Comparative Analysis of Geophysical Remote Sensing Technologies for Integration into Departments of Transportation Environmental Decision-Making Process

Focus Area

Historic Preservation/Cultural Resources


Community & Cultural Concerns







Research Idea Scope

TERI Administrator Note (Added April 2008) – Related Research:

NCHRP 25-25/Task 21: Assessment of Geophysical Remote Sensing Opportunities at State Departments of Transportation for Incorporation into Archaeological Investigations  (Completed 2006)

Locating subsurface archaeological resources, delineating features within sites, testing for eligibility, and data recovery using historical excavation techniques dependent upon random sampling can be costly and inefficient. Too often, projects rely on “late discovery” clauses to handle previously unknown subsurface sites or sites with erroneously delineated boundaries or cultural features missed during the random sampling process. The cost for excavating sites using random sampling techniques is escalating, calling for the need to move to more efficient means of locating unknown sites and testing for cultural features within sites. Currently, no studies have compared the four major types of geophysical remote sensing technologies for archaeological resources: Resistivity, Magnetic Prospection, Ground Penetrating Radar, and Seismic. Traditionally these technologies have been used for intra-site analysis on known sites, excluding their potential for locating and delineating subsurface archaeological resources, and have been used mutually exclusive of one another.


The proposal is intended to be a focused approach using geophysical remote sensing to locate subsurface archaeological resources and to delineate cultural features within located/known sites. If done properly, this study could provide a means to streamline the environmental process for DOTs, provide better management information on archaeological resources, allow for integration of important cultural resource information early in the decision-making process, and in its broadest application, allow for collection of environmental data leading to development of climatic reconstruction’s. This proposal entails a systematic comparison of the four major geophysical remote sensing technologies to determine the following: 1) Which type(s) are best suited for inter-site versus intra-site survey? 2) Under what conditions do each remote sensing technique perform best (e.g., soil make-up, moisture)? 3) Is it cost effective to incorporate multiple types of geophysical remote sensing into DOT project delivery? The outcomes expected from this study are, first, to develop standards for what types of remote sensing work best under what conditions, which requires analyzing a broad range of environments and soil types. Second, to determine if any one method is more suited to cost-effective and accurate large-scale survey to avoid late discovery. Finally, to develop a best-practices manual to assist archaeologists in determining when and how to incorporate geophysical remote sensing into transportation projects.

Suggested By

TRB Research Needs Database, ADC10, Environmental Analysis in Transportation