Evaluating and Predicting the Effects of Vibration from Construction and Use of Transportation Structures on Buried Archaeological Deposits

Focus Area

Historic Preservation/Cultural Resources


Community & Cultural Concerns







Research Idea Scope

Purpose of research is to determine the potential effect to buried archaeological deposits from the construction and subsequent operation of transportation facilities.  Because the typical method of archaeological mitigation (data recovery) can be very time consuming and costly, the controlled burial of significant archaeological sites under highway fill or encapsulation under asphalt or cement has been implemented on occasion as an alternative, based on the presumption this essentially acts to preserve the archaeological deposits and the integrity.  However, little research exists to effectively evaluate vibration impacts, long term effects of vibration and compaction on archaeological sites nor the effectiveness of site burial as a mitigation measure. This project will gather base data for predictive modeling, synthesize this data with existing data and evaluate its applicability to archaeological issues, develop a framework for predictive modeling in evaluating adverse and cumulative impacts from transportation projects and assist in decisions as to appropriate mitigation measures.

 Specific objectives include:

1. To determine the levels, depth, distance and effects of vibration from the construction and use of transportation structures in differing subsurface environments. What are the degrees of compaction and mixing results from vibration levels over the short and long term in various types of sediments from construction and facility use?

 2. What research literature is currently available concerning the surface and subsurface effect of vibration during construction and use of transportation facilities; can this be applied to archaeological issues? Vibration data is recorded on test pile(s) for analysis prior to driving piles during bridge construction. Geologic cores are taken early in the project design phase to determine engineering design requirements. What form does this data take? Can this data, from previous construction projects, be used to interpolate vibration levels and possible damage to buried deposits in projects with similar subsurface stratigraphy? This knowledge would allow for more accurate assessment of effects on archaeological resources and the built environment at no extra cost for the agency. A body of data exists on the effects on surface and subsurface waves from earthquakes. Data also exists on vibration effects from trains on soil and nearby structures. Do engineering studies, modeling, experimental data already exist on effects of vibration on different types of subsurface deposits that can be applied to similar archaeological subsurface sediments?

 3. What effects does vibration have on archaeological materials? What are the thresholds for these effects? (i.e. does vibration and the resulting compaction only effect the individual artifacts or is vibration significant enough to also destroy stratigraphic relationships? What are the vibration thresholds for these effects in the short and long term?)

Once disseminated in print and by electronic media, the findings of this study may be incorporated by transportation agencies, in consultation with their preservation partners, on a project-by-project basis, or in programmatic stewardship/streamlining agreements.

Urgency and Payoff

The results of this study will supply transportation agencies with the necessary information to evaluate:

  • The effectiveness of controlled archaeological burial under or near transportation structures with varying subsurface stratigraphy.
  • Develop predictive models for vibration impacts on cultural resources from construction and use of transportation structures in the short and long term.
  • To help justify the extent of data recovery and costs to regulatory agencies, when burial and encapsulation is not an appropriate preservation strategy.
  • To develop specifications for design and construction techniques and/or site burial requirements.
  • This type of information will improve accuracy of evaluation effects, identify issues early in the process which can effect project timelines and ultimately cost, improve decision making.  The end result will provide highway planners and preservation personnel with a valuable tool to assist in project streamlining while at the same time broaden opportunities for better stewardship of archaeological resources. 

The community which will benefit from this research includes AASHTO, FHWA, local transportation agencies, State Historic Preservation Officers (SHPOs), the National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers (NCSHPO), the federal Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, the National Park Service, environmental and engineering consultants.

Suggested By

John Hartley, FHWA/TRB ADC50, Telephone: 405-605-6040 x 316

[email protected]