Far Western at Geological Society of America

Image courtesy of Dr. Kathleen Nicoll.

Image courtesy of Dr. Kathleen Nicoll, Department of Geography, University of Utah.

 

Laura Murphy, Ph.D., represented Far Western’s Geoarchaeology department at the Geological Society of America Conference held in Baltimore, Maryland. Laura co-chaired, along with Justin Holcomb, Ph.D. candidate, a session titled: “Frontiers in Geoarchaeology,” combining 14 paper and 12 poster presentations on a variety of new field, laboratory, quantitative, and technological approaches for better understanding the archaeological record. Moreover, the session explored understudied environments, confronted issues of scale, and discussed how geoarchaeologists are building new models and paradigms to address the human and environmental past. Dr. Murphy presented a paper titled: “Toward a quantitative landscape geoarchaeology: Implications for hunter-gatherer land-use intensification and populations.” Invited keynote speakers included Dr. Rolfe Mandel, University of Kansas, Dr. Carlos Cordova, Oklahoma State University, and Dr. Kathleen Nicoll, University of Utah.

GSA
A complete list of presentations and posters can be found here:
GSA Presentations and GSA Posters

 

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FW Geoarchaeologists Help Map San Francisco Bay Area Prehistory

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Cores in the Far Western Geoarchaeology Lab.

Cores upon cores fill the shelves of the Far Western Geoarchaeology Lab in Davis. These long tubes of “dirt” tell us a lot about prehistoric landscape evolution, and thus can help determine whether or not a location might have potential for archaeological findings. In most situations, backhoe trenching is the most effective way to identify sites. When backhoe trenching is not possible, in urban areas for example, or when the potential depth for a site exceeds the range of mechanical excavation, we conduct hydraulic continuous-core sampling to identify sites.

Coring in San Francisco.

Coring in San Francisco.

 

 

When archaeologists dig through the layers of earth carefully, the different soils and buried surfaces can be visually seen. Cores do the same thing, like inserting a straw into a layer cake, sometimes reaching 65 feet below surface. Each four-foot section of the core is pulled up in two-inch-diameter plastic liners, brought to the lab, sliced down the center, and splayed open to reveal the stratigraphic layers.

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OSL samples from cores.

Dating the layers can be done in a couple of ways. Most often, radiocarbon dating is used to get close estimates of how old plant, bone, or shell is in a certain layer, or when now buried surfaces were exposed at the surface. Other times, however, there is not enough organic matter to be sampled. In those cases, Optically Stimulated Luminescence (OSL) dating can be used. OSL samples must be removed from their original location in complete darkness, and kept in the dark until tested to provide accurate dates. The dates for each layer let geoarchaeologists map similar types of strata throughout a particular location. This helps archaeologists figure out where sites might be buried.

Schematic Cross Section of Study Area in San Francisco.

Schematic Cross Section of Study Area in San Francisco.

 

Recently opened core exposing artificial fill at the surface (~1.5–2.4 meters below surface), underlain by recent alluvium (~2.5–3.5 meters below surface), and followed in turn by a dense prehistoric shell midden (~3.5–5.5 meters below surface) formed on a Pleistocene-age sand dune (starting ~5.5 meters below surface).

Recently opened core exposing artificial fill at the surface (~1.5–2.4 meters below surface), underlain by recent alluvium (~2.5–3.5 meters below surface), and followed in turn by a dense prehistoric shell midden (~3.5–5.5 meters below surface) formed on a Pleistocene-age sand dune (starting ~5.5 meters below surface).

 

 

 

Once buried land surfaces are identified in the cores, they can be sampled to not only determine their age and whether they contain archaeological materials, but also tested to see what types of small seeds, pollen, or other diagnostic material. This can be used to reconstruct the type of landscape that was present when that layer was at or near the surface.

Currently, Far Western Geoarchaeologists are using cores to map the potential for intact buried land surfaces below the historic-era extent of the San Francisco Bay. As ocean levels have risen, they have covered up landforms where people once lived. Recent findings indicate that we may be able to quite accurately map where some people lived for long periods of time, and perhaps returned over and over again generations later.

For interested archaeologists and non-archaeologists alike, we suggest reading: Waters, Michael R.,1992, Principles of Geoarchaeology: A North American Perspective. The University of Arizona Press.

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Naomi Scher, MA

Naomi ScherNaomi Scher

Ms. Scher joined Far Western in 2012 as one of our Geoarchaeologists. Naomi completed her Master’s specializing in geoarchaeology at Sonoma State University, in the Cultural Resources Management (CRM) program. She has over seven years of experience working in California prehistoric archaeology. Her experience includes working as an Archaeological Technician, Crew Chief, and Project Manager on a wide variety of survey, testing, and data recovery projects. As a geoarchaeologist at Far Western her duties include archival research, project coordination, sensitivity assessments, subsurface exploration, interpreting stratigraphic sequences and landscape evolution, and technical report writing. She has worked throughout California and the Great Basin for Far Western on projects that meet both State and Federal level standards.

 

Inventory
Evaluation and Testing
Effects Mitigation
Geoarchaeology
Sensivity and Constraints
Environmental Planning Support
GIS and Cartography
Monitoring
Public Outreach and Interpretation

Naomi’s Featured Projects

Naomi’s Featured Publications

Scher, Naomi B.

2012

A Geoarchaeological Context for the Greater Vacaville Area, Solano County, California. Unpublished Master’s thesis, Department of Anthropology, Sonoma State University, Rohnert Park, California.

Jack Meyer, MA

Jack Meyer Jack Meyer

 

Jack began doing California archaeology at the Anthropological Studies Center at Sonoma State University in 1992, where he studied the practice of geoarchaeology and its application to cultural resources management. His primary research interests include late Quaternary geology, paleoenvironments, landscape evolution, landform chrono-stratigraphy, site formation processes, the structure of the archaeological record, and the problem of locating buried sites. As an advocate for improving the multi-disciplinary relationships between archaeology and the earth sciences, he regularly integrates and synthesizes geological and archaeological datasets to identify where buried archaeological sites may or may not be located. He has directed hundreds of archaeological and geoarchaeological studies throughout California, including such large and complex projects as the Los Vaqueros Reservoir/Pipeline and the Sonora Bypass, and developed region-wide geoarchaeological overviews and assessments for the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) Districts 2, 3, 6, and 9, with others underway. Jack joined Far Western in 2006 where he is currently a Principal Investigator and Geoarchaeologist.
 

Inventory
Evaluation and Testing
Effects Mitigation
Geoarchaeology
Sensivity and Constraints
Environmental Planning Support
GIS and Cartography
Monitoring
Public Outreach and Interpretation

Jack’s Featured Projects

  • Caltrans District 2 Geoarchaeology
  • Caltrans Districts 6 and 9 Geoarchaeology
  • Sonora Bypass

D. Craig Young, PhD

D. Craig Young
Email Craig

 

 

Dr. Young is a Far Western Principal and serves as Director of cultural resources consulting and research at Far Western’s Great Basin Branch in Carson City, Nevada. Living and working in Nevada for over 30 years,Craig has been instrumental in assisting private industry and government agencies successfully navigate the regulatory process for projects across renewable energy, transportation, communications, and natural resources sectors. His direct engagement in active research, open collaboration, and public outreach provides a foundation for creative project management and continues to build trust with resource managers and review agencies across the region.

In addition to guiding and collaborating with the skilled Far Western team, Craig is an active scientist working daily in western North America. His research interests include environmental influences and geomorphological processes affecting archaeological site formation and, ultimately, people’s interaction with a changing landscape, and he has been awarded funding for geoarchaeological studies from the National Science Foundation, the Department of Defense, the Department of the Interior, and the Lincoln County Archaeological Initiative. With his colleagues at Far Western, he applies this research to efficiently evaluate archaeological resources and better understand landforms where buried archaeological sites might be preserved and—all with the goal of navigating the project planning and implementation process.

Craig is also an avid photographer, musician, and trail runner.  

Inventory
Evaluation and Testing
Effects Mitigation
Geoarchaeology
Sensivity and Constraints
Environmental Planning Support
GIS and Cartography
Monitoring
Public Outreach and Interpretation

Craig’s Featured Projects

Craig’s Featured Publications

 

Madsen, David B., Charles G. Oviatt, D. Craig Young, and David Page

2017

Old River Bed Delta Geomorphology and Chronology. In Paleoarchaic Occupation of the Old River Bed Delta, edited by David B. Madsen, Dave N. Schmitt, and David Page, pp. 30-60. University of Utah Anthropological Papers No. 128. University of Utah Press, Salt Lake City.

Young, D. Craig, and William R. Hildebrandt

2017

Tufa Village (Nevada): Placing the Fort Sage Drift Fence in a Larger Archaeological Context. Anthropological Papers of the American Museum of National History, No. 102. New York City, New York.

Young, D. Craig

2014

Points on a Continuum: Three Sites in a Middle Archaic Settlement System in the Western Great Basin. In Archaeology in the Great Basin and the Southwest: Papers in Honor of Don D Fowler, edited by Nancy J. Parezo and Joel C. Janetski, pp. 85-97. University of Utah Press, Salt Lake City.

Craig’s Outreach Activities

  • Society of American Archaeology
  • Geological Society of America
  • Nevada Archaeological Association
  • Society of California Archaeology
  • Register of Professional Archaeologists

Cultural Resources Services

Far Western Anthropological Research Group, Inc. | Cultural Resources Management Services | Archaeology

Since 1979, Far Western has worked in partnership with private industry, government agencies, tribal organizations, and non-profit groups, to achieve the broader goals of the environmental review and compliance process. Today, we are recognized as one of the leading cultural resources consulting firms in the United States.
Main Office
(530) 756-3941
Bay Area Branch
(415) 413-1450
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(702) 982-3691
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(775) 847-0223

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and a Certified California Small Business

Cultural Resources Inventory
Geoarchaeology
GIS and Cartography
Cultural Resources Evaluation and Testing
Cultural Resource Monitoring
Environmental Planning Support
Outreach and Interpretation

Geoarchaeology


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Understanding archaeological sites and their settings

Our outstanding team of geoarchaeologists plays an integral role in nearly every one of our projects. They have been honored for their innovative studies by the Society for California Archaeology and the California Preservation Foundation.

Regulatory agencies and researchers need to identify buried archaeological sites, or the potential for such sites, early in the environmental compliance process to prevent costly construction delays. Geological work can also be applied to regional sensitivity studies for buried sites, paleoenvironment, site structure and formation, and assessments of integrity.

What we have accomplished:

  • Regional geoarchaeological overviews examine the effects of landform evolution on the visibility of the archaeological record to establish the potential for buried sites. We have mapped about 40% of California, and we’re still mapping!
  • We conduct project-specific, three-dimensional buried site sensitivity assessments by reviewing relevant geologic, soil, geotechnical, and archaeological data to establish a range for buried sites potential (from none to very high).
  • We frequently document site structure to assess site integrity and to identify undisturbed or intact archaeological deposits to be targeted by excavation crews.
  • We can provide a comprehensive site history through identification of both natural and cultural site formation processes.
  • We conduct paleoenvironmental research which has contributed to a growing body of knowledge of climate change and landscape evolution during human occupation.

How we search for and manage buried sites:

  • Within highly sensitive areas, we conduct subsurface geoarchaeological investigations in advance of ground-disturbing activities.
  • In most situations, backhoe trenching is the most effective way to identify sites.
  • In situations where backhoe trenching is not possible (e.g., in urban areas), or the site depth exceeds the range of mechanical excavation, we conduct hydraulic continuous core sampling to identify sites.
  • If a site is identified prior to construction and cannot be avoided, it can be mitigated without impacting critical-path schedules.