For seeing the big picture, so to speak, archeologists turn to aerial imagery. For examining cultural landscapes over a large area, such as at Voyageurs National Park in Minnesota, historical aerial imagery supplies an incredible wealth of information. Although Voyageurs was not established as a national park until 1975, the earliest aerial photographs were taken in 1927 as a result of a flight conducted by the International Joint Commission (IJC) to manage the waterways between Canada and the United States (Bullard and Scovil 1930). Under conditions of high water and intensive logging (see Lynott et al. 1986), the IJC inadvertently captured not only the status of the waterways, but also aerial images containing more than 250 cultural features related to Ojibwe land use. Using a stereoscope in combination with modern GIS techniques, it is now possible to investigate and record the cultural landscape of nearly 200 years of historical occupation by the Bois Forte band of Ojibwe as it appears in these early photographs.
Stereoscopes have been in use since 1838, often as a recreational device. These units mimic binocular vision by feeding a separate image to each eye through mirrors and lenses. When used to view one scene at two slightly different angles, a stereoscope allows the brain to see a 2-D image in three dimensions. In this case, an airplane took a series of pictures as it flew over the international boundary in 1927, with no thought to later viewing them in 3-D. Each successive picture is therefore at a slightly different point of view, but two adjacent pictures still contain the same features, so overlapping features can be seen in three dimensions with the stereoscope. Our research took advantage of this phenomenon to gauge tree height in 1927 and to differentiate bare earth from thick stands of vegetation in these black-and-white photos. The simulated three-dimensional view also made it possible to distinguish pit features, buildings, and other Ojibwe cultural features from natural variations in topography.
Digital, georeferenced copies of the 1927 aerial photos were simultaneously created by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and overlaid with archeological site locations provided and maintained by the Midwest Archeological Center in Lincoln, Nebraska. Using this combination of data, we selected salient pairs of aerial photographs for examination under the stereoscope, accurately recorded all observed cultural features in a GIS, and compared the observed historical features with previously identified archeological sites. We further based interpretations of observed features on Ojibwe oral histories and extensive research into historical Ojibwe land allotments (Richner 2002), resulting in a powerful way of viewing the historical landscape of Voyageurs National Park.
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This page updated:
13 January 2014
Suggested citation for this article:
LaBounty, A. 2013. Ojibwe cultural landscapes of Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota. Park Science 30(2):19–21.
Available at http://www.nature.nps.gov/ParkScience/archive/PDF/Article_PDFs/ParkScience30(2)Fall2013_19-21_LaBounty_3661.pdf.
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