Archaeological properties are one type of resource that must go through an environmental review prior to beginning a federal undertaking such as a construction project. Since archaeological sites are usually invisible resources, extensive survey of the project area is generally required. If a significant archaeological site is unearthed, work can be suspended until the site is evaluated and possibly excavated. These delays are costly and frustrating.
MnModel indicates the likelihood of finding pre-1837 archaeological properties anywhere within the state of Minnesota. This allows MnDOT to evaluate alternatives prior to a construction project's pre-design stage. The results enable the Minnesota Department of Transportation and local government partners to avoid significant pre-contact cultural resources in road and bridge construction projects, while saving money over previous methods.
Although many archaeological predictive models were developed previous to MnModel, we believe MnModel to be the first statistical archaeological predictive model developed for such a large area. The logistics of developing such a model required that a number of factors be present. These included the availability of statewide high-resolution digital environmental data, digital archaeological site data, and software and hardware powerful enough to manipulate very large file sizes. For Minnesota, many of the necessary data sets were just becoming available when the project began in 1995.
MnModel repaid its investment with savings in survey and mitigation costs alone in two years. Total cost savings over the first four years of use were documented at $3 million per year. MnDOT’s historically increasing expenditures for archaeological surveys have been stemmed.
In addition to these savings, MnModel:
- Allows MnDOT’s Cultural Resources staff to clear more projects per year.
- Reduces the number of MOAs required.
- Improves project turnaround time.
- Reduces schedule and budget uncertainty.
- Reduces cultural resource disturbance.
- Supports coordination among governmental organizations.