A Synthesis of Best Practices in the Controlled Burial of Significant Archaeological Sites in Transportation Projects

Focus Area

Historic Preservation/Cultural Resources


Community & Cultural Concerns






Under 1 year

Research Idea Scope

The recovery of information from significant archaeological sites affected by transportation projects is a widespread and generally accepted practice throughout the United States. Archaeological data recovery, however, is very costly (usually in excess of $250,000, often significantly more), can be time consuming, and results in the controlled destruction of the site by archaeological means. One alternative to archaeological data recovery is the controlled burial of significant sites under highway fill when engineering circumstance allows. While some literature exists on controlled archaeological burial, no research exists that examines this practice in a transportation context. This project will provide a national synthesis of this practice in transportation projects, assess the effectiveness of the practice from both preservation and cost perspectives, and develop specifications for this practice when circumstances permit its use.
Objectives and Benefits
 This synthesis will provide transportation agencies with necessary background and guidance for the practice of controlled archaeological burial. Specific questions to be addressed include:
  • What research literature is currently available concerning the practice of controlled archaeological burial on an international basis regardless of transportation application?
  • How often has the practice of controlled archaeological burial been employed in transportation projects, and under what circumstances?
  • Has the practice been considered acceptable by historic preservation agencies?
  • Was consideration given to the potential compaction of archaeological deposits under highway fill? If so, what actions were taken to offset compaction? Was the degree of compaction measured? 
  • What special materials (e.g. geotextile fabric) or specifications were used in the implementation of the practice?
  • Is the practice cost-effective relative to the archaeological data recovery?
  • What actions or considerations are necessary to document that a significant archaeological site is present beneath highway fill and to assure its long-term protection?
The results of this study will inform transportation agencies with the necessary information to evaluate the applicability of controlled archaeological burial in transportation projects, to justify the applicability as appropriate to regulatory agencies, and to develop specifications for its implementation during highway construction.

Urgency and Payoff

The research will be effective if it allows transportation projects to move forward more quickly and with less expense while preserving significant archaeological sites intact under controlled burial conditions.

Suggested By

TRB Research Needs Database, ADC50, Historic and Archeological Preservation in Transportation