Application of Remote Sensing LiDAR Data for the Detection of Cultural Resources in a Forested Environment: An Example From Isle Royale National Park, Michigan

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Geography & Geographic Information Science


There has been growing interest in the application of an effective remote sensing strategy for conducting cultural site detection surveys. Light Detecting and Ranging (LiDAR) imagery has demonstrated potential for identifying archaeological sites in remote areas with dense vegetation and surface disturbances. Research was conducted to determine the viability of using LiDAR to detect the presence or absence of pre- and post-European contact archaeological sites in forested environments on Isle Royale, Michigan. LiDAR bare-earth models were used to “see” past the vegetation in an effort to: 1) identify cultural features before the implementation of a ground-truthing survey; 2) develop a more informed survey strategy that will better define the spatial limits of a ground survey, and 3) produce a safer, more efficient, and more cost-effective research design. Bare-earth models from previously obtained LiDAR data for Isle Royale National Park, Michigan, were used to identify various cultural manifestations such as copper mining sites and associated historic settlements. Two types of sites were investigated (pre- and post-European contact). National Park Service archaeological site reports were used to compare, contrast, and confirm the locations and extent of known sites with the findings from the LiDAR image survey. Potential sites, those displaying evidence of human activity not previously recorded, were mapped and an artifact inventory recorded. Those investigated areas that revealed no evidence of human occupation/impact were identified and denoted as such. Field verification was performed in May 2007 to verify LiDAR survey evaluations. Three study areas were selected on Isle Royale. Within the study area, seven locales containing thirty-five cultural features were isolated. Of these, twenty were pre-recorded features and fifteen were identified as be high probability features; all of these features were investigated during field verification. All previously recorded features were located on the ground. From the fifteen previously unrecorded features; seven were identified during field verification to be cultural features, while the remaining eight could not be located on the ground or were found to be non-cultural. The result of this study effectively demonstrated that cultural sites in a forest environment could be detected using new and innovative remote sensing devices such as LiDAR imagery.

This document is currently not available here.