Phase III (Data Recovery) Investigation Field Standards


  • If an archaeological site is determined eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, or already listed on the National Register, and will be adversely affected by a project reviewed by the Section 106 process, the lead federal agency is responsible for preparing and executing a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with all appropriate parties.
  • This MOA will include a Phase III mitigation, data recovery or treatment plan (discussed below).  All parties must review and approve this plan before the MOA is signed.   
  • Investigators should inform the Louisiana Division of Archaeology about their schedule of fieldwork for Phase III projects in order to provide the opportunity for Division personnel to visit the site(s).
  • In most cases, Phase III data recovery is done to exhaust a site’s research potential that is within a particular project area.

Data Recovery Plan

  • Data recovery projects must have a plan for controlled scientific excavation and data retrieval.  An archaeologist qualified under Secretary of Interior standards must direct the project.
  • The excavation proposal shall include a definite set of research objectives, taking into account previous relevant research and pertinent portions of the Louisiana Comprehensive Archaeological Plan (Smith et al. 1983).  The proposed data recovery plan should be sufficient to address the research objectives.  If the information recovered during a data recovery project is insufficient to address a research question proposed in the data recovery plan, this should be noted in the appropriate portion of the report on the Phase III investigation.
  • The data recovery plan shall provide for recovery of appropriate samples necessary for answering specific research questions.
  • The data recovery plan shall specify and justify the method and techniques to be used for recovery of the data contained in the property. Provisions for data analysis, interpretation, and preparation of a scholarly final report shall also be included.
  • Investigators must submit site update forms for all sites investigated to the Division of Archaeology that report the results of the data recovery project.
  • Data recovery plans must also contain curation statements that describe the disposition for all artifacts, archaeological samples and associated records obtained during a data recovery project.

Field Methods

  • Given the wide diversity of sites examined in Phase III investigations, the Louisiana Division of Archaeology expects considerable variation in the strategy to address data recovery goals.  Once reviewed and accepted by the Division of Archaeology, investigators must clearly present this strategy in the report that is submitted to the Division.  Generally, however, Phase III investigations involve such endeavors as block excavation units, additional archaeological test units, site mapping, feature recordation, mechanical stripping, trenching, and artifact analysis, among other possible techniques.

Archaeological Site Mapping

  • Investigators conducting Phase III investigations must generate a site map that provides topographic contours, using the metric system, which shows the locations of all excavation units and their spatial relationship to other surface and subsurface elements of a site.
  • All maps must have a north arrow, a scale and present a grid.  If a site grid deviates from magnetic or geographic north, the angle of deviation must be shown on the map’s legend.
  • Investigators must use a GPS device to locate at least four UTM grid locations and the site’s datum point during Phase III investigations.  These UTM coordinates will facilitate the use of a site map in the Division’s GIS database.
  • Maps of Phase III data recovery efforts must record, where appropriate, the placement of previous investigations such as shovel tests, test units, areas remotely sensed, etc. at an archaeological site.

Phase III Excavations

  • Archaeological excavation units must be excavated in a professional manner that records the vertical stratigraphy of a site, as well as the horizontal distribution of archaeological features and artifacts. 
  • The size and placement of excavation units at an archaeological site are crucial to recovering the appropriate archaeological data from a site.  The units must be appropriate to the site, with consideration of vegetation, topography, structures, and other landscape features.
  • Phase III archaeological data recovery may also involve additional shovel testing and the excavation of additional test units that must be explained in the report.
  • The measurements of all Phase III archaeological investigations must be in the metric system.  Other systems may be used or recorded, but metric equivalents must also be provided.
  • Phase III excavation units and other procedures must be located on a grid system referenced to a site datum.  Vertical control of all excavation units must be maintained as they are dug.  

Phase III Recordation

  • Phase III projects must have at least one overview photograph of the site in order to record the setting and field conditions.
  • Photographs of appropriate excavation unit walls and floors, as well as cultural features, must be recorded in the field.  The photographs must include a menu board that contains, at a minimum, the date, site number, excavation unit, and object being recorded.  Photographs must also include a scale and north arrow.  If the excavation being photographed is too large or small to accommodate a menu board notation, this information should be recorded and presented in the caption of a photograph in a report or item curated with the Division.
  • Field illustrations must reliably record such items as stratigraphy, artifacts, features, etc. in a precise manner that provides location information about the excavation units.  These illustrations must also provide compass orientation and scale.  Munsell Soil Color designations must be used for all soil colors in illustrations.
  • All excavated soils must be screened through ¼ inch, or finer, mesh.  Investigators must justify in the Phase III report why certain portions of an excavation performed as part of data recovery (e.g., gravel deposits, areas of disturbance, bioturbation, etc) were not screened.
  • The location of all special samples such as radiocarbon material, etc., must be recorded in the field.
  • Investigators must record the provenience of all cultural materials obtained during Phase III data recovery and maintain the separation of artifacts by provenience.

Human Remains

  • If prior work in a project area undergoing Phase III investigations has identified human remains, or indicated there is a high probability that human remains will be encountered during subsequent work, an Unmarked Burial Sites Permit must be obtained from the Division of Archaeology prior to beginning fieldwork.  The permit request must include a proposal detailing the process to be followed in the field and in the lab when human remains are encountered.  If the prior work has determined the remains will likely be Native American, consultation with the appropriate Tribe(s) must be initiated as part of the permit process and their concerns incorporated into the permit request.  If the remains are anticipated to be non-Native American, the efforts to identify descendents must be described and the descendents concerns incorporated into the permit request.  (Click here to see legislation.)
  • In the event human remains should be encountered during a Phase III project, work must stop immediately in the vicinity of the uncovered human remains.  Notice regarding the discovery must be made to the appropriate local law enforcement agency and the appropriate Parish Coroner's Office following the provisions of the Louisiana Unmarked Human Burial Sites Preservation Act (R.S. 8:671-681 et seq).  The State Archaeologist must be notified within 72 hours of the discovery.  Within 24-hours of notification, the State Archaeologist shall notify the Native American tribes that have indicated an interest in the area where the discovery of human remains was made.  The local law enforcement officials shall assess the nature and age of the human skeletal remains. If the coroner determines that the human skeletal remains are older than 50 years of age, the Louisiana Division of Archaeology has jurisdiction over the remains and will work out appropriate plans among property owners, appropriate Tribes, living descendents, and other interested parties to insure compliance with existing state laws.  No remains will be removed until jurisdiction is established and the appropriate permits obtained from the Division.
  • Human remains discovered during a survey on federal or Tribal lands are the responsibility of the lead federal agency under the terms of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA).

Field Collection Standards

  • Investigators must retain all non-bulk cultural material recovered during a Phase II investigation of an archaeological site.
  • Investigators must separate all archaeological materials by their provenience for curation.
  • Investigators can count or weigh bulk materials such as brick, mortar, plaster, shell, and gravel in the field or lab with only a representative 10% sample retained.  Bulk material samples submitted for curation may not exceed 250 grams (10.5 oz.) each without prior approval by the Division of Archaeology.
  • Investigators must retain all field notes, field forms, photographs, and other documentation for curation.
  • Catalog numbers for each site must be obtained from the Division of Archaeology.
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