Buried Site Created To Show Students How To Do Non-Invasive Research

April 08, 1998

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Prehistoric history is being made on an old farm site in Illinois. And high-tech history isn't far behind.

Archaeology students at the University of Illinois, with the help of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, have designed, built and buried a prehistoric domestic compound, complete with a ditch, embankment, palisade, long house, roasting and refuse pits, and burial mounds, all features typical of Eastern and Midwestern Native American cultures of 600 to 2,000 years ago.

Now nearly complete, the 2,500 square meter prehistoric suburb some seven miles northwest of the campus, is a test site -- a research center and training ground designed to teach other students how to do non-invasive archeogeophysical testing -- that is, how to use high-tech geophysical equipment to investigate archaeological sites with maximum efficiency and minimum disturbance. Once the equipment arrives, students and others, including private geophysical firms and the U.S. Army, will trade in their spades and brushes for electromagnetic sensors and laptop computers.

Located on U. of I. grounds leased to the U.S. Army, the site is called CATS -- Controlled Archaeological Test Site Facility for Training and Research in Archeogeophysics. Funds for building the CATS facility came from the U.S. Army's Construction Engineering Research Labs and from the National Park Service's National Center for Preservation Technology and Training.

"This is the first site of its kind in the nation, the first completed site for archeogeophysical research and training," said Eric Hollinger, an archaeology graduate student and intern overseeing CATS.

According to Hollinger, everything, down to the smallest detail, was created with historical accuracy -- and future testing -- in mind. Burial crypts were lined with logs, filled with pig carcasses, ceramic vessels and clam shells, then refilled with local and imported soils. Roasting pits were dug, fired and used several times, then left to stand a year before being refilled. Modern artifacts ­ nuts, bolts, bricks and empty paint cans, many of them found on the site, also were buried at various levels. Data of every conceivable kind -- spatial and geophysical -- were collected both before and after the construction. In this way, the site "provides the ideal context for experimentation and training with geophysical technologies and methods under controlled conditions," said John Isaacson, director of the Cultural Resources Research Center at USACERL.

Joyce Baird is using the CATS facility as the focus of her doctoral dissertation. A U. of I. archaeology graduate student, Baird will, in all probability, be the first person anywhere to experiment with multiple geophysical sensors in parallel -- using instruments such as electromagnetic sensors, ground-penetrating radar, and acoustical arrays, and possibly also infrared, resistivity and nuclear quadrupole resonance -- to detect archaeological aspects. The literature, she said, "shows that one sensor doesn't seem to be enough, particularly in the case of buried ordnance."

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
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