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Archaeological Resource Service provides all aspects of cultural resource investigation. The following procedures are offered as examples of our approach to these tasks.


Literature checks include a check of the Regional Office of the California Historical Resources Information System, which is responsible for records of archaeological sites, archaeological evaluations, historic architectural data, and other important information. In most of Northern California the Northwest Regional Office in Cotati, near Sonoma State University is the appropriate repository. This information is supplemented by information from the files of Archaeological Resource Service.

We also examine historical records to determine the presence or absence of past or present land uses that constitute potentially historic deposits or features.

We contact the Native American Heritage Commission by FAX with a request to check the Sacred Lands file maintained by them. This is a mandatory part of every project that is required by the state of California. This database lists sacred places recorded by Native Americans or observed by anthropologists or archaeologists. These places can be rock art sites (petroglyphs or pictographs), cemeteries or funerary locations, important village sites, or locations associated with specific events or features of oral tradition.

The Native American Heritage Commission supplies a list of appropriate Native American contacts for each project. We send a letter to each individual requesting any information they have or comment they wish to make regarding the project site. This procedure is also required by the State of California.

We contact the local historical societies, historical groups, and other interested parties if they can be identified. We send a letter to each organization requesting any information they have or comment they wish to make regarding the project site.


Archaeological evaluation of a parcel can involve several different aspects. Literature searches, surface evaluation, and perhaps other tasks are often required before an evaluation can be completed. Archaeological Resource Service can determine the appropriate approach to resolve cultural resource issues for any project. Full consultation includes not only identifying the problem, but offering solutions as well. We deal in answers.


Architectural evaluation consists of the examination and evaluation of standing structures, buildings or objects to determine their classification under California or federal guidelines. Generally, any building over 45 years old is eligible for evaluation. Eligibility for evaluation, however, does not indicate that a building, structure, or object is, in fact, a candidate for nomination to the state or federal register.


The field evaluation generally consists of examining all exposed soils within the proposed project. The examination concentrates on ridgelines, springs, streams, and other locations that would be attractive to Native American settlement or use. This evaluation is undertaken on foot, and is an intensive examination of the ground surface. If it appears appropriate to do so, soil samples are taken from the surface. The samples are usually taken using a 1 inch diameter, hollow core soil probe. Where possible, the soil plug is replaced in the hole after examination.


Archaeological excavation, if necessary consists of excavating the requisite number or volume of archaeological test units and/or hand auger bores within the potential impact area of the project.

Each standard test unit measures 1x1 meter in surface area, and is excavated in 10 cm. levels, or natural strata if appropriate. Excavation is usually carried to the base of the cultural deposit. All recovered soils are processed by screening to remove artifacts and other constituents. The mesh of screen used varies with soil conditions. In most cases the mesh used will be .125 inches (1/8 inch), but in no case will the mesh be larger than .25 inches (1\4 inch). If appropriate, soils retained in the screens are transported to the Archaeological Resource Service laboratory for further processing. If it appears appropriate to do so, additional soil samples are taken from the surface of the parcel, from the excavated unit(s), and/or from auger or probe samples at depth in the parcel. For estimating purposes, one excavation unit is defined as 1 cubic meter of soil. This is usually a 1x1x1 meter excavation unit. Excavation beyond 1 meter deep in a 1x1 meter unit begins a second excavation unit for estimation purposes. Multiple units may be placed together to form an areal excavation, and excavation may not continue to one meters depth where the archaeological site is not that deep. In shallow sites, one standard excavation unit may consist of two 1x1x.5 meter excavations, for example.


Hand augering, if necessary, is carried out using a four or five inch diameter twist type hand auger. Excavation occurs in 10 cm. intervals, or natural strata, as appropriate. Excavation is carried to the base of the cultural deposit. All recovered soils are processed by screening to remove artifacts and other constituents. The mesh of screen used varies with soil conditions. In most cases the mesh used will be .125 inches (1/8 inch), but in no case will the mesh be larger than .25 inches (1\4 inch). If appropriate, soils retained in the screens are transported to the Archaeological Resource Service laboratory for further processing.
Some subsurface samples may be taken using a 1 inch diameter, hollow core soil probe. Where possible, the soil plug will be replaced in the hole after examination.


Mechanized testing procedures, such as backhoe excavation or mechanized borings, may be necessary over the course of the project. In all cases, the smallest equipment appropriate to the task will be used. Mechanized excavation is used to identify the presence or absence of cultural deposits, and cannot be used to evaluate the condition or significance of archaeological deposits.


Archaeological monitoring is performed under the procedures outlined below:

  • Monitoring will consist of directly watching the major excavation process. Monitoring will occur during the entire work day, and will continue on a daily basis until a depth of excavation has been reached at which resources could not occur. This depth is estimated as minimally about five feet below grade at the beginning of the project, but may require modification in specific cases, and will be determined by the monitoring archaeologist based on observed soil conditions. In some cases archaeological deposits can be 30 feet deep, or more.
  • Spot checks will consist of partial monitoring of the progress of excavation over the course of the project. During spot checks all spoils material, open excavations, recently grubbed areas, and other soil disturbances will be inspected. The frequency and duration of spot checks will be based on the relative sensitivity of the exposed soils and active work areas. The monitoring archaeologist will determine the relative sensitivity of the parcel.
  • If prehistoric human interments (human burials) are encountered within the native soils of the parcel, all work should be halted in the immediate vicinity of the find. The County Coroner, project superintendent, and the Agency Liaison should be contacted immediately. The procedures to be followed at this point are prescribed by law.
  • If significant cultural deposits other than human burials are encountered, the project should be modified to allow the artifacts or features to be left in place, or the archaeological consultant should undertake the recovery of the deposit or feature. Significant cultural deposits are defined as archaeological features or artifacts that associate with the prehistoric period, the historic era Mission and Pueblo Periods and the American era up to about 1900. A representative of the Native American community should be contacted in all cases where prehistoric or historic era Native American resources are involved.
  • Whenever the monitoring archaeologist suspects that potentially significant cultural remains or human burials have been encountered, the piece of equipment that encounters the suspected deposit will be stopped, and the excavation inspected by the monitoring archaeologist. If the suspected remains prove to be nonsignificant or non cultural in origin, work will recommence immediately. If the suspected remains prove to be part of a significant deposit, all work should be halted in that location until removal has been accomplished. If human remains (burials) are found, the County Coroner must be contacted so that he (or a designated representative) can evaluate the discovered remains and implement proper contacts with pertinent Native American representatives.
  • Equipment stoppages will only involve those pieces of equipment that have actually encountered significant or potentially significant deposits, and should not be construed to mean a stoppage of all equipment on the site unless the cultural deposit covers the entire building site.
  • During temporary equipment stoppages brought about to examine suspected remains, the archaeologist should accomplish the necessary tasks with all due speed.

Native American burials are often placed in the ground in a particular position and orientation and are sometimes associated with ceremonial and/or utilitarian type artifacts, as well as indications of preinterment burial rituals and/or grave pits. The presence or absence of these types of artifacts and features also contributes significant information about the past. Historic era burials can also contribute significant information about our more recent past.

The Native American community is often sensitive to the scientific study of prehistoric Native American remains. Some Tribes welcome scientific study and support new technologies, and other Tribes are emphatic that the remains not be studied. The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) require the collection of this information in order to reduce impacts to a less-than-significant effect in a data recovery project. It is always recommended to consult often and sincerely with the Native American community and in particular, the “Most Likely Descendent” to ensure that their concerns are addressed; and whenever possible Native American burials should be left undisturbed


Disinterment of human remains is a very sensitive process. On discovery of human remains, all work in the vicinity of the remains is stopped while the county coroner is contacted. If the skeletal remains are found to be prehistoric, Native American and not modern, then the coroner must call the Native American Heritage Commission (NAHC) in Sacramento, which will designate the "Most Likely Descendant" (MLD) of the remains. The MLD will be responsible for recommending to the landowner or person responsible for the excavation work the disposition and treatment, with appropriate dignity, of any human remains and associated grave goods (PRC Section 5097.98). If the NAHC is unable to identify a MLD or if the MLD fails to make a recommendations within 24 hours after being notified by the NAHC then the landowner or authorized representative shall rebury the human remains and associated grave goods with appropriate dignity on the property in a location not subject to further subsurface disturbance and the location should be recorded with the city, county, or appropriate jurisdiction within which the discovery is made, and the Northwest Information Center in Rohnert Park. If the landowner rejects the MLD’s recommendations then the NAHC will mediate in an attempt to provide measures acceptable to the landowner. If mediation fails to resolve the issues, the land owner is required to rebury the remains, along with all associated artifacts, in a location on the same parcel where they were discovered, that will not be subject to future disturbance.

Under state law and current procedure the following time functions apply to the discovery of human remains:

  • Reporting a discovery to the county coroner should occur immediately on recognition of the remains. Generally, the coroner will view calls made the same day as recognition of the remains as “immediate”.
  • When the coroner has been notified a site visit by the coroner is normal. This usually occurs the same day as the discovery, usually within one to four hours, depending on the coroner’s schedule. The purpose of the site visit is for the coroner to confirm or determine that the reported remains are human, and that they are not relatively recent.
  • Once the coroner has either been to the discovery location and determined that the remains are ancient and Native American, or stated to the archaeologist that a site visit is not necessary (in the opinion of the coroner) due to reliance on the archaeologist’s identification, the Native American Heritage Commission must be notified. The coroner has 24 hours to notify the NAHC from the time that it is determined that a Native American interment has been encountered.
  • The Native American Heritage Commission is required to immediately designate a Most Likely Descendant. As a practical matter, the NAHC usually takes about 24 hours from the coroner’s notification to identify a Most Likely Descendant. The Most Likely Descendant (MLD) is a member of the tribe or association that is most likely to be related to the deceased. In some counties the MLD can be chosen from several different groups. This is based on our inability to identify the specific group associated with any individual remains.
  • Once they have been notified and granted access to the discovery location, the Most Likely Descendant has 48 hours to visit the discovery location and make recommendations to the owner of the land, or their representative, regarding the treatment of the discovered remains.
  • When the recommendations are received by the landowner, they may accept or reject the recommendations of the MLD. If they accept the recommendations, then they are carried out. If the recommendation is rejected the landowner and the MLD enter into mediation with the Native American Heritage Commission. If mediation fails to resolve the issues, the landowner is required to reinter the remains, along with all associated artifacts, in a location on the discovery parcel where further disturbance will not occur. No time limits are specified on this process.


Archaeological Resource Service can prepare documents and reports to satisfy any permit granting agency. Our reports have been welcomed by federal, state and local agencies. The documents that we produce are clearly written, well organized, liberally illustrated, and meet all of the requirements of the agencies they are submitted to. Imagine receiving a technical report that you enjoy reading.

Archaeological Resource Service
613 Martin Avenue, Suite 101 Rohnert Park, California 94928
Phone: (707) 586-2577 Fax: (707) 586-2580
Email: info@digsmart.com

Copyright © 2003-2017 Archaeological Resource Service
The information provided herein is for general background purposes only and is not intended as a definitive statement of either the presence or absence of archaeological deposits on any particular property or the handling thereof.  It is not a substitute for professional investigation and advice and should not be relied upon as such.

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