Predicting the Past, Vicksburg District

GIS map of Vicksburg District.

This image shows the unweighted mean archaeological probability (averaged across all 145 predictive surfaces) for an area along the Mississippi River just south of Vicksburg.

The US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), Vicksburg District, Archaeological Predictive Modeling Project is a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) analysis that was developed to help the district make land management decisions regarding significant archaeological resources. The goal was to be able to understand why certain areas are more likely to contain undisturbed archaeological sites, identify such areas, and avoid impacting or affecting them with on-going USACE activities. The model is a collection of 315 GIS layers (or “surfaces”) that represents the entire Vicksburg District (about 43 million acres of Southern Arkansas, Western Mississippi, and Northern Louisiana) at a resolution of 30 meters; or about 200 million datapoints for each layer. This compilation comprises more than 350 gigabytes of stored data, and had to be divided into four quadrants in order to be managed on a desktop computer. Statistical evaluations of these GIS surfaces are prepared in a deductive and explanatory framework that is designed to fit the temporal and behavioral models for prehistoric archaeology in the region. The results are 145 predictive formulas aimed at defining the archaeological “probability” in unsurveyed areas to a decimal value (to six places) between 0 and 1. Each is a representation of how likely archaeological materials are to be encountered for different prehistoric time periods and site types in any given 30 meter land square, within the district. These predictive layers can then be used to guide the planned activities, and day to day management, of the USACE, and federal permit applicants. Unlike less sophisticated “correlative” predictive models, this framework is designed to be accepting of new formulas, novel approaches to the evaluation of archaeological behaviors, and more accurate environmental data in the future. The end result is the ability to make informed decisions, and potentially reduce the chances of disturbing significant archaeological resources.

Ben at the Ziggurat at Aqar Quf, Iraq

Ben at the Ziggurat at Aqar Quf, Iraq

The Ziggurat at Aqar Quf, Iraq

The Ziggurat at Aqar Quf, Iraq

Three Generations of Roberts in Uniform

Three Generations of Roberts in Uniform

Employee Profile:

Mr. Roberts is a Historian and GIS Specialist and currently serves as a Project Manager in our Savannah office. Ben has worked for Brockington for almost 3 years, starting out in our Elizabethtown, Kentucky office in 2010. Ben has a Master of Historic Preservation (M.H.P.) from the University of Georgia and holds a bachelor’s degree in Anthropology from Western Carolina University and GIS from Kennesaw State University. Ben has experience in architectural survey, the production of reports, evaluation of traditional cultural properties, National Register nominations, and local historic property designations.

Q: How did you become interested in cultural resources management?

A: I’ve always been interested in peoples and cultures, and how different cultural groups interact with each other. History and heritage have always been an interest of mine, and my Father has always been into history as well. As a kid I was really into military history because my Father had been in the Army in Vietnam and his Father, (my namesake) spent 33 months in the South Pacific with the Army during World War Two (see photograph 1). Growing up, I spent a lot of time with my Grandmother (Ruth ‘Mimi’ Gudger Roberts) in the mountains just outside Ellijay, GA. She came from a large family and I saw old pictures and heard lots of stories from all my great-aunts/uncles and cousins as I grew up. They all told me stories about our family history and about living and growing up in the Southern Appalachian Region. I’ve always been fascinated about that side of my heritage.

My Mother’s heritage is from a different chapter of American history. She is a first-generation Italian-American, and she told me many stories about our old-world Family. I always found it interesting how the two sides of my Family are from completely different backgrounds, but are both equally part of the American story.

So, when I chose a major in College, I picked Anthropology because it not only studied human history, it also examines the relationship between all the cultures and how they interact with each other and why we (humans) do what we do. I eventually got a job as an Archaeological Field Technician and worked throughout the Southeastern U.S. I guess you could say that was my initial entry into the world of CRM. Eventually I went back to school for a Master’s degree. That is why I chose the MHP program; it was a bit different than staying in archaeology, but still a related field and well within the CRM umbrella.

Q: When you were serving in Iraq with the Army, with what kinds of cultural resources protection or preservation efforts were you involved?

A: Not very many, most of my time in Iraq was spent as a Platoon Leader in a Combat Engineer (Sapper) Company. I was temporarily reassigned after having been a combat engineer platoon leader in west Baghdad for six months, to liaison between a task force comprised of elements of the 926th Engineer Brigade and the 1st Battalion of the 21st Infantry Regiment (1/21 IN) for a roughly three-week period. Known as Task Force Iron Gimlet (TFIG), our goal was to scope, put to bid, and conduct quality assurance/control (QA/QC) for potential community development projects, carried out by local contractors and businessmen. The majority of the contracts that went out for bid were for school improvements, local market development, and micro-loans for small business owners.

One of the most interesting potential development projects I assisted in scoping was for improving the tourism infrastructure around the 4,500 year old Ziggurat at Aqar Quf (photograph 2), just west of Baghdad. The scope was for the renovation of the once thriving visitor center/museum, café, and surrounding public space, and did not involve any work on the ancient ruins of the ziggurat or the nearby village associated with the site. As a preservationist, I was very adamant that as U.S. Soldiers, we should not get involved in or be seen doing anything dealing with working on or altering the actual ancient structures at the site and emphasized the importance of staying neutral in terms of how we were viewed as supporting the local government. It was a delicate balancing act as I was not there as a preservationist or CRM professional, but as an U.S. Army engineer officer.

Q: Are you involved in preservation outside work?

A: Yes, I am a member of two working groups: The Cultural Heritage by AIA-Military Panel (CHAMP - and The Combatant Command Cultural Heritage Action Group (C-CHAG - Both groups are involved in the protection of cultural property and heritage around the world, mainly in conflict zones (like Mali, Libya, Afghanistan) and places affected by major natural disasters (like Haiti and Japan). They work closely with the International Committee of the Blue Shield, ICOMOS, and other government and non-governmental organizations to help protect and preserve the world’s heritage for future generations.

Q: What do you do for fun?

A: My wife Laura and I spend time with our son, Nathaniel. We enjoy the many parks, restaurants, and historic sites near our home here in Savannah. We also like to travel as much as we can.



Charleston County, SC was recognized by American City and County with a 2012 Crown Communities Award for Inland Rice research conducted by Brockington

Archaeologist Michael Creswell has joined the Register of Professional Archaeologists (RPA)

Archaeologist James Page has completed Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (HAZWOPER) training

Archaeologist and Graphics Specialist Inna Moore has received Geographic Information Systems Professional (GISP) certification

Archaeologist Phyllis Rigney has been appointed to the SAA Committee on the Status of Women in Archaeology

Employees volunteering at Oakland Cemetery.

Community Service

A recent community service opportunity took Brockington’s Atlanta office to historic Oakland Cemetery to pull weeds and tidy plantings before the onset of winter. Founded in 1850, Oakland Cemetery is the final resting place of many notable Atlantans, including Bobby Jones and Margaret Mitchell. As part of the 19th century rural garden cemetery movement, Oakland was designed to be aesthetically-pleasing and a draw for families and picnickers. With help from volunteers and a dedicated staff, the cemetery is able to continue this legacy today.

The History Workshop:
Voices of the Sandhills

Still from Voices of the Sandhills video

American Indians arrived in the region over 10,000 years ago. By about 7,000 years ago, the Sandhills looked very much like it does today with sandy soils and longleaf pines. Although Indian people did not live in the Sandhills in great numbers, this region was asource of plants and animals.
     The History Workshop presented stories from the descendants of some of these groups including the Catawba, Lumbee, and Tuscarora in an educational video and Web site, available at