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Volume 30
Number 2
Fall 2013
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Raster image map showing areas of high probability for archeological site locations at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore In Focus: Archeology in Park Management
Predicting the past with GIS at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore

By Amanda Renner
Published: 4 Sep 2015 (online)  •  14 Sep 2015 (in print)
Answers sought
The science of modeling
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Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore was established in 1966 “in order to preserve for the educational, inspirational, and recreational use of the public … the Indiana dunes and other areas of scenic, scientific, and historic interest and recreational value” (16 U.S.C. 4604). Located along the southern shoreline of Lake Michigan, this 15-mile-long (24 km) park preserves roughly 15,000 acres (6,070 ha) of sand dunes, oak savannas, swamps, bogs, marshes, and forests (fig. 1). This tightly packed set of ecosystems harbors biological diversity that is among the highest per unit area in the National Park System, and is associated with a series of dunes that began to form as glaciers started receding from the area nearly 14,000 years ago, according to the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore Web site (NPS 2013). Glacial retreat, in addition to wind and water action, resulted in spatially distinct dune systems, dating to the late Pleistocene, mid-Holocene, and recent past. The national lakeshore is notable for these chronologically distinct systems, and the study of ecology is even linked to this place because of the opportunity to observe the correlation of plant communities with landform age.

The Midwest Archeological Center has fostered a relationship with Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore spanning four decades. Nearly 70 archeological projects have been conducted in that time, resulting in the inventory of some 1,000 acres (405 ha), or 7% of the park. Around 239 archeological sites have been recorded in the park (NPS 2012, Archeological Sites Management Information System), extending archeological evidence of human use of the southern Lake Michigan shoreline to the Late Paleo-Indian period approximately 10,000–8,500 years ago (Bringelson and Sturdevant 2007). While some of this information was acquired as part of research-oriented work representing large-tract sampling, most of it was gathered during small-scale projects for legal compliance purposes. In accordance with Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, federal agencies must determine if their actions are likely to have an effect on historical properties, in this instance an archeological site. For example, shovel-testing of expiring lease properties is a simple method used to determine the presence of archeological sites, and is conducted as part of park planning. Regardless of the quantity of archeological work conducted here, the sample is limited in size and scope. This makes it difficult to draw conclusions about human land use along the lakeshore during the Holocene. Questions also linger regarding the apparent lack of occupation of certain areas within the park before the arrival of Europeans.

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This page updated:  13 January 2014

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