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National Park Service Remote Sensing Division Records

Identifier: Coll 0008

Scope and Contents

Scope and Contents:

This collection consists of the records of the Remote Sensing Division of the Southwest Cultural Resources Center. The bulk of the records spans from the division’s creation as part of the Chaco Center through its eventual reorganization into a branch within the Southwest Cultural Resources Center. Records dated prior to 1969 are mostly reference material; records dated in the 1990s and 2000s include additional project material and imagery on remote sensing projects conducted by NPS sites.

Administrative files document the management of the division and its staff, general progress of projects, research in remote sensing techniques, and production of in-house publications. Research material referenced by staff while preparing and revising reports, publications, and manuals may be found in the general research files. Project files include correspondence, reports, data, and related materials that illustrate the progress of various aerial photography and archeology projects the division actively participated in or consulted on. Most of the aerial photography produced by these projects—along with assorted slides and glass plate positives—are filed separately as photographic materials.

Materials in this collection include: correspondence, memoranda, reports, manuscripts, drafts, illustrations, bibliographies, proposals, cooperative agreements, contracts, articles, lecture notes, archeology field notes and survey forms, computer printouts, image logs, aerial photographs, terrestrial photographs, photomosaics, negatives, slides, glass plate positives, maps, overlays, procurement forms, invoices, and reference material.


  • 1929-2005 (bulk dates: 1965-1987)


Biographical / Historical


Remote sensing is a method of obtaining information about an object or area using a recording device that does not itself come into physical contact with that object or area. One of the principal forms of remote sensor imagery is aerial photography; this imagery affords a systematic means of searching for archeological features that may otherwise go unnoticed. The Remote Sensing Division—a section of the National Park Service (NPS) that operated under a variety of names and organizational structures from 1969-1986—performed pioneering work using remote sensing techniques. Some of the specific activities performed by the division over the years include: creating highly accurate photogrammetric maps of archeological sites and previously unmapped areas; identifying archeological and environmental resources to be surveyed and protected; providing archeological survey data; and investigating data collection and manipulation techniques using a variety of equipment and image types.

The work of the Remote Sensing Division began with a cooperative agreement between NPS and the University of New Mexico (UNM) that was signed in 1969 and revised in 1971. This agreement established the Chaco Canyon Archeological Center, a joint endeavor to inventory the visible archeological resources and conduct multidisciplinary research in the area of Chaco Canyon, New Mexico. The center developed and ran the Chaco Project, a comprehensive, fifteen-year archeological project that incorporated the use of remote sensing tools (primarily aerial photography) to map architectural remains and natural features related to the Chacoans, the Ancient Pueblo Peoples who populated the Four Corners region of the United States.

Initially, the center’s administrative staff and researchers worked throughout the UNM campus. Dr. Thomas Lyons, an employee at the university’s Technology Application Center, became the center’s interim director until April 1971, when Dr. Robert Lister was appointed as permanent director and Dr. Lyons became the de facto manager of the remote sensing aspects of the Chaco Project. The center’s name changed to the New Mexico Archeological Center in August 1971. A permanent research facility was constructed in the campus’s anthropology building in 1972 and renamed the Chaco Center in 1973. Early projects managed by the center focused on obtaining imagery and other remote sensing data from what was then Chaco Canyon National Monument. However, the center quickly broadened its focus to include the development of workable techniques and methodologies for the application of remote sensing to cultural resource management, study, and treatment service-wide. Due to the remote sensing program’s expanding activities, in November 1976 NPS separated the remote sensing functions of the Chaco Center from the purely Chaco-related research performed there. The result was the creation of the Division of Remote Sensing and the Division of Chaco (later Cultural) Research, both of which operated within the NPS Southwest Cultural Resource Center. Dr. Lister served as director until his retirement in 1978, at which point Dr. W. James Judge succeeded him. The Remote Sensing Division soon began documenting areas other than Chaco Canyon and consulting with NPS parks and monuments on their own remote sensing activities, eventually covering at least a portion of all NPS lands west of the Mississippi River. Some other notable mapping projects conducted by the division include the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska, Navajo Indian Irrigation Project, Seedskadee Project, and Senior Smokey Missions, the latter of which teamed NPS with the United States Air Force to produce thousands of aerial images of ninety NPS sites throughout the western United States. Furthermore, the Remote Sensing Division served as NPS’s representative in the professional community involved with cultural resource remote sensing, remaining current on that community’s research and advancements.

By 1982, an NPS reorganization renamed the division the Branch oRemote Sensing and placed it under the purview of the Division of Cultural Research. That same year, Dr. Lyons retired and Dwight L. Drager became Chief of the Branch of Remote Sensing. Arthur K. Ireland followed Drager as acting chief in 1985. By fiscal year 1986, a few parks and regional centers had developed enough remote sensing capabilities to pursue projects on their own; as a result, NPS de-activated the Branch of Remote Sensing. The Division of Cultural Research was renamed the Branch of Cultural Research, placed within the Southwest Cultural Resource Center’s Division of Anthropology, and relocated from UNM campus to the NPS Southwest Regional Office in Santa Fe. Eventually, the renamed Chaco Culture National Historic Park became responsible for NPS’s Remote Sensing Division records. Throughout its history, the Remote Sensing Division/Branch published and provided handbooks, manuals, and supplements on the theory and techniques behind remote sensing and its possible application to cultural resource management. Of special note are the “Reports of the Chaco Center”, the multi-part “Remote Sensing: A Handbook for Archeologists and Cultural Resource Managers”, and the compendium “Cultural Resources Remote Sensing”.


1969—A cooperative agreement establishes the Chaco Canyon Archeological Center; 1971—Name changes to the New Mexico Archeological Center; 1973—Name changes to the Chaco Center; 1976—Chaco Center is split into two divisions within the NPS Southwest Cultural Resource Center: Division of Remote Sensing (aka Remote Sensing Division) and Division of Chaco Research; 1978—Division of Chaco Research is renamed the Division of Cultural Research; Early 1980s—Division of Remote Sensing is renamed the Branch of Remote Sensing and placed within the Division of Cultural Research; 1985-1986—Branch of Remote Sensing is abolished; Division of Cultural Research is renamed the Branch of Cultural Research and placed under the Division of Anthropology within the NPS Southwest Cultural Resource Center


130.5 Linear Feet

Language of Materials




Organized into four series:

Series I: Administrative Files;

Series II: General Research Files;

Series III: Project Files;

Series IV: Photographic Materials.


Provenance: Documents produced by Remote Sensing Division staff and collected by Arthur Ireland, National Park Service.
Finding Aid for Remote Sensing Division Records
Coll 0008
History Associates Incorporated; National Park Service
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the NPS Chaco Culture NHP Repository

Hibben Center
Hibben Center Rm 306 - MSC01 1050
450 University Blvd NE
Albuquerque NM 87106 USA