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Release: Oct. 9, 2000

State archaeology office wins grant to create mapping Web site

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The Office of the State Archaeologist (OSA) has won a $40,000 grant from the National Park Service's National Center for Preservation Technology and Training to create a Web-based interface for tracking information about archaeological sites in the state of Iowa. The new system, called "I-Sites," will not only provide information about Iowa's archaeological sites, but will allow users to create maps of the sites and enter information about new sites.

I-Sites is being developed by OSA in partnership with the state's Information Technology Department (ITD) and the Center for Agriculture, Resources and Environment Systems (CARES) at the University of Missouri, Columbia.

Joe Artz, geographic information coordinator with the OSA, is leading the project along with Stephen C. Lensink, OSA's associate director. Artz said once the Web site is up and running, anyone in the world with access to the Web will be able to use sophisticated Geographic Information Systems (GIS) software to create maps displaying information about archaeological sites in Iowa.

"The most exciting and unique thing about I-Sites is that it will allow users to record information about newly discovered archaeological sites, and file that information with OSA for permanent recording," Artz said. An innovative package of on-screen drawing tools, developed by CARES, will allow users to draw site locations on topographic maps displayed by their Web browsers, and then upload these maps to OSA.

"Access to data about archaeological sites is in increasing demand," Artz said. Academic researchers, their students, and many private citizens are interested in Iowa archaeology and frequently request information about archaeological sites from OSA. Historic preservation laws require federal agencies to consider the effects of their projects on historic and prehistoric sites. In recent years, state, county, and local governments have been assuming an increasingly active role in historic preservation.

"In the past year, we've seen a 50 percent increase in requests for information about archaeological site locations," said Colleen Eck, who manages the site records database at OSA. "Most of the new requests are coming from planners at the local level."

About 20,000 sites are recorded in OSA's master database of known site locations in Iowa, ranging from ancient Native American villages and burial mounds to abandoned farmsteads and townsites of the historic era. Artz and GIS technician Heidi Lack are in the final stages of digitizing these locations from paper maps into a computerized GIS mapping system.

"In the year and a half we've been digitizing," Lack said, "about 500 newly discovered sites have been added to OSA's database." Artz said I-Sites offers a solution for keeping OSA's database current. "Databases and GIS's are often created without sufficient thought about how those systems will be maintained in the long term, and that often leads to a backlog of unentered data," he said. "By using the CARES drawing tools with our existing database and GIS, those who most urgently need the data will also be given an active role in keeping those data current."

Agencies whose planners and archaeological consultants will benefit from the new system include tribal governments, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Iowa Department of Transportation, county engineers, county conservation boards, regional planning commissions, and certified local governments. Researchers, teachers, students, and the general public are also expected to use the system.

Development of I-Sites is funded through a Preservation Technology and Training grant from the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training. The grants are awarded to public and private organizations and institutions for projects that advance the art, craft, and science of historic preservation. Among the projects given special consideration in this year's grant program were those that applied computer technology in innovative ways to develop and implement databases related to historic preservation. I-Sites fit into that category as an example of a system that Artz hopes will be emulated elsewhere in the nation.

In addition to Artz, Lensink, Lack, and Eck at OSA, the project team includes Michelle Lantermans, the GIS Clearinghouse Specialist with ITD, and Chris Fulcher, assistant director of CARES.

The Office of the State Archaeologist is a research unit of the University of Iowa. Its mission is to discover, disseminate, and preserve knowledge of Iowa's human pre-history and history. The Board of Regents, State of Iowa appoints a State Archaeologist, who is a member of the UI Department of Anthropology. The State Archaeologist directs a program of statewide archaeological research, service, and education. More information is available at