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SHPO's Guide to Archeological Survey, Assessment, Reports

ArcheologyBefore any survey or assessment fieldwork can be undertaken it is first necessary to research all available records relevant to the project area.  In Kansas the research and review portion of any project is referred to as Phase I background research.  The actual survey of the project area, whether reconnaissance or intensive, is called a Phase II survey, and the assessment of archeological sites, which determines the eligibility of a site for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, is referred to as Phase III testing. Phase IV testing refers to the recovery of artifacts for mitigation purposes.

Access the entire SHPO's Guide to Archeological Survey, Assessment & Reports in one printable PDF.

Record an archeological site.

The intent of cultural resources federal legislation is the consideration of potential impacts to archeological sites and other cultural resources that may result from federal undertakings. This is accomplished when the SHPO and agency officials consult to determine the best ways to avoid or minimize destruction or damage to them whenever possible. A key element in this consultation process in the National Register of Historic Places, which provides a reference list of archeological sites whose significance has been established. Significance is typically assessed with reference to a site’s research potential, although some sites, such as the Republican Pawnee Village (14RP1), also known as the Kansas Monument site, and the El Cuartelejo (14SC1) Pueblo site in Scott County, are unique in Kansas and are significant for that reason as well. While the National Register is referenced in the planning of undertakings, only general vicinity locations are given to the public for archeological sites listed there. Specific site locations are supplied by the SHPO to federal agencies and professional archeologists only when necessary, in order to protect the sites from vandalism and unauthorized collecting. When a project is proposed by a federal agency it is usually SHPO staff or a professional archeologist who reviews the project plans to determine if any National Register or potential National Register sites will be affected.

Phase I (Background Research) and Survey Methodology

To conduct a thorough and effective archeological survey of any project area, it is first necessary to know what historical information is already available for the area as well as what previous archeological work, if any, has been conducted in the vicinity. The place to start with this background research is with the report library and archeological site files maintained by the Kansas State Historical Society. These files are located in the Cultural Resources Division of the Kansas State Historical Society at 6425 SW 6th Avenue, Topeka, KS 66615-1099. To request access to these records contact the site file Records Manager at 785-272-8681, ext. 268, to set up an appointment. Because archeological site locations are exempt from the Kansas Open Records Act, access to these files is restricted to professional archeologists. The Cultural Resources Division also has available copies of the Kansas Prehistoric Archeological Preservation Plan (Brown and Simmons 1987), The Archeology of Kansas: A Research Guide (Logan 1996), Kansas Preservation Plan: Section on Historical Archeology (Lees 1989), and Kansas Archaeology (Hoard and Banks 2006), which supply background historical and archeological information for the State of Kansas. In addition, the Center for Historical Research, also at the Kansas State Historical Society, maintains collections of state General Land Office (GLO) maps, Sanborn insurance maps, historical atlases, diaries, journals, city and state records, and other historical documents that can be reviewed on site. Access to the State Archives & Library is available Tuesday through Saturday.

Archeological contractors are welcome to use the site files, maps, and related research materials at the Kansas State Historical Society facilities in Topeka. Our small staff can no longer offer research assistance or site file searches for those unable to travel to Topeka. We are though, able to offer qualified professionals (including archeologists, land managers, and tribal representatives) online access to archeological coverage through the Kansas Geographic Information System (GIS). Information such as site locations, site forms, survey areas, General Land Office (GLO) maps, and report references is available. 

Find an application for GIS access (along with a fee structure).

Finally, it is often the case that archeological research focuses on the search for information relevant to prehistoric archeological sites and fails to take into account the presence of historic archeological sites or historic structures. At a minimum, include a review of GLO maps for the project area. While GLO maps are available as a GIS layer, county atlases can only be accessed through microfilm records at the Kansas State Historical Society. While we prefer reference to county atlases, information from them is not required in Phase I background research. However, if the eligibility of historic sites is being assessed, county atlas information will be expected.

Designing Archeological Surveys

If consultation with the SHPO identifies the presence of archeological sites within a proposed project area, or the potential for sites to be present, the SHPO may recommend an archeological survey be conducted (Phase II survey). Based on the scope of a project, survey efforts may be conducted at different levels of intensity.

The reconnaissance survey is designed to provide a general impression of an area’s archeological potential and to record any large sites located in the survey area. Although a reconnaissance survey will seldom, if ever, provide sufficient data to insure identification of all archeological sites in an area, it should be possible to field check well known or previously recorded sites and collect information about their present condition. The survey would locate sites identified or predicted from background research (Phase I research) and delineate areas where sites are obviously lacking. Information can be gathered to indicate where certain kinds of sites are likely to occur, thus making possible a better-planned and more efficient intensive survey to follow.

The reconnaissance survey is the appropriate level of survey to use for projects in the initial stages of planning where large corridors or planning areas have been defined or when the secondary impacts of a project are being considered.

Projects that have reached a planning stage where specific areas or several alternatives have been identified, in which the project will have an impact, should receive an intensive survey.  This is a systematic detailed field inspection of the project impact area to locate all sites that might be impacted by the proposed construction.  Although not specifically designed to do so, an intensive survey can sometimes determine the significance of sites located in the survey area and supply information necessary to determine their eligibility for nomination to the National Register.  If the intensive survey does not provide sufficient information for a determination of eligibility and if the project cannot be altered to avoid the site or sites, additional assessment of the archeological sites through subsurface testing (Phase III testing) may be necessary before the project can proceed.

Communication between the contract archeologist (principal investigator) and the contracting firm, the federal agency, the project planners and engineers, and the SHPO at the initiation of a survey can be beneficial to everyone. The contract archeologist should be familiar with the design details of the project in order to insure that all elements of the project, such as known or future borrow areas, access roads, utility corridors, etc., that require survey, are identified.  Depending upon the size of the project and the anticipated construction schedule, it is sometimes more economical for the contracting firm or agency to include plans for reconnaissance surveys of any areas designated for future expansion in the contract for an intensive survey of an area where immediate construction is planned.

When planning a survey, the archeologist and the contracting firm or agency should be aware of the full nature of the impact of the proposed project. The area affected by a construction project may be larger than that indicated on the project plans. For instance, pipeline construction will involve digging a relatively narrow trench; however, activities associated with the ditch digging, such as constructing or creating access roads, grading stream banks so equipment can cross, storing backdirt from the excavated trench, and backfilling and bringing the surface back to grade, will impact a corridor larger than the width of the pipeline trench itself. An intensive survey along a specific pipeline route should take such factors into consideration.

Projects such as flood control reservoirs, watershed structures, and game management area ponds or marshes will often have secondary impacts associated with them in the form of public use areas, roads, parking lots, boat ramps, marinas, picnic areas, cabin sites, etc. The archeological survey for such a project should include not only the area to be inundated, but also those areas above the maximum flood pool that will be affected by construction of the water impoundment.

The project examples given above are only a sample of the wide variety of projects with the potential to impact archeological sites. Communication between the contracting firm or agency, the contract archeologist, and the SHPO can result in the design of a survey for each specific project that will be beneficial for Kansas’ archeological resources, insure compliance with appropriate regulations and legislation, and produce the most cost-effective project both in terms of fieldwork and assuring the project’s uninterrupted progress through all stages of planning and construction. Prior to the archeological survey, the federal agency and the SHPO should have an agreement on the defined APE of the project. Planners, engineers, archeologists, or any person needing advice or comment on the design of a survey for a particular construction project located in Kansas should consult frequently with SHPO staff.

Survey Methodology

The SHPO has developed minimum guidelines for archeological survey methodology that should be used by professional archeologists in completing surveys in compliance with federal laws. These guidelines have been developed based on a review of requirements in adjacent states and statistical studies documenting the effectiveness of various survey methodologies. Based on this review, the SHPO has identified two types of appropriate survey methodologies based on the percentage of ground surface visibility (gsv) in a given area. In areas of 40 percent or greater gsv, the SHPO recommends a pedestrian survey of the project area utilizing a maximum survey transect spacing of 15 meters. In areas of less than 40% gsv the pedestrian survey should be supplemented by shovel testing. Shovel tests should be excavated on staggered transects (see below) no more than 15 meters apart. Shovel tests should be hand excavated and a minimum of 35 centimeters in diameter. They should be excavated 10 centimeters into sterile sub-soil (B-horizon), 10 centimeters below the plow zone, or 10 cm below cultural levels. Shovel tests should be excavated utilizing vertical control, with levels not to exceed 15 centimeters in depth. All excavated material should be screened through ¼ inch or smaller hardware cloth. Since SHPO staff members are aware of the logistical difficulties of shovel test screening, heavy clay may be hand sorted at the discretion of the principal investigator.

Additionally, if proposed construction is designed to impact three or more feet below the ground surface, the investigation should test for the presence of deeply buried archeological sites. This buried site testing can be conducted in a number of ways, including the excavation of a representative sample of shovel tests to the anticipated depth of construction disturbance, the excavation of hand-auger tests in the base of a sample of shovel tests, a geomorphological investigation utilizing a backhoe, etc. This deep testing should be sufficient to evaluate the potential for buried sites to the depth of any proposed construction activities. If the project area is believed to have little or no potential for containing buried sites, the justification for this belief, and the supporting documentation should be fully discussed in the project report.

Shovel testing of slopes exceeding 25 degrees is not required due to the low probability of these features containing surface archeological deposits. However, these slopes and particularly cut-banks or erosional exposures should be visually examined for buried archeological materials.

SHPO staff members are aware that field conditions can be highly variable and that the procedures outlined above may not be appropriate in all circumstances. Therefore, if the contract archeologist (principal investigator) intends to utilize a survey methodology other than that specified here, it is strongly recommended s/he contact the SHPO office prior to initiation of archeological fieldwork to seek approval of his/her survey plan. Project reports documenting a methodology less intensive than that outlined above will be returned as inadequate if the methodology utilized is not adequately justified.

Survey Techniques and Ground Surface Visibility

Standard archeological techniques such as pedestrian survey and shovel testing are often limited in their ability to locate sites during the survey phase, particularly when sites are buried. While pedestrian survey is not always appropriate in situations of poor ground surface visibility, shovel testing is often time consuming and expensive. Because the discovery of an unidentified archeological site can cause project delays and increased costs once construction is underway, SHPO encourages federal agencies and archeologists involved in compliance projects to develop alternative ways of increasing ground surface visibility and increasing the likelihood of discovering archeological sites during the survey phase.

SHPO staff support the use of shallow (6-8” depth) plowing in areas that can be documented as previously plowed and believes that the use of carefully controlled burns can dramatically increase ground surface visibility in other areas. It may also be appropriate to selectively utilize shallow plowing in areas where no previous ground disturbance can be documented, such as virgin prairie setting, if construction of the project itself will ultimately cause more extensive disturbance to these areas. SHPO encourages discussion regarding the use of these techniques prior to any archeological fieldwork and looks to archeological contractors and federal agencies to provide additional suggestions for increasing ground surface visibility that may be appropriate for individual project areas. Because project construction will ultimately cause significant disturbance to some project areas, SHPO staff believes selective use of mechanical means for increasing ground surface visibility in these areas can be justified.

Site Definitions

The SHPO in consultation with the State Archeologist has developed the following definitions for prehistoric and historic archeological sites. These definitions are intended as minimum guidelines for the recording of archeological sites during surveys conducted in compliance with federal laws and regulations. These definitions are not all inclusive and variables such as ground surface visibility, landform, and professional knowledge of the project area should be taken into account when applying them. All artifact concentrations meeting or exceeding these minimal definitions should be recorded as archeological sites and submitted as such on a Kansas State Historical Society Archeological Site Form (Site Form). Site forms may be submitted in hard copy or electronically via the Kansas State Historical Society web page. Find a href="/p/archeology-site-files/14661">instructions for electronic submission. Once the State Archeologist receives site forms and a topographic location map, official trinomial designations will be assigned and the recorder notified by email.

A prehistoric archeological site is defined as any one of the following: 1) three or more artifacts within a 20 x 20 meter area; or 2) one diagnostic artifact; or 3) one human-made feature. Isolated finds, including a single utilized flake, a single piece of pottery; or one or two unmodified flakes should not be recorded as archeological sites unless mitigating circumstances such as dense vegetation or the nature of the landform indicate the potential for the presence of additional unobserved artifacts.&Isolated finds, other than diagnostic artifacts as noted above, should be indicated on project maps and briefly discussed in the project report, but should not be documented on Site Forms.

A historic archeological site is defined as any human-made feature 50 years of age or older, dating to the historic period.  This definition includes trash dump areas, but not diffuse scatters of historic material.  Diffuse scatters of historic material should be noted on project maps and briefly described in the project report, but should not be recorded on Site Forms.  Isolated historic artifacts such as amethyst-colored glass and dateable ceramics, although diagnostic in nature, should not in themselves be recorded as sites.  Isolated historic period residential/farm related windmills, stone walls, fence lines, or relict shade trees should not be individually recorded as sites; however, they should be recorded as site features when they are part of a larger site containing other historic features.  Bridge remnants, including abutments, should be recorded as archeological sites when the bridge decking and superstructure are missing.  Bridges with intact superstructures are recorded as historic structures, not archeological sites.

Defining Site Boundaries

During archeological fieldwork and in the preparation of archeological site forms it is important to illustrate site boundaries as accurately as possible. In areas of greater than 40% ground surface visibility (gsv) site boundaries should be defined based on the surface scatter of historic or prehistoric artifacts.  In areas of less than 40% gsv, site boundaries should be defined based on the presence or absence of artifacts in excavated shovel tests.  Shovel tests should be excavated on transects at an interval not to exceed 15 meters.  When artifacts are discovered, the transect should be completed at 15 meter spacing until two consecutive negative shovel tests are excavated.  Supplementary shovel tests should then be excavated at 5-meter intervals outward from the outer most positive shovel tests until two consecutive negative shovel tests are encountered (see below).  In this manner, the outermost ring of positive shovel tests should be used to define the boundary of the site.

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