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Characterization of Archaeological, Physical and Geological Features at Bandon Marsh NWR in Oregon using Ground Penetrating Radar

Ground penetrating radar research at Brandon Marsh NWR A 400-acre tidal marsh restoration project, the largest ever attempted in Oregon, is scheduled for the Ni-les'tun Unit of Bandon Marsh NWR in the summer of 2009. Diked and converted to pastures by European settlers in the late 1800's, marshlands within the Ni-les'tun Unit were used by Native People for thousands of years for hunting and fishing, and traditional fishing weirs are still visible along the Coquille River on and adjacent to the site. Six cultural sites, including two on the National Register of Historic Places, are currently known to exist on the Unit, but much of the Unit remains to be surveyed. Locating and mapping all cultural resources on the Ni-les'tun Unit is a critical first step in the marsh restoration process.

In the summer of 2005, Oregon Coast NWR Complex Biologist Dave Pitkin designed and implemented a project that brought together a diverse team of professionals to deploy ground-penetrating radar (GPR) on the Ni-les'tun Unit. The idea was to use GPR, a technology that allows researchers to "see" underground without disturbing the soil, to locate, characterize, and map buried archaeological, physical and geological features, including cultural resources, historic tidal and creek channels, buried woody debris and related stratigraphy. To ground-truth the GPR, a series of core samples would be taken along GPR transect lines to reveal exactly what the GPR was seeing.

Although GPR has not been widely used in saltmarsh environments, discussions with leading experts suggested that GPR could be an effective tool for surveying under brackish soil and groundwater conditions, provided salt levels were not excessive enough to block radar penetration. Fortunately, the salt levels posed few difficulties, and the team was able to begin to construct a picture of a very complex site, both geologically and archeologically.

Three very important cultural resource sites were grid-surveyed using GPR, including one previously uninvestigated site adjacent to the refuge which actually extends into the refuge and appears to contain at least two pit house floors and several buried middens. This site appears to extend to a depth of 2 meters, making it one of the deepest and perhaps one of the oldest cultural resource sites on the Oregon coast. Ground penetrating radar also yielded a very good record of the size, extent and location of historic tidal and freshwater stream channels, information which will be important in restoration design work. Although much data remains to be analyzed, it is already apparent that GPR has dramatically reshaped the design and planning for the restoration project.

The project was funded through the USFWS Challenge Cost Share grant program, and included partners from two tribes and five universities who donated facilities, equipment and thousands of hours of labor to the project. Partners included Dr. Scott Byram, Don Ivy, and Jenn Viksne (Coquille Indian Tribe); Stan Van deWetering (Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians); Dr. Loren Davis (Oregon State University); Dr. Mark Tveskov (Southern Oregon University); Dr. Harry Jol (University of Wisconsin Eau Claire); Dr. Larry Conyers (University of Denver); Dr. Curt Peterson and David Percy (Portland State University); Dr. Michele Punke, Oregon State University and Dr. John Baham, Oregon State University. Critical field and logistical assistance were provided by Dave Ledig, Rebecca Chuck, Khem So and Roy Lowe from the Oregon Coast NWR Complex. For more information on this still unfolding project, contact Dave Pitkin at dave_pitkin@fws.gov.

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