Ground-Penetrating Radar as a Rapid Cultural Resource Management Technique for Shell Midden Delineation


The analysis of shell midden extent and thickness typically requires expensive and time-consuming excavation. Additionally, widely spaced test units provide limited and discontinuous stratigraphic information. Ground-penetrating radar (GPR) survey, in combination with stratigraphic information from limited excavation, can serve as a powerful tool for making rapid cultural resource management decisions. Although processing and correlating the data requires several days of additional time, this technique allows for quick and efficient data collection, is nondestructive, requires minimal staff, and provides a continuous record of vertical profiles across the site. The contrasting electrical properties of shell-rich horizons and associated sediments allow the identification of midden layers on the GPR records. When used with ground-truth, provided by stratigraphic information from limited excavation (photographs, hand-drawn wall profiles, and/or cores), the interpreter can extrapolate stratigraphic details across a site. While individual artifacts cannot be resolved in GPR records, accumulations of rocks, soil layers, and potential house floors may be identified. Although GPR cannot entirely replace a detailed excavation, an initial GPR survey of a shell midden site can provide information regarding site extent and vertical shell distribution. When combined with limited testing, GPR survey provides important data for decisions regarding excavation and site conservation.

Cite this Record

Ground-Penetrating Radar as a Rapid Cultural Resource Management Technique for Shell Midden Delineation. Jacquelynn Miller, Alice R. Kelley, Joseph T. Kelley, Daniel Belknap, Arthur Spiess. Presented at The 82nd Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Washington, DC. 2018 ( tDAR id: 443554)

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Abstract Id(s): 20094