Our Checkered Past: Sites, Landscapes, Trails, and Transect-Recording Unit Survey


Publication: Advances in Archaeological Practice, Vol. 11, No. 1

Author: Phillip O. Leckman & Michael Heilen

Date of Publication: February 2023

PDF File: Leckman-and-Heilen-2023-Our-Checkered-Past-Sites-Landscapes-Trails-and.pdf

URL: https://www.cambridge.org/core/product/identifier/S2326376822000365/type/journal_article


Despite advocacy of landscape approaches in cultural resource management (CRM) and critiques of the site concept, CRM data collection methods in the western United States continue to focus on individual archaeological sites as units of observation, analysis, and management. The transect-recording unit (TRU) method strikes a balance between conventional site-based recording methods and site-less survey approaches by dividing survey space into a grid of uniformly sized cells for recording all cultural manifestations observed across a survey area. TRU survey generates site boundaries required by CRM regulations while retaining a fine-grained spatial framework for landscape-level research and management. This article discusses the technical requirements of the TRU system and its potential for improving landscape-level research and management. Advances in digital recording technologies and analysis techniques render the method efficient and effective in identifying cultural resource distributions and characteristics otherwise obscured by conventional approaches. The research and management potential of the TRU system is illustrated through identification and interpretation of precontact foot trails in New Mexico’s Tularosa Basin. These trails are essentially invisible during pedestrian survey but are readily identifiable as linear patterns using aggregated landscape-scale TRU survey data from multiple survey projects, providing novel insight into precontact routes of movement and exchange.