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In an experimental project, aerial photographs and a 3-D map of the Henry Smith archaeological site were taken by an unmanned aircraft system between April 28 and 30 by the Bureau of Land Management’s Hi-Line District following a controlled burn of the site.

“This was the first use of a (UAS) by the BLM to obtain imagery and data in relation to cultural resources in the Northern Plains,” said Josh Chase, Hi-Line District archaeologist, in a statement.

The use of a UAS allowed the BLM to obtain imagery and data of the entire site, including possible anthropomorphic effigies.

About 320 acres were burned April 16 to remove vegetation and provide for clearer aerial images.

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“Removal of the vegetation allowed for a clear view of an Avonlea-period cultural resource complex, consisting of numerous stone effigies (both anthropomorphic and zoomorphic), stone cairns, drive lines, stone circles and potentially spiritual alignments and circles,” Chase said. “The project will allow BLM to better study, document and manage this unique location.”

Several federal, state and local agencies as well as BLM resource staff from the local field offices cooperated in the controlled burn.

Also during the prescribed fire, the Missoula Fire Sciences Laboratory placed temperature sensors within mock cultural sites, which consisted of bone and stone remains. These instruments allow the BLM to determine the grass-fueled fire’s maximum temperature and understand its interaction with cultural resources, Chase explained.

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