looking south. Photo by Dwayne Pickett, Hurt & Proffitt.

Site 44PY0537, possible dam remnants, looking northwest. Photo by Dwayne Pickett, Hurt & Proffitt.

Site 44PY0537, possible dam remnants, looking northwest. Photo by Dwayne Pickett, Hurt & Proffitt.

Site 44PY0539, bridge abutment, looking south along the right bank. Photo by Dwayne Pickett, Hurt & Proffitt.

Site 44PY0539, bridge abutment, looking south along the right bank. Photo by Dwayne Pickett, Hurt & Proffitt.

Site 44P0539 showing erosion along left bank looking northeast. Photo by Dwayne Pickett, Hurt & Proffitt.

Site 44P0539 showing erosion along left bank looking northeast. Photo by Dwayne Pickett, Hurt & Proffitt.

All graphics are from Archaeological Survey of the Banister River, Pittsylvania County, Virginia. 2021, submitted to the Virginia Department of Historic Resources by Dwayne Pickett, PrincipaI Investigator, Hurt & Proffitt, Inc.


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