Spatial Patterning and Prehistoric Settlement Patterns, Cumberland County, North Carolina

2010 ESRI Southeast Regional User Group Conference

Sallie Vaughn

“The National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 requires large Federal construction projects, such as highway construction, to consider project impacts on historical sites. In preparation for the development of Interstate 295 in Cumberland County, North Carolina, URS Archaeologists excavated 13 sites along the corridor that ultimately will be impacted by road construction. During excavation, the location and characteristics of artifacts such as stone tools and pottery are collected. Artifact characteristics, such as stone tool shape or the form of a ceramic pot, assist in dating those artifacts to certain time periods. These characteristics are later recorded in a database which is used to generate a series of artifact density maps using ArcGIS. Archaeologists use artifact densities to interpret occupational patterns and settlement history. GIS is an effective tool in developing artifact densities and was used to support this project. Survey and artifact information easily translates to the GIS environment as a series of two-dimensional layers representing specific slices in prehistory. Neighborhood Statistics and Surface Analysis methods are then used to create artifact densities. Resulting maps provide visual interpretations of the archaeological record. The result is a set of grid-based surfaces similar to digital elevation models, where artifact density is recorded as the Z value, and for each distinct period of time, an artifact density surface is created. Artifact densities can further be analyzed by artifact type and used to interpret settlement and occupational patterns. Artifact density surfaces from particular time periods illustrate probable shifts in settlement preferences over 3,000 years. Also, clusters of similar artifacts, such as stone tools associated with hunting activities, are easily identified using density maps. Such information assists in the interpretation of land use during a specific period. Artifact density surfaces and maps included in the final report to NCDOT reinforce the intense research and analysis that went into the interpretations of prehistoric settlements. Archaeologists can use these maps and the report as a reference for future research in the Sandhills of North Carolina. The result of this project is the only permanent record of historic occupation of this site. Maps and artifact density surfaces enhance the understanding of the site history and ensure that this information is easily communicated in the future.”

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