Mapping Culturally Significant Vegetation Along ODOT Highways: Implications for Archaeological Probability Modeling and Streamlined Project Delivery

Focus Area

Historic Preservation/Cultural Resources


Community & Cultural Concerns




Under $99,000


Under 1 year

Research Idea Scope

While archaeological sites are relatively prevelent in Oregon, they are an important and non-renewable resource vital to our knowledge of the past. Destructive impacts to archaeological sites can occur from highway construction and maintenance. Archaeological sites are protected under various state and federal laws and state and federal agencies have an obligation to protect them from unnecessary harm. As an Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) Archaeologist, I am tasked with just that responsibility. Agency Archaeologists do have tools at their disposal to identify known sites and they commonly hire consultant archaeologists to conduct field investigations to identify any previously undiscovered archaeological sites. However, archaeological materials are generally located below the ground surface and therefore costly and time consuming to identify and can threaten timely project delivery. The archaeological record shows that both permanent and seasonal Native American habitation sites were commonly located near important natural resources including camas, bull rush, lomatium and salmonberry to name a few. Predictive modeling based on the locations of culturally significant plants within the ODOT right-of-way could greatly assist in identifying high probability areas for subsurface archaeological resources. I propose a pilot program to identify one culturally significant plant common in Western Oregon: Camassia spp. Also known as camas, this starchy bulb was – and continues to be – a very important resource for Native American peoples. Camas plants have distinct dusty to deep lavendar flowers which bloom in early summer. To conduct this research, I would travel the highways of Western Oregon during peak flowering to identify clusters of camas. I would map these clusters with a resource grade GPS unit. These coordinates would then be transferred to a GIS program as a data layer. This layer could then be used in conjunction with existing cultural resources databases or as a stand alone layer for predictive modeling for project planning. Future research could involve other culturally significant plants or other resources such as material sources or freshwater springs.

Urgency and Payoff

There will be multiple benefits to this project: Primarily, the ability to predict archaeological probability will greatly aid in and streamline cultural resources management for ODOT project development. Secondly, the information could be shared with interested Tribal Nations to help bolster their own ethnobotanical researchs and could lead to intergovernmental research partnerships. Third, the data gathered could be correlated with known cultural resource information to provide a much broader cultural landscape which would benefit the Oregon Archaeological community at large and reduce the chances of inadvertently damaging an archaeological site. Fourth, this same concept could, in the future, be used as a pilot program for including other culturally significant resources into the predictive model such as high quality lithic material sources and culturally significant viewsheds.

Suggested By

Tobin C. Bottman, Oregon Department of Transportation