Using LIDAR Data for the Detection and Analysis of Archaeological and Historical Cultural Resources

Focus Area

Historic Preservation/Cultural Resources


Community & Cultural Concerns




Under $99k


1-2 years

Research Idea Scope

TERI Database Administrator Notes: – Related research: Using LiDAR to detect cultural resources in a forested environment: an example from Isle Royale National Park, Michigan, USA; Julie M. Gallagher 1, Richard L. Josephs; Archaeological Prospection; Volume 15 Issue 3 (2008).  

This study is to test the applicability of high resolution LiDAR data as an effective tool for the identification of cultural resources for StateTribal Historic Preservation Offices. This project will review a variety of cultural resources including: earthworks; historic structures; mills; mines; roads; canals; trails; industrial sites; battlefields and abandoned communities, using LiDAR, to evaluate its applicability in the National Historic Preservation Act Section 106 process. The innovative aspect of this project is to expand the scale of the analysis from site-specific feature identification to the identification of potential resources within broader Area(s) of Potential Effect (APE) and to train review staff to recognize them. 

Research for this project will focus on historic and prehistoric resources routinely encountered during the Section 106 review process.  Resource types to be investigated include: earthworks, historic structures (including foundations, outbuildings/features, property boundaries), mill races, mining sites, roads, canals, trails, industrial sites, battlefields and abandoned communities or neighborhoods.

Steps in the research process will include: select previously identified, conduct background research, verify data in the field (visual inspection, GPS coordinate collection, photography, sketches), perform LiDAR analysis, and objectively review the utility of viewing LiDAR data as part of the Section 106 decision-making process.

Urgency and Payoff

This innovative use of LiDAR data would be a model for state and federal transportation agencies and SHPO’s to follow to collectively address a national need to accurately detect the location of cultural resources prior to federal undertakings. Given the high resolution of LiDAR data, it is possible to detect and identify extant archaeological resources that are otherwise not visible to the naked eye, not accessible, or are obfuscated by factors such vegetation cover. Most LiDAR projects tend to focus on cultural resources within smaller, project-specific subset of data. Utilization of LiDAR as proposed will enhance effective project planning and response to modern human use of the landscape. Having the ability to remotely examine a landscape provides a powerful tool to allow for more focused excavation strategies and more informed decisions about the possible affect any undertaking might have on a cultural resource. This applies in particular to resources that may not otherwise be visible or detectable until costly excavations have begun. The groups who can benefit from these technologies include the SHPO/TPOs, CRM groups, academics, planners and many federal and state transportation agencies.

Suggested By

Todd Tucky, Ohio Historical Society, Telephone: 614-297-2421.

[email protected]