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Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports 10 (2016) 363–376

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Monitoring cultural landscapes from space: Evaluating archaeological

sites in the Basin of Mexico using very high resolution satellite imagery
Christopher T. Morehart a,⁎, John K. Millhauser b
School of Human Evolution and Social Change, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ, 85287, United States
Department of Sociology and Anthropology, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC, 27695, United States

a r t i c l e i n f o a b s t r a c t

Article history: Satellite data allow archaeologists to not only identify archaeological sites and features but to monitor them in
Received 25 April 2016 relation to contemporary landscape changes. This article pursues this goal by assessing the contemporary condi-
Received in revised form 2 November 2016 tions of archaeological sites originally recorded over 40 years ago in the northern Basin of Mexico. We examine
Accepted 3 November 2016
archaeological site locations and 1970s land-use data recorded by surveyors against contemporary land-use in-
Available online xxxx
formation observable in very high resolution (VHR) GeoEye-1 multi-spectral satellite imagery. Our results dem-
onstrate continuity in the types of land classes within which sites existed during the 1970s and today, but they
Remote sensing also show significant changes with potentially negative impacts on the preservation of cultural resources. Most
Satellite data sites in agro-pastoral lands over 40 years ago remain in agro-pastoral land. However, the expansion of modern
Site monitoring settlements due to population growth and changing property laws has encroached on archaeological sites. Tech-
Landscape archaeology nological intensification of agricultural practices (i.e., tractors) can impact site preservation even if the landuse
Survey category remained unchanged. This article also discusses the potential impact that different settlement types, de-
Mexico positional environments, and looting can have on cultural resources and outlines key areas of future research re-
quiring the integration of remote sensing and archaeological fieldwork.
© 2016 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

1. Introduction use remotely sensed data to monitor the conditions of archaeological re-
sources. Indeed, UNESCO has maintained an open, international initia-
The application of satellite data to archaeological problems has re- tive to support the use of remote sensing technologies to conserve
ceived considerable attention in the past 10 to 15 years. This technolog- cultural and historic heritage since 2001. Parcak (2007, 2015) and
ical revolution offered unparalleled opportunities to see and to study Parcak et al. (2016), for example, studied satellite data to document
entire physical and cultural landscapes. The range of applications con- the extent of ongoing looting activities in Egypt. Lasaponara et al.
tinues to be diverse. They include actual survey and mapping, (2012) also employed satellite data to detect looting in Peru. These ap-
documenting archaeological sites in forested or remote areas, and clar- plications, stress that archaeological research is not simply focused on
ifying the visibility of buried anthropogenic features (e.g., De Laet et al., documenting the distant past. Archaeological or cultural heritage sites
2007; Due Trier et al., 2009; Garrison et al., 2008; Hritz and Pournelle, exist in the present. In studying the conditions of these historic re-
2016; Lasaponara and Masini, 2007, 2011, 2012; Morehart, 2012; sources, archaeologists provide important data on contemporary eco-
Parcak, 2008). nomic, political, social, and environmental transformations.
Archaeologists also have used remotely sensed data to study recent This article takes this approach of bridging past and present by eval-
landscape change. For example, Myers (2010) used Google Earth imag- uating the conditions of archaeological sites in the Basin of Mexico, the
ery to document the materialization of governmental power via con- central highland region that today surrounds Mexico City. This is a rap-
structions at Guantanamo Bay prison camp in Cuba. Researchers also idly transforming region, with the expansion of urban and sub-urban
development as well as changes in agrarian and pastoral economies.
In the 1960s and the 1970s, teams of archaeologists documented thou-
⁎ Corresponding author.
sands of archaeological sites in the basin in order to reconstruct the
E-mail addresses: (C.T. Morehart), region's Prehispanic history from the earliest pottery users to the arrival (J.K. Millhauser). of the Spanish. Archaeologists undertook their surveys when population
2352-409X/© 2016 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
364 C.T. Morehart, J.K. Millhauser / Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports 10 (2016) 363–376

of Mexico City and the surrounding state of Mexico was exploding 32). Archaeologists documented several thousand sites that date from
(Ezcurra et al., 1999). In 1970, this combined area had a population of the Early Formative period (1500–1150 BCE) to the Late Postclassic pe-
around 11 million. By 2010, this area had approximately 30 million in- riod (1350–1519 CE) and range in size from small hamlets to large,
habitants. Since the mid-1980s, the population of Mexico City (which urban centers.
today encompasses the broader area formerly denominated as Federal This article specifically examines the data for the Zumpango survey
District) has remained stable. Consequently, the vast majority of this region (Figs. 1–2). This region extends from the ancient lake shores
growth has occurred in the surrounding state of Mexico1, where most and drained beds of Lake Zumpango and Lake Xaltocan north into the
of the archaeological sites documented in the 1960s and 1970s exist. foothills of the southern Mezquital valley, where other teams of archae-
Below, we first describe the Basin of Mexico and the regional surveys ologists undertook regional survey around the ancient city of Tula
undertaken in this area. We focus our analysis on a part of the northern (Mastache et al., 2002). We selected this area for three reasons. First,
Basin of Mexico, north of Mexico City, that archaeologists have labeled given the nature of data reporting, it is currently not possible to use set-
the Zumpango region (Fig. 1). We integrate georeferenced survey data tlement data from the Cuautitlan, Temascalapa, and Teotihuacan re-
from this area with recently acquired GeoEye-1 VHR satellite data. We gions to achieve this project's goals (see below). Second, of the
next discuss the methods we employed to refine the survey data as remaining survey regions, urban sprawl around Mexico City has affect-
well as to create ortho-corrected, pan-sharpened, multi-spectral com- ed the Zumpango region the least. Third, we have worked in this area for
posite images of the study area. Our comparison of archaeologically re- a number of years, conducting research on sites first recorded by Par-
corded data with remote sensing data allows us (1) to assess the sons in the 1970s. Assessing site conditions remotely has basic implica-
potential impact of contemporary land-use on archaeological resources tions for ongoing and future research.
and (2) to compare land-use data recorded during surveys with pres-
ent-day land use, which offers important insight into historical change. 3. Methods
Our results demonstrate that significant changes have occurred, though
most of the area remains agro-pastoral. These findings open the door for This section begins by assessing the nature of the Basin of Mexico
future research on contemporary transformations that affect both ar- survey data. We describe how the data were modified and tailored to
chaeological sites and entire landscapes. meet our goals. These changes allowed us to integrate the survey data
in a Geographic Information System with other forms of spatial data,
2. The Basin of Mexico survey and the Zumpango region particularly satellite imagery. We next discuss the nature of the satellite
imagery employed in this project, specifically how we processed the im-
The Basin of Mexico is located in the central Mexican highlands, be- agery and our justifications for the approach followed. Finally, we dis-
tween about 2200 and 2700 m asl (Fig. 1). It was a closed drainage basin cuss how we updated the current land conditions of archaeological
(measuring approximately 7000 km2), though a series of major drain- sites using the satellite data with the survey data. We try to be as concise
age projects within the past 400 years have created anthropogenic out- and non-technical as possible (while maintaining essential, procedural
lets. Several major ecological zones exist in the area, reflecting a mosaic terminology) to increase the replicability of this work for both special-
of environmental resources, including paleo-lake beds and shores, river- ists and non-specialists.
ine systems, alluvial zones and flood plains, surrounding piedmont and
foothills, and a high sierra (Sanders et al., 1979: 84–89). Geologically, it 3.1. Survey data
is a volcanic region, and most of the archaeological record (especially of
sedentary periods) overlays volcanic and carbonate deposits laid down The Basin of Mexico survey data are available in several formats.
from the Pleistocene to the Early Holocene (Arroyo de Anda, 1964: 394). Most recently, the data have been enumerated, analyzed, and described
The intensive, full coverage surveys in the 1960s and 1970s in the in detail in Parsons' (2008) monograph of the Zumpango region survey.
Basin of Mexico represent one of the most significant research pro- Earlier monographs describe the survey data for other regions (Parsons,
jects undertaken in New World archaeology. Stimulated by a Nation- 1971; Parsons et al., 1982). The data for all three survey regions are
al Science Foundation symposium on the long term history of the listed in tabular format in a separate volume (Parsons et al., 1983). Sur-
Valley of Mexico, anthropologists and archaeologists recognized veyors first drew site locations on aerial photographs and subsequently
both the need and the great opportunity to place archaeological translated these locations to maps to obtain coordinates. These data
data in a historical and regional context (Wolf, 1976; see also were later tabulated in Microsoft excel and were until recently available
Gorenflo, 2015; Nichols, 2006; Parsons, 2006, 2009, 2015). This for download via the University of Michigan's web site. This latter
work was a product of the transforming orientation of archaeology, source provided the basic tabular data for the current study. Significant-
which sought to integrate site specific studies into regional tradi- ly, each site also is associated with a list of attribute data important for
tions focused on the long-term change of human societies and the current project. These attributes include site size, time period, site
human environments. type (i.e., hamlet, village, center, etc.), environmental zone, soil deposi-
The survey was subdivided into several major areas and studied by tion, erosion, and, importantly, land-use. The land use categories re-
teams of archaeologists largely from Pennsylvania State University and corded include Agricultural, Grazing (i.e., pasture), Grazing and
the University of Michigan (Fig. 1). William Sanders and colleagues Agriculture, None, and Settlement. Land use attributes were particularly
led surveys of the Teotihuacan, Cuautitlan, and Temascalapa regions important for the current study.
(Sanders, 1965; Gorenflo and Sanders, 2007; Sanders et al., 1979). Rich- Paper maps of site distributions also are available in separate vol-
ard Blanton (1972) conducted a survey of the Ixtapalapa peninsula in umes (e.g., Parsons et al., 1983; Sanders et al., 1979). But it is no longer
the southern Basin. Parsons (1971, 2008) and Parsons et al. (1982) led necessary to incorporate paper maps into a GIS given innovations in
surveys of the Texcoco, Chalco-Xochimilco, and Zumpango regions. spatial computer applications. The data for contiguous survey regions
Each of these survey regions targeted multiple ecological zones. Sur- (Teotihuacan, Cuautitlan, and Temsacalapa) are also available in both
veyors employed full-coverage, pedestrian survey, and they used simi- tabular and descriptive format (Gorenflo and Sanders, 2007). These
lar methods to identify sites, specify their sizes, and assess their data were not employed here because they physically fall out of the
chronologies, complexity, and populations (Sanders et al., 1979: 11– present case study (i.e., the Zumpango region) and because the UTM co-
ordinates reported were rounded to the nearest kilometer and do not
Population and demographic data for municipalities and states of Mexico are available
reflect actual site locations. Hence, they cannot be used to monitor site
for free download at the website for the Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía conditions. Tolstoy (1958) undertook an earlier, less-systematic study
(INEGI). of the northern Basin of Mexico. He provided site locations on a paper
C.T. Morehart, J.K. Millhauser / Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports 10 (2016) 363–376 365

Fig. 1. Map of the Basin of Mexico showing major survey zones (adapted from Parsons, 2008: 4).

map and discussed locations in relation to towns, roads, and landmarks. Postclassic period, ca. 900 CE–1200 CE), and 302 Aztec sites (Middle
However, we have not employed these data given the difficulty in and Late Postclassic periods, 1200 CE–1519 CE).
assessing the accuracy and precision of his data. The finalized table was imported into ArcGIS 10, projected in UTM
We made several changes to the survey data table for this project. Zone 14N coordinates (WGS 84). To simplify this project as well as to
First, it was necessary to adjust the UTM Eastings and Northings by mul- enhance its feasibility and replicability, all analyses of the survey data
tiplying the available figures by 1000. This modification allowed us to were performed in ArcGIS. Each site is represented as a point feature.
integrate the survey data with other spatial data, particularly remote We discuss the implications of representing sites as points later in this
sensing satellite imagery. Second, given the geographical focus, we article.
omitted all sites outside the Zumpango region, leaving a total of 738.
Third, we compared the tabular data with the site descriptions 3.2. Satellite data
Parsons (2008: 119–334) provides. In general, this had little effect on
the data. However, one major difference involved Classic period sites. The use of remote sensing imagery was fundamental to the original
In the original survey as well as the tabular data (Parsons et al., 1983), pedestrian surveys conducted in the 1960s and 1970s in the Basin of
Classic period sites are separated into Early Classic (“EC”) and Late Clas- Mexico (Sanders et al., 1979). Surveyors used air photos to help navi-
sic (“LC”). However, Parsons (2008: 131) revised these designations to gate terrain as well as to physically indicate the locations of archaeolog-
be more chronologically conservative, lumping both Early and Late Clas- ical sites.
sic sites together as Classic (“CL”). His final tabulation included a total of In this vein, we acquired and processed several different sources of
90 Classic period sites (ZU-CL-1 to ZU-CL-90). This change affected the remote sensing information for our projects in the area, ranging from
final survey data. Most Early and Late Classic sites occupied a single geo- aerial photographs taken in the 1950s to Landsat imagery collected
graphical site locus. Combining the sites eliminated 78 final sites in the from the 1970s to present day. Aerial photographs are generally high
survey data. The final site tabulation included 662 regional sites: 1 Late resolution with variable cloud cover. Landsat imagery varies greatly in
Formative site (ca. 500 BCE–250 BCE), 26 Terminal Formative sites (ca. spatial quality, particularly resolution and the sensors that collect wave-
250 BCE–150 CE), 90 Classic sites (150 CE–650 CE), 30 Early Toltec sites length data from the light spectrum. For example, Landsats 1 through 4
(Epiclassic period, ca. 650 CE–900 CE), 213 Late Toltec sites (Early offer remote sensing data from 1971 (with the launch of Landsat 1) to
366 C.T. Morehart, J.K. Millhauser / Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports 10 (2016) 363–376

Fig. 2. Extent of study area, showing mosaic of VHR GeoEye-1 data with superimposed archaeological survey data. Images Courtesy of the DigitalGlobe Foundation.
C.T. Morehart, J.K. Millhauser / Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports 10 (2016) 363–376 367

2001 (with the termination of Landsat 4). Its Multispectral Scanner Table 1
(MSS) sensor collected data from the visible green and red and the in- Metadata associated with GeoEye-1 coverages.

frared parts of the spectrum at a 68 m (per pixel) resolution. Landsat Image ID Latitude Longitude Acquisition date % Cloud cover
5, 7, and 8 collect data a wider range of spectral data at better resolu- 0000000 19.94464868 −99.00661836 12/17/2010 0
tions, and Landsat 7 and 8 ETM+ sensor data include a 15 m panchro- 0010000 19.94047651 −99.22699569 11/28/2011 0
matic image, allowing researchers to create higher resolution, multi- 0010001 19.93947911 −99.13196865 11/28/2011 0
spectral data fusion products. 0010002 19.93848487 −99.03928904 11/28/2011 0
0020000 19.81321083 −99.22808095 11/28/2011 0
This project was focused on determining the current condition of
0020001 19.81305262 −99.13457228 11/28/2011 0
cultural resources using archaeological survey data represented by dis- 0020002 19.81283642 −99.04106059 11/28/2011 0
crete points. Hence, we needed data that were both recent and at a 0030000 19.69763228 −99.20392354 12/09/2011 0
higher resolution than publically available, governmental data. Com- 0030001 19.69665280 −99.06390668 12/09/2011 0
mercial satellite systems typically lack the wide range of spectral infor- 0040000 19.94363794 −99.22843079 07/21/2012 17
0040001 19.94319092 −99.13521802 07/21/2012 12
mation that Landsat has, but they have higher resolution data products. 0040002 19.94256868 −99.04111349 07/21/2012 2
The application of commercial satellite data, namely Quickbird VHR 0050000 19.89169560 −99.22776269 02/09/2013 0
multi-spectral imagery proved effective in previous research on archae- 0050001 19.89154693 −99.13387369 02/09/2013 0
ological landscapes in this region. Morehart (2012) used Quickbird data 0050002 19.89146611 −99.04053569 02/09/2013 0
0060000 19.76515279 −99.22819289 02/09/2013 0
to map an ancient raised field farming system adjacent to the modern
0060001 19.76503950 −99.13483641 02/09/2013 0
town of Xaltocan and compared the applicability of various sources of 0060002 19.76487755 −99.04130526 02/09/2013 0
remote sensing data in reconstructing landscapes and identifying an- 0070000 19.67865454 −99.20412944 02/09/2013 0
cient features. The current project required a much wider spatial extent. 0070001 19.67718702 −99.06420611 02/09/2013 0
Consequently, we applied for and received a Digital Globe Foundation 0080000 19.96865441 −99.22558447 04/05/2013 0
0080001 19.96886061 −99.12709122 04/05/2013 0
Imagery grant, which provided GeoEye-1 VHR satellite data covering
0090000 19.97009963 −99.24275596 07/02/2013 0
1263 km2 of the northern Basin of Mexico and southern Mezquital Val-
ley (Fig. 2).
The GeoEye-1 data were delivered as 23 separate geographical cov- tools. The smaller raster DEM was used to ortho-correct band and pan-
erages. Each coverage consists of four multi-spectral band images and a chromatic images for all coverages in the study area.
panchromatic image. Multi-spectral bands target the visible red, visible The GeoEye-1 images were still separate bands. Consequently, it was
green, visible blue, and near infrared parts of the spectrum. Each multi- necessary to combine the images into composite data products. We
spectral band image has a 1.65 m per pixel resolution. The panchromatic used the Composite Bands raster processing tool in ArcGIS to integrate
image captures a wider swath of the spectrum and has a much higher the separate bands into a single raster. We loaded each band in conven-
resolution of 0.41 m per pixel. Acquisition dates include seven dates in tional order, red, green, blue, near infrared (rgbn) in the tool utility,
both the dry and the rainy season across four years (Table 1): December allowing us to maintain control over display and integration (since
17, 2010 (dry season); November 28, 2011 (dry season); December 9, ArcGIS does not retain original band file names in composites).
2011 (dry season); July 21, 2012 (rainy season); February 9, 2013 (dry Composite rasters retain their constituent bands, allowing re-
season); April 5, 2013 (late dry season); and July 2, 2013 (rainy season). searchers to create different compositions, such as true color or false
With the exception of one date (July 21, 2012) affecting three coverages, color composites. However, we required greater resolution in our final
most images had zero cloud cover obstruction. However, cloud cover data fusion products. Consequently, we employed the panchromatic im-
was not extensive, obstructing 17%, 12%, and 2% of these coverages' sur- ages to produce 0.41 m per pixel, pan-sharpened multi-spectral images.
face visibility. We undertook this step using the Create Pan-sharpened Raster Dataset
The GeoEye-1 data were delivered as georeferenced products using tool in the Data Management toolbox. Each multi-spectral composite
a geographic projection and datum WGS 84 and could readily be used was uploaded into the tool utility. Each band was assigned to its corre-
for a number of quick tasks. However, several major modifications of sponding channel so that the initial product would be a pan-sharpened
the data were necessary to integrate them and to correct errors. These true color composite (rgb), though we retained the ability to create al-
adjustments included (1) the ortho-correction of individual band im- ternative composite displays if needed. We also used the optional
ages, (2) the creation of multi-spectral composites; and (3) the creation Gram-Schmidt pan-sharpening method, which has the added benefit
of pan-sharpened, multi-spectral image products. All these tasks were in ArcGIS of allowing analysts to select the specific sensor used to collect
performed using the raster processing tools in the ArcGIS 10.2 Data the spectral data (in our case, GeoEye-1).
Management toolbox. These procedures resulted in 23 pan-sharpened, multi-spectral com-
The GeoEye-1 data had to be ortho-corrected to fix topographic spa- posite images, each with a resolution of 0.41 m per pixel (Fig. 2). Given
tial errors given the spatial extent of the study area and its variable ter- that each image was already georeferenced and ortho-corrected, it was
rain. Each coverage was delivered with a rational polynomial coefficient not necessary to integrate all the individual images into a single, large
(rpc) model file to use for orthorectification. This requires each band raster. The images already produced a mosaic and retaining their inde-
image to be individually ortho-corrected (rather than creating and sub- pendence gave us greater control.
sequently ortho-correcting a multi-image mosaic). Ortho-correction
also requires a digital elevation model (DEM). A 15 m resolution Light 3.3. Updating land conditions of archaeological sites
Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) DEM was downloaded from the
Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía2 and incorporated into The archaeological site data were added to the GIS in order to com-
ArcGIS. Given the large file size and spatial extent, a sub-section of the pare site locations and earlier land-use categories with current land
DEM was extracted for use by generating a polygon shapefile over the conditions. Several techniques can be performed on multi-spectral sat-
satellite coverage and clipping the raster using the raster processing ellite data to distinguish between urban and non-urban space, allowing
researchers to re-classify and simplify raster data. Urban spaces are het-
erogeneous, however, making their classification difficult (Hester et al.,
We downloaded data from the Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía (INEGI). 2008; Lillesand et al., 2015; Moran, 2010). Impervious surfaces in mod-
INEGI also offers LiDAR data at 5 m resolution for much of the Basin of Mexico but south of
ern settlements, for example, exhibit a wide range of spectral values.
the current study area. The improved spatial resolution of VHR data contributes to the chal-
continental/presentacion.aspx. lenges of classifying heterogeneous space. Heterogeneity, however,
368 C.T. Morehart, J.K. Millhauser / Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports 10 (2016) 363–376

may be obscured or artificially homogenized in coarse-grained data. For two sites were placed in this category, and it was not identified in
example, a false color image based on Landsat 5 TM data from the mid- the original survey data (Fig. 3c).
1980s may provide a visual contrast between urban and forested spaces.
When used to evaluate how modern land use impacts archaeological re-
sources, however, this approach may lead one to falsely categorize some Modern settlement. This includes multiple land use types, including
sites as destroyed by modern settlement, when the sites might exist in
modern condominiums, shopping centers, parking lots, structures
an open lot used for mixed activities but lacking buildings. A site in an
within historic towns, industrial facilities, chicken production facili-
urban open lot may be destroyed or threatened, but the potential for
its preservation is higher than a site located where a condominium ties, etc. A site was placed in this category when it clearly fell in a
complex has been built. built space (Fig. 3d–f).
In short, the major problem with older remote sensing data is
coarseness, but such coarseness can simplify reclassifications. The
major problem with VHR data, such as GeoEye-1, is the complex hetero- Open lot. Open lots refer to unbuilt space in a modern settlement. It
geneity of pixel values, but their resolution allows researchers to vi- can also represent multi-activity spaces on the edges of settlements
sually examine spaces that are more difficult to see with other that are difficult to classify as agricultural, grazing, or another activ-
sensor platforms. Given the high resolution of the GeoEye-1 data, ity. Today open lots in many towns are used to discard waste and
we decided to rely on visual assessment of site conditions rather often as grazing grounds for cattle or sheep. A key element is the
than reclassify the satellite images into new land-class rasters and
lack of constructions and their physical association with modern set-
extract site points falling within a particular class. We added a new
tlements (Fig. 3g).
data column to the survey data attribute table in ArcGIS labeled
“GeoEyeUse.” Using ArcGIS, we zoomed in on individual site loca-
tions, examined the land use at point locations, and manually en-
tered data in the new column. Road. Roads refer to new paved corridors or arteries that did not
Characterizing the contemporary site conditions requires an initial exist when the survey data were originally reported (or were per-
assessment of the major land use practices in the area today. Develop- haps simply dirt roads). As with modern settlement, road construc-
ments, particularly low-cost condominiums, have exploded in the past tion can be very destructive to cultural resources and also increase
decade. New roads and shopping centers also are common. Neverthe- sites' accessibility to looters (Fig. 3h).
less, large areas are used for agriculture and animal pasture (typically
cattle and goats). A strength of VHR data is that a high degree of differ-
entiation can be made between types of land-use, especially settlement Ponds. Ponds are anthropogenic bodies of water, excavated either
type, which is enhanced if analysists are familiar with the landscape of
for industrial purposes or, more commonly, for agro-pastoral activi-
the region of study. For the purpose of understanding the potential con-
ties (Fig. 3i).
ditions of archaeological sites, such a distinction may not be too produc-
tive: different kinds of settlement expansions might result in the same
destructive fate for archaeological sites (but see Discussion). However,
we have nevertheless created categories that recognize greater com- Quarries. Quarries are modern mines excavated in former site loca-
plexity of settled space (i.e., Open Lots, Roads, etc.). tions for gravel, tezontle (volcanic stone), sand, or other minerals.
We updated the site location land uses using the following The excavation of quarries typically results in complete site destruc-
categories: tion (Fig. 3j).

Agriculture. This includes parceled plots used for cultivation. Most 4. Results
agricultural land in this area is ejido land, which is state controlled
but communally administered land awarded to individual small- As we discussed above, a total of 662 archaeological site loci
exist in the Zumpango survey once Classic period sites are adjusted.
holders who maintain private usufruct rights. Most ejido lands are
Site land use categories in 1973 included Agricultural, Grazing,
cultivated every year, although in any given year a field may be left
Grazing and Agricultural, None, and Settlement. Fig. 4 displays the
unsown for a variety of reasons. Most are clearly parceled, making distribution of sites falling in specific land use categories in the
their identification easy. Even when overgrown, plow furrows are original survey data. The vast majority of archaeological sites, 489
another good indicator of agricultural use (Fig. 3a). or 73.87%, fell within agricultural land. Fewer sites, 99 or 14.95%
fell in grazing land, and 49 sites, or 7.40% fell in land categorized
as grazing-agricultural. A total of 24 sites, or 3.63%, existed in
Grazing. This includes lands principally used for grazing cattle and lands categorized as having no use. One site was recorded in asso-
sometimes goats. Pasture land is also typically ejido land, but is not ciation with a settlement, but the extent of building must not
parceled into smallholdings and is used communally. Consequently, have completely obscured archaeological remains. Not surprising-
it is not intensively modified and usually exists where farming is dif- ly, the survey data demonstrate a 1970s regional economy domi-
ficult. It is typically marked by low trees, such as nopal cacti (Opuntia nated by agro-pastoralism with 96% of archaeological sites falling
in these land-use categories.
sp.) and huizache (Acacia sp.), and scrub vegetation (Fig. 3b).
Our comparison reveals similarities and differences from the original
land use categorizations (Fig. 5). Similar to the 1970s, most of the sites
exist in agricultural land. A total of 473 sites, or 71.45%, are located in ag-
Forested. Forested areas were identified as zones of dense tree
ricultural spaces. The number of sites classified as existing in grazing or
growth. We were able to better examine this category by creating
pasture land declined. We classified no sites as existing in a mixed pas-
false color composite images by mapping the near infrared, red, ture-agricultural space. Only 6.50% of sites, or 43, exist in pasture, a re-
and green bands to the RGB channels of the image display in ArcGIS. duction of 55 sites. If we include the earlier mixed Grazing-Agriculture
The use of “forested” areas, however, likely is variable and appears to category, 104 fewer sites fall in pasture compared to the 1970s. An in-
include recently reforested pasture, swaths along streams, etc. Only crease in the number of sites falling in modern settlements also is
C.T. Morehart, J.K. Millhauser / Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports 10 (2016) 363–376
Fig. 3. Example of land categorized as (a) agricultural; (b) grazing and pasture; (c) forest (false color composite, nrg); (d) modern settlement (condominium complex); (e) modern settlement (chicken production facility); (f) modern settlement
(house); (g) open lot; (h) road; (i) pond; (j) quarry. Images Courtesy of the DigitalGlobe Foundation.

370 C.T. Morehart, J.K. Millhauser / Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports 10 (2016) 363–376










Fig. 4. Graph showing the distribution of sites falling in different land-use categories in the 1970s survey data.

evident. Sixty-six sites, or 9.97%, exist in heavily built space, such that Fifty-five sites, 8.3%, in pasture are now in lands converted to agricultur-
the conditions of the sites were likely affected. An additional 9.37%, or al land. Seven sites formerly in pasture are now in modern settlements,
62 sites, were located in open lots of modern settlement. Although and the same number of sites that were in pasture in the 1970s are now
these site loci were not directly on modern buildings, when these fig- in open lots associated with modern settlements. One site that was in
ures are combined to reflect settlement, almost 20% of the archaeologi- pasture is in forested space, though it is important to note that this
cal sites are within or are in extremely close proximity to current settled area is on the slope of a hill used for cattle pasturing today (Cerro
space. This figure is increased somewhat if we add the 14 sites, or 2.11% Ahumada).
of the total, that exist in the path of modern roads. Only two sites were Changes to the mixed agriculture-grazing category further elucidate
in forested areas. One of these sites is in the forested tree line on the landscape transformations. A total of 24 sites, or approximately 3.62%, of
banks of a stream, and another is on the forested slope of a hill at the sites in this category are now in lands dedicated to farming. Only five
edge of pasture land. Finally, one site exists in a modern pond location, sites, or b 1%, placed in the agriculture-grazing category are today in
and another site was likely completely destroyed by a quarry. land dedicated to animal grazing. Nine sites in this land-use category
We also compare per site changes between the 1970s survey data and are today in modern settlement, and another nine are in open lots asso-
our analysis (Fig. 6). Just over half, 57.29% or 379 sites, which were in ag- ciated with settlements. Two sites, finally, are in the paths of roads.
ricultural land in the 1970s, are still in agricultural land. Five sites, or b 1% We did not categorize any sites as having no use. However, 2.11% of
of the total, that were in agricultural land are now in land converted to sites (n = 14) that were placed in this land category in the 1970s are
pasture. Forty-nine sites, or 7.4% of the total, were in farmland in the now in agricultural land. Only 4 sites in the no-use category are today
1970s but today are in modern settlements. Similarly, 41 sites, or just in pasture. One site in this category is today in a modern settlement,
over 6% of the total, that were in agricultural spaces during the original and five sites are in open lots. The only site that was classified as existing
survey are now located in open lots of modern settlements. An additional in a settlement is today in agricultural land.
12 sites that were in farmland are now in the path of roads, 1 site is in a Overall, these comparisons offer insight into the number of sites in
pond, 1 site is in a forested area, and another site is in a quarry. areas that can be broadly categorized as Agro-pastoral (combining all
Sites formerly in pasture also reveal changes in land use. Only 29 sites placed in Agriculture, Grazing, and Mixed Agriculture-Grazing cat-
sites (4.38%) in grazing areas in the 1970s are still in grazing areas. egories in the 1970s versus sites we categorized as existing in









Agriculture Grazing Modern Open Lot Road Forested Pond Quarry

Fig. 5. Graph showing the distribution of sites falling in different land-use categories in the recent GeoEye-1 data.
C.T. Morehart, J.K. Millhauser / Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports 10 (2016) 363–376 371

None to Grazing

None to Agriculture

Mixed Agri/Grazing to Road

Mixed Agri/Grazing to Open Lot

Mixed Agri/Grazing to Modern Settlement

Mixed Agri/Grazing to Grazing

Mixed Agri/Grazing to Agriculture

Grazing to Open Lot

Grazing to Modern Settlement

Grazing to Grazing

Grazing to Agriculture

Agriculture to Open Lot

Agriculture to Modern Settlement

Agriculture to Pasture

Agriculture to Agriculture

0% 10% 20% 30% 40% 50% 60% 70%

Fig. 6. Graph comparing changes in numbers of sites per land-use category between the 1970s data and our assessment. Only includes categories well represented.

Agriculture and Grazing areas today). Whereas 96% (n = 637) of ar- to preservation, deeper sites in agro-pastoral land might be in better
chaeological sites documented in the 1970s were in agro-pastoral conditions. Shallow sites were more common, representing 42.75%
spaces, almost 78% today are (n = 516). In other words, most sites (n = 283) of all sites, whereas deep sites only constituted 17.52%
that were in agro-pastoral spaces over 40 years ago still are in agro-pas- (n = 116) of the total. Similarly, 68% of all deeply buried sites (n =
toral spaces, though a decline is evident. 79) are in farmland, and 17.24% (n = 20) are in modern settlements.
We also considered the possible impact that depositional contexts Finally, we examined the possible relationship between present
might have on site preservation given recent landscape changes. Sur- land-use and the period of time in which a site was occupied. We
veyors recorded the approximate amount of soil deposition (Parsons, were specifically interested to determine if sites from particular time
2008; Parsons et al., 1983). Parsons (2015: 192) noted that deeply bur- periods were more likely to be affected by modern settlement. We rec-
ied sites could be better preserved than shallow ones. Shallow sites ognize assessing mechanisms of causality requires more information.
were recorded as having 1–25 cm of overburden, whereas deep sites However, justification exists for examining this issue. Many contempo-
had 100 cm or more. Medium depth sites fell within this range, which rary settlements are expansions of Colonial period towns (Gibson,
includes sites classified as shallow-medium and medium-deep. Table 1964). Many Colonial period settlements have spatial and temporal
2 presents a comparison of current land-use conditions and the deposi- contiguity and demographic continuity with Prehispanic settlements,
tional environments of archaeological sites. If the depth of sites relates notably Aztec sites (Charlton, 1972; Hodge, 1984; Hodge, 1998: 208;
Parsons, 2008: 33). Hence, one may expect a significant relationship be-
tween the locations of contemporary, modern settlement and some ar-
Table 2 chaeological sites depending on their occupations. In order to test the
Soil depth data for archaeological sites compared to the current land-use categories. hypothesis that no relationship exists, we calculated a chi-square test
Soil type Percent of total Percent of soil type Total of independence on these data. Due to low values in some land-use cat-
Deep/agriculture 11.93% 68.10% 79
egories, we combined Modern Settlement with Open Lots given their
Deep/modern settlement 3.02% 17.24% 20 spatial association and Agricultural with Grazing as both representative
Deep/open lot 1.81% 10.34% 12 of agro-pastoral land, and we omitted the other categories (as well as
Deep/road 0.76% 4.31% 5 the sites that fall within them). We also omitted the single Late Forma-
Medium/agriculture 30.06% 79.28% 199
tive site to avoid overly low expected values and satisfy the assumptions
Medium/forested 0.30% 0.80% 2
Medium/grazing 0.15% 0.40% 1 of chi-square. This reduced the overall number of sites to 643. Table 3
Medium/modern settlement 2.87% 7.57% 19 presents the contingency table with observed and expected values.
Medium/open lot 3.47% 9.16% 23 We found a significant relation between time period and land use,
Medium/pond 0.15% 0.40% 1 though a fairly small strength of association (X2 [4, n = 643] =
Medium/quarry 0.15% 0.40% 1
Medium/road 0.76% 1.99% 5
10.744, p b 0.05 (0.029), ϕ = 0.129).
Medium-deep/agriculture 0.45% 42.86% 3
Medium-deep/modern settlement 0.30% 28.57% 2 5. Discussions and future directions
Medium-deep/open lot 0.30% 28.57% 2
Shallow/agriculture 28.25% 66.08% 187
Parsons (2008: 104) recognized several contemporary landscape
Shallow/grazing 6.34% 14.84% 42
Shallow/modern settlement 3.78% 8.83% 25 changes that are affecting archaeological resources in the Basin of Mex-
Shallow/open lot 3.78% 8.83% 25 ico, including mechanized farming, urban sprawl, bulldozing, and quar-
Shallow/road 0.60% 1.41% 4 rying. Our analysis demonstrates that a number of these processes
Shallow-medium/agriculture 0.76% 100.00% 5 represent significant landscape changes in this region with potentially
negative consequences for the archaeological record. The expansion of
372 C.T. Morehart, J.K. Millhauser / Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports 10 (2016) 363–376

Table 3 The federal government modified the constitution in 1992, however,

Contingency table of expected and observed (in parentheses) frequencies of sites for each which made it possible for farmers to obtain title to their lands and to
time period in a major land-use category.
sell them. The explosive growth of condominiums and related ser-
Time period Agro-pastoral Modern settlement/open Total vices is tied to this process, intensified by population growth in the
lot state of Mexico and the declining exchange value of agricultural
Terminal Formative 20.82 (17) 5.18 (9) 26 commodities. This transformation possibly reflects a shift from
Classic 70.48 (71) 17.52 (17) 88 more collective forms of ownership to privatization to commerciali-
Epiclassic (Early Toltec) 24.03 (23) 5.97 (7) 30
zation. In this regard, the decline in sites in former grazing land
Early Postclassic (Late Toltec) 165.79 (179) 41.21 (28) 207
Aztec (Middle and Late 233.87 (225) 58.13 (67) 292 might be a proxy for a broader transformation of ownership regimes
Postclassic) away from more collectively managed resources.
Total 515 128 643 In our classification, we did not distinguish between types of modern
X2 10.744 settlement, but this is an important consideration for future analysis.
p 0.029
df 4
Different types of developments impact the landscape not simply geo-
ϕ 0.129 physically. They can have distinctive relationships to pre-existing social
and physical elements. A condominium complex or a large shopping
center financed and built by a commercial developer may spread across
modern settlement is the largest impact with obvious implications for the landscape differently than one connected to population increases in
the preservation of archaeological sites. Only 10% of sites recorded in local communities. The latter might be mediated by community—and
the 1970s are currently under modern settlement, but this number con- possibly familial—institutions, many of which have existed for centuries.
stitutes a sizeable increase from the original data. This figure almost Many modern settlements throughout the region have roots in the Co-
doubles if we include sites in open lots and increases more if we add lonial and Aztec periods (Charlton, 1972; Hodge, 1984; Hodge, 1998:
roads. Many settlement developments, such as expansive condominium 208; Parsons, 2008: 33). Indeed, our preliminary analysis suggests that
complexes, involve extensive land modifications. a significant, though weak, relationship exists between land use and
Settlement growth has affected archaeological sites previously in the chronology of archaeological sites. Settlement expansions in such
either grazing land or in agricultural land. Not surprisingly, the ex- places might occur more accretionarily (sensu Doolittle, 1984) at a
pansion of modern settlement has occurred in tandem with major low scale of intensity and with a potentially reduced impact on cultural
policy and legislative shifts in Mexico. Although some local towns resources. Individualized house construction, for example, usually in-
have access to indigenous, common land, most agro-pastoral land volves hand labor or light equipment, the excavation of shallow trench-
is ejido. Ejido land is maintained by individual families or is main- es for foundation walls, and poured concrete floors.
tained collectively, in the case of grazing land. Individual families Large-scale construction projects involving heavy equipment may
hold inheritable usufruct rights over ejido parcels, but the land was have a far more dramatic effect on archaeological sites. We would ex-
historically inalienable—having been awarded to communities by pect major commercial infrastructure to spatially and temporally devel-
the federal government (see Austin Memorandum, 1995; Díaz op systematically with less regard for pre-existing cultural and natural
Barriga, 1995; Fitting, 2011; Hamilton, 2002; Perramond, 2008). landscapes and with greater impact on cultural resources. This physical

Fig. 7. Examples of different physical practices local communities have undertaken to resist land appropriations a. Sign in Xaltocan Mexico stating that indigenous lands are not for sale; b.
recently constructed chapel on top of ancient mound in ejido of Huehuetoca near ongoing condominium constructions; c. reforestation program on Cerro Ahumada by the ejido of Apaxco;
d. ecological preserve sign for Cerro Ahumada in the ejido of Tequixquiac.
C.T. Morehart, J.K. Millhauser / Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports 10 (2016) 363–376 373

Fig. 8. GeoEye-1 image of archaeological site of Los Mogotes, showing ancient structures, ancient wall, and historic walls. White arrows = ancient wall. Black arrows = ancient mounds/
structures. Red arrows = historic walls. (For interpretation of the references to color in this figure legend, the reader is referred to the web version of this article.) Images Courtesy of the
DigitalGlobe Foundation.

process can be examined in the future via historical analysis of remote Epiclassic (or Early Toltec) period and likely was related politically to
sensing data and more specific classifications of impervious surfaces in other hilltop sites in the Tula region to the north (see Anderson et al.,
built spaces. The social aspects of this process, however, come from eth- 2015; Mastache et al., 2002; Parsons, 2006). Los Mogotes has several py-
nographic observations that indicate community resistance to such ramidal structures and is the only Epiclassic hilltop site in the area
changes. Some towns have protected common lands by erecting signs enclosed by a wall, suggesting possible conflict during this time
and fences. Others have sought to preserve ejido lands by building Cath- (Morehart, 2016). All of these features are clearly visible in VHR satellite
olic chapels in farmland or through ecological and reforestation pro- data and on the ground (Fig. 8). The site is located in the cattle grazing
grams (Fig. 7). These examples might indicate that the preservation of ejido land of Apaxco and Tequixquiac. Ongoing reforestation and eco-
archaeological resources can be incorporated into local projects to pro- logical projects may help its preservation, given extensive condomini-
tect community lands and ecosystems from sale or seizure. um construction along the southern and western slopes of Cerro
In the face of these changes, most archaeological sites are in agro- Ahumada.
pastoral land and, more specifically, the majority that were in agro-pas- Technological changes in agrarian practices since the 1970s is anoth-
toral land 40 years ago remain in agro-pastoral land today. This suggests er reason why systematic ground-truthing is necessary. The continued
that the landscape has remained largely dedicated to farming despite prevalence of agricultural land does not necessarily guarantee site pres-
economic transformations and large-scale infrastructural developments ervation. Increased tractor use has led to both deep plowing and chisel
(see Perramond, 2008). This continuity might indicate a positive out- plowing. Tractors also enable farmers to more easily clear land of debris
come for the preservation of archaeological resources. If most sites and obstacles, including mounds. Selected ground-truthing we have un-
were in these types of lands when they were recorded originally, they dertaken has demonstrated the negative impact of technological inten-
might be in comparable conditions today. sification in farming and land clearance (see also Parsons, 2008: 104).
Assessing this potential continuity in site preservation requires Many sites recorded with mounds no longer have them. For example,
ground-truthing. Unlike other regions in Mesoamerica, most of the the sites Zu-LT-87 and Zu-LT-75 were recorded as two of the larger
sites were represented by surface scatters without standing architecture Early Postclassic (Late Toltec) sites in the survey region with 7 and 12
or mounds (Parsons, 2008; Parsons et al., 1983). Only 21% of sites were mounds, respectively. Although surface concentrations of artifacts
recorded with mounds, and 61% of those only had one. Hence, it is diffi- from this period still exist in the site areas, the mounds are gone
cult to use even VHR satellite imagery to identify sites, especially given (Morehart and Campisano, 2016).
modern developments and the mosaic character of land surfaces. One Sites that were recorded with deep soil accumulation might be less
exception is the site Parsons recorded as Zu-ET-12, locally called Los damaged than their shallow site counterparts, particularly in agricultur-
Mogotes, located on the modern hill of Cerro Ahumada (Parsons, al lands. This potential preservation would require additional site
2008: 174). Los Mogotes is a local political center that dates to the ground-truthing. The depth of soil accumulation depends on the
374 C.T. Morehart, J.K. Millhauser / Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports 10 (2016) 363–376

with some transformational processes affecting site preservation more

severely than others and differentially across a site. During pedestrian
survey, Millhauser (2012) encountered sites that were partially ex-
posed in open lots and farmlands as well as partially covered or dis-
turbed by new commercial housing developments, older single-family
homes, silage ovens, and junkyards. Polygon boundaries of the sites
are not currently available for the Basin of Mexico surveys, but this lacu-
na is being remedied (see Gorenflo, 2015: 206). Specifying site bound-
aries can also occur in conjunction with revisiting and ground-
truthing sites (Millhauser, 2012; Morehart and Campisano, 2016).
The extent of looting is also not well documented at archaeological
sites in the Basin of Mexico. Most of the looting that we have observed
consists of relatively low-scale, though recurrent, operations
(Millhauser, 2013; Morehart and Crider, 2016) (Fig. 9), unlike the ex-
tensive looting that Parcak (2007, 2015) and Parcak et al. (2016) docu-
mented in Egypt. Nevertheless, documenting and monitoring looting
would benefit from integrating site polygons into the analysis in order
to focus on target anomalies within settlement boundaries.
Even if data are represented as points, our analysis offers significant
information on the potential conditions of and threats to archaeological
resources. The survey point data also provide important historical-geo-
graphical information from almost half a century ago. Comparing them
against contemporary spatial data elucidates not only archaeological
site preservation but also the transformation of an entire landscape.
Finally, future analyses to monitor the cultural resources will require
not only ground-truthing but renewed survey efforts. Colonial period
settlements, for example, were not included in the survey research de-
sign for the Zumpango region. Given continuity in the use of non-Euro-
pean ceramics into the Colonial period (see Charlton, 1976, 1996)
additional research might also help refine the chronology of sites
classified as Aztec. As Parsons (2015: 188–190) notes, more research
is needed to document “off-site” archaeological materials. Entire an-
thropogenic landscapes—terraces, canals, raised fields, etc.—are
threatened with destruction, and remote sensing analysis is an effec-
tive way both to document them and to monitor their conditions
(Armillas, 1971; Morehart, 2012).

6. Conclusion
Fig. 9. Evidence of looting at archaeological site (locally called Michpilco) north of
Xaltocan, Mexico, comparing GeoEye-1 image with on the ground photo. Satellite Image
Courtesy of the DigitalGlobe Foundation. Archaeologists frequently refer to the landscape as a palimpsest, like
a parchment in which previous writings are often only partially re-
moved to make way for new ones. Mexican archaeologist Pedro
geomorphological nature of site locations but also on the nature of the Armillas early made this observation, writing that “the landscape…can
archaeological record. For example, Parsons (2008: 164) observed that be pictured as a sort of palimpsest on which the marks of man's efforts
the site ZU-Cl-83 was both deeply buried and also had partially overlap- to change the natural environment are continually being erased and re-
ping components post-dating its Classic period occupation: “This [cul- written, and quite often smudged” (Armillas, 1971: 655). Armillas was
turally stratified] characteristic, together with the protective deep soil aware that processes that produced past landscapes—ecological, deposi-
cover, suggests that this may be an excellent locality for future strati- tional, political, economic, and social—were ongoing phenomena that
graphic excavations.” Observations of deposits buried below roads and inscribe themselves onto physical space and, quite frequently, wipe
plazas in Xaltocan and Tonanitla also indicate that a significant amount the slate clean of previous smudges and imprints. By creating frame-
of material may remain undisturbed under modern construction works to collect data on transforming landscapes and archaeological
(Brumfiel, 2005; Millhauser, 2013). Furthermore, the original settle- sites, we have the opportunity to document this process as it occurs.
ment surveyors only examined surface concentrations. Hence, the pos- Archaeological sites are disappearing in the Basin of Mexico
sibility exists that unrecorded sites, especially smaller ones, are (Parsons, 1990: 28, 2002, 2008: 104, 2015: 192). Parsons (2008: 104)
preserved under Late Holocene alluvium. expressed dismay at this process, but he also expressed optimism that
The overlapping, multi-component nature of some archaeological enough sites still exist to justify new research projects. Our analysis
sites reveals a limitation to the present study. Representing spatially demonstrates extensive landscape changes since the 1970s that have af-
variable sites with a single point does not capture the full range of pro- fected archaeological resources. But it also supports Parsons' hopeful-
cesses affecting preservation.3 For example, it is quite possible, and very ness. In areas close to the edges of urbanization, rapid access to
likely, that many sites exist in a range of modern land-use categories, information, even using Google Earth, can be critical in identifying
threats to archaeological sites. Moreover, this article demonstrates the
potential (and the need) for future investigations requiring the integra-
Although polygon boundary data are not currently available, site area estimates are. tion of remote sensing analysis, ground-truthing, and renewed surveys
Consequently, it would technically be possible to create buffers around site points in a
GIS to estimate the overlap of site areas with modern land-use. We did not perform this
to examine sites and other landscape features.
analysis because we felt it was far too artificial, and the shape of buffers could not be esti- Through multiple methodologies, ranging from space-borne satel-
mated or approximated based on area data alone. lites to walking on one's feet, archaeologists recover important data
C.T. Morehart, J.K. Millhauser / Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports 10 (2016) 363–376 375

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