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Remote Sensing in Archaeology

An Explicitly North American Perspective

Edited by Jay K. Johnson, with contributions from Marco Giardano, Kenneth L. Kva

Publication Year: 2006

The coming of age of a technology first developed in the 1950s.
All the money spent by the United States space program is not spent looking at the stars. NASA is composed of a vast and varied network of scientists across the academic spectrum involved in research and development programs that have wide application on planet Earth. Several of the leaders in the field of remote sensing and archaeology were recently brought together for a NASA-funded workshop in Biloxi, Mississippi. The workshop was organized specifically to show these archaeologists and cultural resource managers how close we are to being able to “see” under the dirt in order to know where to excavate before ever putting a shovel in the ground. As the book that resulted from this workshop demonstrates, this fantasy is quickly becoming a reality.

In this volume, eleven archaeologists reveal how the broad application of remote sensing, and especially geophysical techniques, is altering the usual conduct of dirt archaeology. Using case studies that both succeeded and failed, they offer a comprehensive guide to remote sensing techniques on archaeological sites throughout North America. Because this new technology is advancing on a daily basis, the book is accompanied by a CD intended for periodic update that provides additional data and illustrations.
with contributions by: R. Berle Clay, Lawrence B. Conyers, Rinita A. Dalan, Marco Giardino, Thomas J. Green, Michael L. Hargrave, Bryan S. Haley, Jay K. Johnson, Kenneth L. Kvamme, J. J. Lockhart, Lewis Somers


Published by: The University of Alabama Press


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pp. vii

List of Figures

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pp. ix-xiv

List of Tables

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pp. xv


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pp. xvii

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1. Introduction

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pp. 1-15

This book began in a conversation between Marco Giardino and me at the bar in Fitzgerald’s Casino during the summer of 2001. The bar top was embedded with video gaming screens and we had worked out a system whereby it took us nearly two hours to lose $10.00 playing blackjack. All that time we were supplied with “free” beer. Before going any further, I should mitigate this revelation by pointing out that Fitzgerald’s ...

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2. The Current and Potential Role of Archaeogeophysics in Cultural Resource Management in the United States

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pp. 17-32

The value of geophysical surveys in archaeological applications is increasingly recognized as project results are disseminated at conferences and in publications within the United States. As a result, use of geophysical techniques is becoming more common—particularly in research applications—as archaeologists come to realize the utility and efficiency of these powerful tools. The effectiveness of archaeogeophysics has ...

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3. A Cost-Benefit Analysis of Remote Sensing Application in Cultural Resource Management Archaeology

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pp. 33-45

Contemporary archaeological research in the United States is largely motivated by legislation set in place to protect archaeological resources from modern construction activities. The threat of destruction to these nonrenewable resources is increasing as the population grows and its impact becomes greater. Today, a large segment of North American archaeologists specialize in compliance archaeology. The protection of ...

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4. Airborne Remote Sensing and Geospatial Analysis

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pp. 47-77

Cultural resource management (CRM) consists of research to identify, evaluate, document, and assess cultural resources; planning to assist in decision making; and stewardship to implement the preservation, protection, and interpretation of these decisions and plans. Traditionally, archaeological methods used to accomplish these goals are time consuming, labor intensive, and expensive. Moreover, they rely on sampling ...

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5. Conductivity Survey: A Survival Manual

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pp. 79-107

Earth conductivity survey, also known as electromagnetic (EM) survey, measures the ability of the soil to conduct an electric current. The value, measured in siemens, is the reciprocal of resistivity (to convert to resistivity in ohm meters, divide the conductivity, in millisiemens per meter [mS/m], into one thousand [Bevan 1983:51]). This said, there is considerable difference in the way earth conductivity and earth resistivity ...

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6. Resistivity Survey

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pp. 109-129

“The soil is an historic document which, like a written record, must be deciphered, translated and interpreted before it can be used” (Barker 1995:12). Resistivity survey offers one means of “reading” the archaeological record. The “ink” on the page is the resistivity contrast between the archaeological record and the surrounding soil matrix. Reading is performed by scanning the site with a resistivity survey system and viewing ...

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7. Ground-Penetrating Radar

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pp. 131-159

Ground-penetrating radar (GPR) has recently gained a wide acceptance in the archaeological community as a method that can quickly and accurately locate buried archaeological features, artifacts, and important cultural strata in the near-surface. The GPR method has been especially effective in certain sediments and soils between about 20 cm and 5 m below the ground surface, where the targets to be ...

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8. Magnetic Susceptibility

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pp. 161-203

Magnetic susceptibility surveys occupy a unique niche in archaeological research distinct from other near-surface geophysical methods. Historically, susceptibility surveys have not been as widely employed as magnetometry, resistivity, or ground-penetrating radar surveys; however, recent field and laboratory-based applications together with advances in instrumentation have resulted in an increase in interest in the application ...

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9. Magnetometry: Nature’s Gift to Archaeology

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pp. 205-233

Magnetometry is one of the most productive prospecting methods employed in archaeology. It is a method that responds particularly well to the archaeological record because a variety of natural and cultural processes combine to generate numerous magnetic variations that point to subsurface features. It is almost as if nature designed the components of archaeological sites to be made visible by the magnetic variations they exhibit. ...

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10. Data Processing and Presentation

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pp. 235-250

The computer processing of magnetometry data is an activity that is nearly as important as collecting the raw data. It is also an essential activity given the volumes of information collected. Surveys with current instrumentation routinely approach coverage of from one-half to 1 ha per day, at sampling densities ranging from 4 to 60 measurements per square meter, meaning that tens of thousands of measurements ...

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11. Multiple Methods Surveys: Case Studies

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pp. 251-267

The foregoing chapters have demonstrated that a geophysical survey with a single instrument can provide much insight. Yet, most instruments respond primarily to a single physical property of the earth: magnetometry to soil magnetism, resistivity and electromagnetic induction to soil conductivity, and ground-penetrating radar (GPR) primarily to soil dielectric properties (Weymouth 1986:371). It is easy to conclude that ...

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12. Ground Truthing the Results of Geophysical Surveys

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pp. 269-304

Spectacular images of submound structures, Plains pithouse villages, and Spanish missions may convey the impression that most “good” geophysical surveys, like late-night television, leave little to the imagination. This impression is a result of an understandable tendency for geophysicists to distribute images from their most dramatic surveys. In fact, well-executed surveys often yield useful results that are not ...

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13. A Comparative Guide to Applications

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pp. 305-319

In this concluding chapter, I would like to revisit a few of the central questions relating to the incorporation of remote sensing into the protocol for cultural resource management (CRM) archaeology in the United States. As was intended, most of these questions have been addressed in some detail in the preceding chapters. The first question is, of course, is there a place for remote sensing within the laws and regulations ...

List of Contributors

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pp. 321-322

E-ISBN-13: 9780817380915
Print-ISBN-13: 9780817353438

Publication Year: 2006

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Archaeology -- Remote sensing.
  • Archaeology -- North America -- Remote sensing.
  • Indians of North America -- Antiquities -- Remote sensing.
  • Excavations (Archaeology) -- North America.
  • North America -- Antiquities -- Remote sensing.
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