Where in the hell am I?

Stories from the road, and home, by a contract archaeologist.

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Location: Texas, United States

I work out of town a lot as a contract archaeologist. Sometimes it's interesting. It can be quite funny, although probably only to other archys. Home is Austin, with my wife and our cute kitty and all of our crazy friends.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Evaluating impacts

It's kind of funny to be spending my week looking at bridges that are to be replaced and evaluating the potential for archaeological deposits within the area of potential effects (APE)(which we never say as "ape" but as a.p.e.). In some ways, it's what some would call a reconnaissance survey, where you don't dig but merely inspect the ground surface for artifacts. But in a lot of states, that's pretty much all one does. If there's enough stuff and it looks like there might be features, then you go to test excavations. In our case, even if we don't see artifacts, that doesn't mean that the work is done. We also have to assess the area for levels of disturbance, soils, and other factors that would preclude the APE having the potential for buried archaeological deposits. Ideally, intact, significant archaeological deposits but that's a little more difficult to assess.
Today, for example, we examined three bridges at tributaries or back/flood channels of the Colorado River, in Matagorda County. Two of them were basically built on floodplains with extensive wetland areas, and the entire APE, which consists of the existing highway right-of-way (ROW, which we do say as "row"), was built entirely on imported roadfill. This is to avoid flooding of the roadway. In these cases, it's easy to say "There is no potential for the APE to contain intact archaeological deposits." It's as much as 12 feet of road fill, and the surrounding area is basically marshland and not a preferred setting for human settlement (Western Louisiana not withstanding). One of the crossings, however, crossed a relict terrace of the Colorado River and was situated well above the drainage floodplain. Furthermore, the portion of the road on this terrace did not have a major fill section (it's basically above the normal high water mark). Finally, the ROW was pretty wide in this area, meaning that some portion of the ROW appeared to be intact natural soils that had not been totally disturbed by road construction. Of course, it was blanketed in poison ivy, so I couldn't really examine the ground surface for artifacts. But in my report, I'll have to say that at least a small portion of that bridge project contains at least some potential for buried cultural materials. It's up to the client whether to have a survey done on this minor area or recommend that construction activities in this area avoid the potentially intact ground.
Reading that is about as exciting as doing it, but I've gotten to see a lot of new parts of southeast Texas, for better or worse.

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