Phase I Archaeology Investigation



What is a Phase I Cultural Resource Investigation?

“The primary goals of Phase I Cultural Resource Investigations are to identify archaeologically sensitive areas, cultural/sacred areas, and standing structures that are at least 50 years old, that may be affected by a proposed project and to locate all prehistoric and historic cultural/archaeological resources that may exist within the proposed project area” (Standards, Section 2.0)

A Phase I investigation is the first step in determining whether a proposed project contains any potentially significant cultural resources. Specific tasks include Phase IA (literature and document review and sensitivity assessment) and Phase IB (field investigations). When accomplished according to the Standards, a Phase I study produces a final report that identifies sensitive areas and standing structures within a project area and tests that project for traces of the past. The Phase I report presents a summary of all the findings and recommendations either of no adverse impact (leads to an award of permit) or continuation to the next phase of investigation (Phase II Site Evaluation).

What is a Phase IA Literature Review and Sensitivity Assessment?

“Phase IA investigations are intended to gather information concerning the environmental/physical setting of a specific project area as well as its cultural setting. It is the interrelationship of the physical environment and cultural/historical setting that provides the basis for the sensitivity assessment.” (Standards, Section 2.2)

Literature reviews and sensitivity assessments include:

  •  State and regional site files checks (NYS OPR&HP, regional colleges/universities, private CRM firms);
  • Research (histories, prehistories, archaeological reports, soil surveys, environmental
    reports, deed and census records, etc.);
  •  Interviews (landowners, local historians, avocational archaeologists, amateurs, Native
    Americans, etc.);
  • Walkover (check for ground disturbance, terrain, visible cultural resources);
  • Sensitivity assessment (types of sites likely to be present in all parts of the project area, types of Phase I testing needed); and, report summarizing results, sensitive areas, and recommendations.

Archaeologically Sensitive Areas

Archaeologically sensitive areas contain one or more variables that make them likely locations for evidence of past human activities. Sensitive areas can include:

  • Places near known prehistoric sites that share the same valley or that occupy a similar landform (e.g., terrace above a river);
  • Areas where historic maps or photographs show that a building once stood but is now gone as well as the areas within the former yards around such structures;
  • An environmental setting similar to settings that tend to contain cultural resources (e.g., well-drained places with highly productive soils near the confluence of two waterways); and,
  • Locations where Native Americans and published sources note sacred places, such as
    cemeteries or spots of spiritual importance.

What happens after the report is complete?

The report is distributed to the client, lead agency, reviewing agency (usually includes the State Historic Preservation Office housed at OPR&HP), and interested parties for evaluation. The lead and reviewing agencies may or may not agree with the recommendation made by the archaeologist in the report. They may also request additional information, if the work presented is incomplete or not in compliance with the Standards. This could delay the permitting process, so it is important that the archaeologist guarantees compliance with the Standards.

How long does it take to review?

You can expect to wait for a minimum of 30 days. The amount of time depends on the complexity of the project and whether additional information is needed.

What happens if a site is found?

If a prehistoric or historic site is found, the archaeologist could recommend either redesign of the project to avoid the site thought to be eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, or a Phase II site evaluation to determine if the site meets criteria for nomination to the National Register. Not all sites will be eligible but if a site can be avoided with little or no impact on the project, then avoidance can preserve the site and save time in the permitting process. 1

  1.  Cultural Resource Standards Handbook (Guidance for understanding and applying the New York State standards for cultural resource investigations). (2000). NY: The New York Archaeological Council Standards Committee.[]