The investigation of historical rice cultivation using advanced geospatial techniques and archaeological methods at Wormsloe Historic Site, Georgia
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Despite much of the environmental history of Wormsloe State Historic Site on the Isle of Hope, Georgia, having previously been documented and described, there are still some unanswered questions. For example, whether rice cultivation was ever performed at Wormsloe has been a question without a definitive answer up until now. The primary goal of this study, therefore, is the investigation of clues within the Isle of Hope landscape that may provide legacy evidence of rice cultivation and place Wormsloe within the agricultural context of the Southeastern U.S. coast in the 18th and 19th centuries. Through advanced remote sensing techniques such as terrestrial laser scanning (TLS) and unmanned aerial systems (UAS), as well as archaeobotanical techniques such as phytolith analysis, the micro topography of the island was mapped and soil components identified to provide archaeological evidence of historical rice cultivation. Terrestrial laser scanning was employed to create a high resolution 3D bare earth digital elevation model (DEM) of the area under investigation where present-day topographic features such as ditches and embankments were indicative of water control within a potential rice field. Furthermore, the use of UASs allowed the collection of multiple images of the terrain from different angles that were employed to create a 3D model of the landscape through the photogrammetric technique known as Structure from Motion (SfM). Finally, phytolith analysis was employed to analyze microscopic silica bodies in the soil which can be indicative of historical crop cultivations. Ground inspection of former rice fields throughout the Low Country was performed in order to appreciate the different environmental settings, scales, and methods employed to cultivate the crop. The results from the samples reveal the presence of rice phytoliths, and combined with micro topographic features of legacy water control, suggest the area was indeed historically used for the cultivation of rice in the form of subsistence agriculture. This study fills a gap in Wormsloe’s environmental history, increases Wormsloe’s cultural, archaeological, and historical significance within the Southeastern coast, and provides advanced geospatial methods for assessing landscape legacies.