Archaeological Survey Strategy

CAL FIRE and the USDA Forest Service
Date Revised: February 18, 2003

CAL FIRE Editorial Note: This article is an adaptation from a piece called "Survey Strategy for Archaeological Reconnaissance" written by the U.S. Forest Service for use in their archaeological training program. The date of the original piece and its authorship are unknown. CAL FIRE obtained permission to update it and use it the Reference Manual and Study Guide for the CAL FIRE Archaeological Training Program

There are many different methods a surveyor can use to conduct an archaeological survey of a CAL FIRE project. This article describes four different levels of archaeological survey intensity. These different levels of coverage are sometimes employed on large project areas as a means to concentrate survey intensity in those areas most likely to contain cultural resources. It is important to clarify, however, that many CAL FIRE projects are relatively small in size, and it is completely acceptable, even preferred, for the entire area to receive intensive survey coverage. This paper describes four different levels of survey coverage that can be used when larger project areas are divided into different zones of expected sensitivity.

An archaeological survey must be conducted within the entire site survey area (as defined in 14 CCR 895.1) for the project. The methods and techniques employed to achieve adequate coverage will vary based upon a variety of factors. These include the physical characteristics of the property, especially topographic and other environmental attributes, and other information gathered during the records check, in response to the Native American information request, and/or other prefield research, as well as the results of archaeological inventories in areas with a similar cultural and natural setting. There are four different levels of archaeological survey coverage intensity: complete, general, intuitive, and cursory. These are described below:

Archaeological Survey Strategy

A complete reconnaissance is one in which archaeologically-trained individuals systematically traverse the area at 10 meter intervals or less, looking carefully for all evidence of prior human activity. Team members usually walk abreast. All archaeological phenomena in a given area may not be visible or as easily definable at the same time: different seasons, varying light conditions, differential erosion, and deadfall cover will obscure the investigator's vision or reveal certain remains at different times. Nevertheless, most features should be observable to a trained surveyor walking over the entire area under investigation in a complete manner. Coverage shall be sufficient to allow the investigator to encounter the smallest of the archaeological sites likely to occur in the area under study. Spacing must be narrow enough and ground cover must be modified (if it is an observational problem) to the extent that will allow the investigator to locate the sites. If needed, ground cover modifications (e.g., systematic removal of duff) shall be used to allow inspection of mineral soil for evidence of human activity. During a complete reconnaissance areas will be encountered that could contain archaeological remains (such as prominent rock outcroppings, benches, suspicious-looking features, possible artifacts, etc.). These areas/features/possible artifacts should be intensively examined to determine if archaeological remains are present before transect coverage is resumed.

 A general reconnaissance is one in which an attempt is made to systematically cover an area as in a complete reconnaissance but with wider transect intervals. This might be due to steepness of slope, absence of water, or because of other physical conditions or observational constraints (e.g., deadfall, brush, steep slopes). Transect spacing may be increased to 30 meters where large areas are covered by thick duff.

Detailed inspection is given only to specific localities that exhibit previously identified characteristics that may be associated with the location of archaeological properties. Coverage is usually accomplished by traverses 30-50 meters apart. For example, if the reconnaissance is within a steep timberland and controlled studies show that remains of historic activities are not expected for the area and prehistoric sites occur only on benches and near springs, the investigator might then be justified in covering the area in a manner sufficient to locate those natural phenomena that have potential for association with the location of archaeological sites. Detailed inspection is reserved for those areas identified as archaeologically sensitive. Localities within low potential areas that shall receive detailed inspection in this study include springs, seeps, and low rises in flat plains.

A cursory reconnaissance is one in which the inspector gives the areas a quick field inspection rather than intensive coverage. Sometimes these areas can be examined by walking briefly through and checking likely or probable spots close to the line of travel. Such methods should be employed along with visual aids (e.g., aerial photographs) to ensure that specific localities that exhibit characteristics that may be associated with archaeological site locations are not overlooked. The environmental factors that should be scanned for have been mentioned above.