How to Complete the Iowa
Archaeological Site Record Form:
A Guide for Nonprofessional Archaeologists
Filling out site forms may not be as exciting as discovering sites
in the field, but it is a vitally important aspect of archaeological
work. The goal in completing a site form is to provide accurate, concise
information that will allow others to find the site at some point in
the future. Precise location of a site may be important for research
purposes. By reporting a site, you contribute to an ever-widening pool
of archaeological knowledge. The site that you report today may contain
crucial evidence that future investigations can use to answer important
questions about life in the prehistoric and historic past. Precise location
of a site may also be important for management reasons. By reporting
a site you help to protect that site from damage and destruction, whether
caused by development or vandalism. Your site report may allow for the
long-term preservation of important archaeological deposits, and the
proper study and evaluation of deposits that can't be preserved.
The Iowa Administrative Code limits access to site records to persons
with valid research interests. This allows us to maintain landowner
privacy and to safeguard sites from unreasonable risk of damage and
To complete an Iowa Archaeological Site Record you can contact the
Site Records Coordinator at
and request the computer template for Microsoft Word 2.0. There are
two versions of the site record form. The version to which this guide
applies was designed primarily for non-professional archaeologists.
However, you may also request a five page new form, implemented in May
1993. The new form has some advantages. For example. the site types
and cultural affiliations are listed out to make responses more standardized.
If you request the new form, you should also ask for the instructions
appropriate for that form. The instructions provided with each form
will take you through the steps that are required to properly record
Generally, the first thing that you should do when reporting a site
is to determine if that site was previously recorded. To do this, you
should relate your site's legal location and the name of the county
to the Office of the State Archaeologist. Provide the name of the U.S.G.S.
quadrangle map on which your site is located if that information is
available. The Site Records Coordinator will compare the location that
you provide with existing site information to determine if your site
requires a new or supplemental designation. After this initial step,
you may fill out the form.
Official Site Number. Site numbers are assigned by the Site
Records Coordinator at the OSA. The official site number is a unique
identification number assigned to a site. It follows the Smithsonian
trinomial system: 13XXnnn, where 13 indicates Iowa, XX is the official
county abbreviation, and nnn is the site number, assigned in sequential
OSA Accession Number. Each artifact collection reposed at the
OSA is assigned an OSA accession number. Privately held collections
are not assigned accession numbers. If you wish to have an artifact
collection from a site curated by the OSA, you must make arrangements
with the Site Records Coordinator and the Laboratory Manager. In addition
to filling out a site form, you will be asked to catalog the material,
that is, describe how many of each type of artifact you have. Standardized
forms are available from the OSA for this purpose. You may request catalog
forms from either the Collections Manager or the Site Records Coodinator
at the OSA.
Ideally, the site form, catalog sheets, and collection should be turned
in together. If this is not practical, the site form should be submitted
as soon as possible, and the collection and catalog sheets may follow
County. Record the county in which the site is located. If the
site extends across county lines, indicate this on the site form. In
such cases, the official site designation will indicate the county in
which the site was first recorded (this rule also applies to sites that
cross state lines).
Local Site Name. Some sites are known by one or more local site
names. It is important to record those names that are widely recognized
as identifying a particular site. However you should not name every
site you find. Most sites are known only by their official site number.
The official site number should be used in all correspondence, publications,
photo logs, and other documentation.
Range, Township, Section, and Quarter-Section Divisions. Draw
the boundaries of your site onto a map that depicts the site vicinity
in detail. The best maps for this purpose are United States Geological
Survey quadrangle maps (U.S.G.S. 7.5* topographic series, 1:24,000 scale).
Quad maps may be purchased from the Iowa
Geological Survey Bureau. Small sites may be represented with a
small dot. Larger sites should be drawn as an open circle or other shape
Record the range number, township number, and section numbers on the
site form. On a U.S.G.S. quad map, the range number, ``R4W,'' for example,
is printed along the top and bottom of the map. The township number,
``T76N,'' for example, is printed along the left and right sides of
the map. The section numbers appear near the center of each section.
All of these are printed in red. The name of the civil township generally
does not need to be included on the site form.
Describe the legal location of the site as it would be described by
Iowa county governments. A legal location template is used to do this.
Templates may be purchased from Forestry Suppliers,
Inc. Always begin by orienting the template correctly on your quad
map. The southeast corner of the section in which your site is located
is always considered to be the reference point from which to orient
your template. Sections frequently are not true squares, and they may
not measure exactly 1 mile on a side. The shape of each section was
determined during the original survey conducted by the General Land
Office in the 1800s. Variations occurred due to inaccuracies in survey
method. In order to correct for this, area was added or subtracted as
needed to make sections fit into townships and to make townships fit
within counties. Always align the east edge of your template along the
east edge of the section on the map. Do not worry if this means that
the other sides do not line up. If your site lies outside of the template
when the template is oriented as described above, or if the southeast
section corner is not shown on your map refer to the Special
Problems Concerning Legal Locations section of this guide.
Describe the quarter-section divisions (quarter-quarters) for your
site following this
example. Begin with the largest legal division and record it in
the far right blank on the site form. Proceed with each successive division
until you have described every legal division that your site lies within.
Normally you need to go down to the fourth or fifth divisions to do
this. If your site occupies most of the next larger legal division,
you may ``round up'' to simplify the description. A half of a division
may be used instead of a quarter when it is appropriate, but avoid using
Type of Site. Record the type of site (i.e., camp, village,
mound, trail, cemetery, farm). If you are unable to determine the site
type, write ``undetermined.'' The cultural and temporal affiliations
should also be recorded in this space. Three examples are: Archaic quarry,
Woodland camp, and Mill Creek village.
Map Used. Record the name of the source map or maps used to
describe the location of your site (i.e., U.S.G.S. Mineola Quadrangle).
Attach to your site form a photocopy of a 1:24,000 scale map with your
site drawn on it. Hand drawn maps are acceptable provided that they
approximate the desired scale and are completed in dark ink. Sketches
traced from aerial photographs are acceptable; please clearly indicate
the scale. Note that the accuracy of these maps is critical to properly
identifying site locations.
Tenant/Owner. Provide the name of the landowner on whose property
the site is located. If applicable, supply the name of any tenant on
Informant. If you first learned about the site from another
person, please provide that person's name and, if possible, indicate
how he/she can be contacted.
General Location. Describe the site location with reference
to nearby, permanent landmarks. Include distance and directions to modern
cultural features (e.g., city limits) as well as natural features (e.g.,
stream valleys). Provide the distance and direction to the nearest water
source and the name of the major drainage basin. Click here
to see a map of the major drainage basins of Iowa. Describe the site's
position in the landscape (e.g., blufftop), elevation, and soil type.
If possible, provide the UTM coordinates for your site. You will need
a special UTM grid coordinate template (available from Forestry
Suppliers) to do this. The template includes instructions for use.
UTM coordinates can also be calculated for you by OSA personnel.
Present Condition. Estimate the condition of the site at the
time that you visited it. For example, if the site appears to be in
good condition with minimal erosion, state this. This line should be
updated in supplemental reports if the site's condition changes after
an initial report is made.
Previous Excavations/Investigator. Record all known persons
who have worked at this site prior to the visit on which you based the
information for your site form.
Material Collected/Owner. Record what has been collected from
the site and the names of collection owners. Provide as complete a description
as possible for each artifact category (i.e., 4 Clovis points, 32 chert
flakes, 2 retouched; 30 waste flakes; 5 bone fragments, 3 burnt).
Method of Collection. Describe how material was collected from
the site (e.g., random find or controlled surface survey).
Recommendations. Provide your suggestions for maintenance of
the site (e.g., ``Further investigation to determine significance,''
or ``Completely destroyed- no work recommended'').
References. Include the author, title, date, and page of any
written accounts that you know mention the site. Also include any references
that you used to assist in completing the site form. For example, texts
that helped you identify soil types, artifact types, or site types.
Recorded by/Date Recorded. Include your name, address, and the
date that you filled out your site form.
When you have completed the form. Send your completed form to the Site
Records Coordinator at the OSA. Your form will be photocopied on archival
quality paper and filed in the Iowa Site File. A second copy will be
sent to the State Historical Preservation Office in Des Moines. The
information from your form is added to a computerized research database
and is recorded on site maps maintained at the OSA. Finally the Iowa
Archaeological Site Inventory, the official listing of all archeological
sites recorded in Iowa, is updated. After your form has been processed,
you will receive a copy of the completed form which includes the official
site number assigned to your site.
Addresses and Additional Information
To request site forms and instructions, submit completed site forms,
or for more information, contact:
Site Records Coordinator
Office of the State Archaeologist
The University of Iowa
700 Clinton Street Bldg
Iowa City, IA 52242-1030
A computer template in Microsoft Word 2.0 format is available on disk
for both site forms. Other word processor formats may be available.
To request a copy, please send a formatted disk and indicate the computer
and word processor formats that you are using: Windows, DOS, or Apple
Macintosh. For additional information, contact the address provided
Copies of a U.S.G.S. map index and catalogue may be requested free
of charge from:
Geological Survey Bureau
University of Iowa
Iowa City, IA 52242
Maps are priced at $4.00 each.
The Index to Maps is available at no charge
Location templates may be purchased from:
Forestry Suppliers , Inc.
205 West Rankin Street
P.O. Box 8397
Jackson, MS 39284-8397
Sales Department: (800) 647-5368
Catalogue request: (800) 360-7788
Legal location template: "Geologist's Land Locator '' under $3.00
UTM location template: "UTM Coordinate Grid Template'' under $5.00
Special Problems Concerning Legal Locations
You may occasionally encounter problems when describing legal locations
because the section with which you are working is not a square or because
it is greater or less than one mile on a side. You may also encounter
problems with sections that are divided between two U.S.G.S. quad maps.
Such problems make mapping a site location more difficult, but as long
as you consistently use the southeast corner as datum and align the
template with the eastern edge of the section, you can correctly record
your site. The following suggestions should allow you to find and use
the southeast corner in problem sections just as in regular sections.
If you have questions after you have read this page, contact the OSA.
Sometimes you will find section divisions that are larger than normal.
These large divisions are often found near the western or northern edges
of a section. In such cases, the template may not cover the site. Alternatively,
the divisions of a section may appear too small. These situations both
reflect "corrections" made by the surveyors from the General Land Office
to fit sections into a township. Such corrections arose form the need
to adjust a two-dimensional grid to the earth's curved surface. Small
corrections to section divisions and major correction lines produced
inaccuracy by stretching sections divisions and shrinking others. Use
the southeast corner and eastern section line to align your template.
Then, find the section division nearest to your site and extend it to
cover the area in which your site is located.
If the southeast section corner is not on the same quad map as your
site, refer to the adjoining quad map(s). The names of adjoining quads
usually appear near the center of each map's edges or at the corners
and are contained within parentheses. You can also use the Index to
Topographic Maps of Iowa (available from the Iowa
Geological Survey Bureau) to determine the adjoining quad's name.
Make photo copies of the adjoining maps and line them up with the quad
map that your site is on so that you can see the whole section. Now
you can describe the legal location of your site.
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