Natural History Museum of Utah

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Using GIS & Integrated Data Systems

The foremost goal of archaeological work is to collect as much information as possible about each historic and archaeological site found.  Many sites will only be visited once by scientists and it is our responsibility to provide complete and accurate descriptions during the recording process.  The IMACS system was designed by representatives of several western states and federal agencies to standardize data collection and is an extremly useful tool.  Since 2002 nearly four hundred prehistoric sites have been recorded in Range Creek Canyon. Prehistoric site types include, rock art, granaries/cists, caches, structural remains, and artifact scatters.  Historic sites include irrigation, fence and trail systems, cabins, discarded trash and ranch equipment, rock art, and camp sites.  For each site survey crews complete an IMACS form, draw a sketch map, GPS site location, sketch artifacts and features and photograph key components of the site.


Hand Drawn Sketch and Scale Maps

Sketch maps are the quickest way to document the relative location of artifacts and features on an archaeological site. They are also the least accurate method. A hand drawn sketch map is produced for each site in Range Creek Canyon.  Students learn to record the location of archaeological features and artifacts in two dimensional space. Sketch maps are quick because they show artifacts and features in relation to each other but the distance between each object or feature is not measured.  A sketch map does not have a scale.  If the crew has more time they may draw a scaled map. This requires using a compass and pacing the distance between objects or using a 50-100 meter measuring tape to measure distance.  The type of map produced is determined by the crew chief and depends on the time available and the size of the site.     View Sketch Map


Global Positioning Systems (GPS)

GPS technology surveyors calculate their location anywhere on earth using satellite transmitted signals. Hand held GPS receivers calculate positions based on signal travel time from multiple satellites to the receiver.  Each survey crew in Range Creek Canyon carries a GPS receiver.  This allows crews to record the location of each site they discover.  Crews can also generate a fairly accurate site map by using GPS locations for each artifact, feature, or associated land form.  This data can be downloaded on computers in camp.  The principal difficulty with using GPS technology in Range Creek is the canyon's steep sidewalls and rough terrain which dramatically limits reception of satellite transmissions.  Accurate postions require a clear line of sight from at least four satellites.  Thus the survey crews must often rely on USGS topographic maps and hand drawn mapping techniques. 


Survey Grade Equipment

We use a Sokkia total station when we need high precision maps.  A total station consists of an electronic theodolite and an electronic EDM (electronic distance measuring).  The total station is capable of measuring angles accurately, and it calculates distance by emitting an infrared carrier signal that bounces off a reflector prism (at the location of interest), captures the reflected signal and calculates distance using the known speed of light.  Distance and angles are downloaded into a data logger which stores the information until it can be transferred to the computer where the data is stored and visualized using computer graphics.  The data logger has a theoretical precision of less than a centimeter; but for practical purposes we consider it accurate to about one centimeter.  Mapping an archaeological site often requires collecting hundreds, sometimes thousands of points (x, y, z coordinates).  Seven sites in Range Creek Canyon have been mapped using the total station, including the Wilcox Ranch Complex.     View Map


Artifacts

Since the Range Creek Research Project began about 1000 artifacts have been collected. The majority were collected from about one hundred archaeological sites and include pottery fragments, projectile points, drill/gravers, bifaces and waste flakes.  Artifacts made of organic materials rarely survive exposure to the elements and are extremly rare.  Recovered perishable artifacts include corn cobs, basketry fragments, snares, arrows, a tobacco bundle, and a wooden paddle-shaped object. Organic remains are extremely useful to scientists because they can be dated.  Radiocarbon dates from organic samples submitted for analysis indicate a major occupation in the canyon at approximately 1050 A.D.  Artifacts from Range Creek are on display at five Utah museums:  Natural History Museum of Utah, Salt Lake City; Museum of the San Rafael, Castle Dale; John Wesley Powell Memorial Museum, Green River; College of Eastern Utah Prehistoric Museum and the Field House of Natural History State Park, Vernal.     


Data Storage and Retrieval

Tremendous amounts of data have already been collected in Range Creek.  Our task is to organize and store this information in a relational database that is easy to access.  Information for each Range Creek site is stored in a folder that is linked to the site's location using ArcGIS software.  The database is updated frequently with the most recent edits generated by staff and students. The linked information includes site forms, site and feature photographs, sketch maps, artifact photographs and illustrations, artifact catalogues and analysis forms. When a site is selected on a map in ArcGIS the database retrieves all the information and displays the images and spreadsheets to assist with early stage exploratory analysis. Staff and students can search the Range Creek database by site number, name and/or type, location, year recorded, land ownership and many other keywords that allow them to group similar sites, detect patterning, and answer questions. The database also displays areas that have been surveyed and areas that still need to be surveyed, which makes for effective planning before each field season.