Guidelines for Preparation of Archaeological Survey Reports in North Carolina

North Carolina Office of State Archaeology
State Historic Preservation Office
Office of Archives and History
Last Revised 1988

The Guidelines for Preparation of Archaeological Survey Reports, prepared by the North Carolina Office of State Archaeology, is a checklist of items to be addressed in all reports of archaeological surveys submitted for review in accordance with cultural resource preservation and protection legislation. Omission of items may result in delays in the review process.

Title Page

Table of Contents

Management Summary

The management summary provides the contract sponsor (who is usually not an archaeologist), the report reviewer, and other interested readers with a succinct but complete synopsis of the project. A management summary is similar to but generally more detailed than an abstract, and may be provided in lieu of an abstract. The length of a report dictates the length of its management summary; in most instances, the summary can be presented in less than two pages.

Checklist for Management Summary:

___ Project title and summary.

___ Clearinghouse number (if available).

___ A brief statement of project goals and objectives (e.g., to locate and assess the significance of cultural resources).

___ A summary of the survey methodology (e.g., the survey involved a pedestrian walkover of the project area with 1.5' x 1.5' shovel tests placed at 50 ft. intervals).

___ A summary of the results, including: (1) a list of sites found or investigated (using permanent State site numbers if available); and (2) a summary of the information derived from the investigations (e.g., a total of 45 sites were recorded during the project, representing 37 late Archaic components, 27 middle Archaic components, 17 early Woodland components, and seven late Woodland components. Three of the sites (31Ah43, 31Ah72, and 31Ah73) are considered eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places.

___ A summary of project recommendations for further investigations, no further investigations, site avoidance, etc, with specific references to sites fitting each category (e.g., two sites (31Ah43 and 31Ah72) will require additional testing for full evaluation of their significance; 31Ah73 should be avoidedentirely if possible during project construction. The remainder of the sites are not considered significant and no further work is therefore recommended.


This section provides detailed information pertinent to the location of the archaeological investigations, the reasons for the work, personnel, and dates of the work. It is requested that the contract specifications and scope of work (as either is available) be included. If the project specifications are too lengthy or inappropriate, a brief summary in the introduction will suffice, so long as the contract specifications and scope of work are included elsewhere (i.e., as in an appendix). If formal contract specifications or scope of work do not exist or cannot be provided, some statement concerning the verbal or written agreement made between the contracting agency and the archaeologist should be provided. We stress the importance of complete documentation to ensure fulfillment of the needs of the contracting agency, the most timely and accurate report review possible, and the protection of cultural resources.

Such information is required to insure inclusion of data pertinent to the review of each and every project. It is suggested that maps be included within the Introduction which show precisely, and in a scale easily readable, the location of: (a) the general survey area within the county (b) the exact boundaries of the project area in reference to important cultural or natural landmarks. If convenient, you may also wish to include here: (c) the exact area(s) surveyed, (d) the areas, if any, where diverse methods of site identification were employed (e.g., if both surface and subsurface tests were utilized but in different areas, a map or discussion should clearly show each area of investigation). THE INCLUDED MAPS, WHEREVER THEY OCCUR IN THE REPORT, SHOULD ALLOW THE FINAL REPORT TO STAND ALONE AS A REFERENCE DOCUMENT. It should not be assumed that the Office of State Archaeology or any other agency will have records identifying the area covered in every archaeological investigation.

It is suggested that the project area and surveyed areas be depicted on U.S. Geological Survey topographic maps of 7.5' scale. The Office of State Archaeology uses these maps for locating sites, for plotting surveyed areas, and for assuring accurate and rapid entry of data into computerized site files.

Checklist for Introduction:

___ Title of the project and Clearinghouse number (if applicable).

___ Verbal description of the location of project, including the county.

___ Map showing general location of project within county.

___ Map showing boundaries of project area in reference to important landmarks.

___ Map showing or discussion describing exact area(s) surveyed within project area (if inappropriate here, this information should appear elsewhere in the report).

___ Map showing areas, if any, where different methods of site discovery were employed (if inappropriate here, this information should appear elsewhere in the report). Specific descriptions of areas receiving different treatment may be substituted for maps.

___ Contracting agency or individual.

___ Principal Investigator and crew members.

___ Dates of survey.

___ Contract specifications, scope of work, or description of project requirements. (Contract specifications or scope of work may be summarized in this section but should appear elsewhere as an appendix; description of project requirements should be substituted only when contract specifications or scope of work are nonexistent.)

Physical Environment

The effective environment of the project area should be addressed. As explained by The Airlie House Report (McGimsey and Davis, 1977), the effective environment describes the environmental setting considering relevant factors such as geology, vegetation, climate, and topography in as broad a context as possible. Frames of reference may be contemporary, historical, ethnographic, prehistoric--or any combination of these. Emphasis should be placed on the relationship of the environmental setting to the cultural resources of the study area Airlie House (p. 73).

The project area and areas surveyed should be described in terms of acreage (or hectares) per each, and the present land use acreage (pasture, forest, plowed field, etc.) within each. These categories of information allow staff of the Office of State Archaeology to consider site densities, to evaluate the relative efficiencies of different means of site discovery, and to allow comparisons of these means and methods across the entire state.

Checklist for Physical Environment:

___ Effective Environment--should consider topographic setting, geology, hydrology, climatic history, flora, and fauna asrelevant to this archaeological investigation.

___ Total acreage or (hectares) of the project area.

___ Types of land use within the project area (a map delineating these areas is requested), including estimates of the acreage within each land use type.

___ Other environmental factors considered, as deemed relevant by the archaeologist.

Archaeological and Historical Background

This section locates the present project within the context of previous archaeological and historical work in the area. This creates the contexts for the research, the evaluation of the significance of the archaeological sites, and the justification of the protection of or data recovery at significant sites.

This should be a technical presentation. However, this section also gives the funding agency (or the non-archaeologist) an understanding of the prehistory and history of the area.

Many times projects are located where no archaeological research has been conducted in the immediate vicinity. Prehistoric and historic contexts should still be presented in such instances. This context is necessary even if a regional perspective is the appropriate frame of reference. The length of this section will vary according to the project requirements.

When planning and conducting historical research for a project, it may be useful to divide the research into two phases. Rather than being a county history, the first phase of this research should focus on the area to be surveyed, and should be designed to determine major industries, periods of settlement or migration, and prominent families and persons who might have lived in that area.

The second phase begins after field work is completed. The direction of this phase is toward determining significance of individual historic archaeological sites found during field work. A site with little archaeological significance may gain historical significance through its connection with important persons or events.

It is requested that, at this point in the report, opinions be rendered concerning predictions of site location and site types expected within the project area. These are usually based on data in the discussions of the physical environment and archaeological and historical background research. Such information also aids the Office in developing a state plan for conservation of archaeological resources, and permits office staff to stay apace of the developing research perspectives of archaeologists working in the state.

Checklist for Archaeological and Historical Background:

___ Previous archaeological investigations and results.

___ General overview of prehistory and history of the study area.

___ Also to be considered--site location and type predictions.

Methods and Techniques

This section of the report contains detailed discussions of the methods and techniques used during the project to locate and evaluate sites. It is essential that discussions be as specific and comprehensive as possible, augmented by detailed maps of the project area, survey and test locations, and other pertinent information. In many respects, this section of the report is as important as the results of the survey and should be provided regardless of the nature of the results.

Checklist for Methodology:

___ Site definition (e.g., a single artifact, two or more artifacts within 25 meters of each other or otherwise confined to a particular landform).

___ Survey techniques used, specifying any variations in techniques due to varying field conditions (i.e., ground cover, alleviation, erosion, development).

___ Survey intensity, with specific attention to survey intervals and subsurface testing intervals or frequency.

___ The size, shape, depth and techniques of subsurface testing and a description of relevant soil profiles.

___ Percentage of the project are covered and how, including a map or discussion of areas actually surveyed, noting areas covered using different techniques, including shovel testing. (Could be same as land use map.)

___ Filed survey time (i.e., how many person-days in field necessary to cover the project area using the techniques described)--this is actual in-field time.

1. Types of information collected for each site, and how and where it was collected;

2. percentage of site areas covered by artifact collections; and

3. artifact collection biases (e.g., surface visibility, previous collections).

Results of Survey

This section describes sites located and materials recovered during the project. It is requested that isolated finds be identified and located on maps (or in discussion) if such finds are not defined as "sites." All sites discovered, whether in or out of the project area, should be described. It is understood that attention will not be focused on sites outside the project area. Simply note their location and any other available information. Descriptions of project area sites should include specific location, size, amount and degree of disturbance, artifact density, cultural affiliation(s), materials recovered, methods of artifact recovery from the surface, methods and result of subsurface testing (if any), and project impact (primary and secondary) on each site. Historic and prehistoric sites should receive comparable descriptions. Standing structures within the project area should be noted as to location and apparent type. If appropriate, archaeological components associated with structures should be addressed. The use of tables is encouraged for presentation of data from large numbers of sites.

Recovered materials should be described by means of customary references to amount and type. The latter category can comprise individual traits such as raw material, temper, surface treatment, etc., and established morphological patterns or trait associations. Opinions as to site type (e.g., quarry, butchering camp, grist mill, etc.) should be included. Photos and drawings are encouraged as is the use of tabulated data for large quantities of information.

Checklist for Results of Survey:

___ Whether sites were located and, if so, how many.

___ Individual site descriptions, including cultural affiliation and functional types.

___ Effects of project on individual sites.

___ Amount and type of materials recovered from each site.

Significance Evaluations

This section of the report, whether presented as a separate discussion or incorporated into the results section, establishes the framework for evaluating the significance of the sites identified during the survey. Significance evaluations must be presented with specific reference to criteria for eligibility for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places, and should be consistent with contemporary research interests of the archaeological community, not just those of the investigator. Evaluations must be justifiable, as well as consistent with the methods and techniques used to locate and investigate recorded sites.

It is insufficient to merely state that a site is or is not significant. For purposes of state and federal review, each evaluation must be framed by the research techniques, the information potential for local, regional, statewide, or national research problems, or the historical importance of the resources. A copy of the current National Register criteria is attached to these guidelines.

Checklist for Significance Evaluations:

___ An evaluation of each site located during the survey, according to the criteria for inclusion in the National Register.

___ Justifications for all determinations of "significant" and "insignificant."


Recommendations will usually be phrased in terms of "further work," "no further work," or "avoidance" (i.e., preservation in place). Appropriate recommendation should be clearly presented for each site recorded during the survey, and should reflect the site significance evaluations. Sites recorded during the survey which are not actually within the project boundaries should also be considered in the recommendations, since it is possible that the proposed location or alignment may be moved at a later stage in the project design. Discussions should also include, as appropriate, estimates of the amount and types of further work recommended (e.g., 10 2x2 meter test units), or a description of the recommended avoidance, management, and preservation procedures to be followed.

Checklist for Recommendations:

___ Site-specific recommendations for "further work," "no further work," or "avoidance" (or alternatives) for each site located within the project area.

___ A description of the type(s) and amount(s) of "further work" recommended, or a description of the avoidance, management, and preservation procedures.

___ Recommendations, if appropriate, for any other sites which may have been identified during the survey.


Checklist for Bibliography:

___ Are all references cited in text present in bibliography?

___ Are citations complete and consistent in form?


Maps, figures, scope of work, or tables, etc., may be presented as appendices. It is fine to indicate sites on photo reproductions of appropriate portions of USGS topographic maps. Topographic maps aid in reviewing projects, and in recording and interpreting site information. Site forms should not be made an appendix or a part of the report.

Site Forms

Site forms have been developed for prehistoric and historic archaeological sites, isolated finds, and surveyed areas. Most contract specifications or scopes of work specify the use of these forms. Copies may be obtained upon request from the Office of State Archaeology. Forms should be completed in full and forwarded to the Office of State Archaeology. Site forms should not be made an appendix or a part of the report.

Checklist for Site Forms:

___ Computerized North Carolina Archaeological Site forms forwarded to the Office of State Archaeology in two copies (the original and one copy).

NOTE: Completed site forms (and/or updates of previously recorded sites) must be submitted with the report.


References Cited

McGimsey, Charles R. and Hester A. Davis (editors)
   1977   The Management of Archaeological Resources: The Airlie House Report.
             Special Publication of the Society for American Archaeology.