ArcBurn: Linking Field-based and Experimental Methods

Linking Field-based and Experimental Methods to Quantify, Predict, and Manage Fire Effects on Cultural Resources (Update)

ArcBurn is an experimental fire archaeology project funded by the Joint Fire Science Program, and is a collaborative effort among fire scientists, forest ecologists, earth scientists, archaeologists, tribal members, and fire managers. ArcBurn is designed to help forest and fire managers in the southwestern U.S. use the best available science to make decisions about how to protect cultural resources during fuel treatments, prescribed burning, wildfire suppression, and post-fire rehabilitation. The need for this information is especially critical as the changing climate is altering wildfire patterns and fire behavior. The ArcBurn project uses both controlled laboratory experiments and instrumentation of prescribed fires to determine critical damage thresholds for cultural resources (archaeological sites, artifacts, and heritage resources). Recorded observations of fire effects, and data on effectiveness of fuels treatments are then used to develop treatment guidelines on best practices for the protection of archaeological resources.

The ArcBurn team is comprised of 13 multi-agency experts, who are crucial for discussing gaps in the current understanding of fire effects on cultural resources. In all, the researchers have interviewed 17 fire and cultural resource managers about best practices and research needs for protecting cultural resources from fire and fire-related activities in the southwestern U.S. This year, the team welcomed new members to develop predictability modeling for erosion and fire effects based on post-burn surveys from southwestern wildfires.

In the past year, ArcBurn project highlights consist of the continuation of laboratory experiments and public outreach. At the Missoula Fire Sciences Laboratory, experiments included radiant heat testing on volcanic tuff masonry; flame testing on volcanic tuff masonry and ceramics; and smolder testing on volcanic tuff masonry, obsidian, ceramics and chert. Preliminary results suggest that there is a wide range of fire sensitivity among artifact types, and that surface and ground fires are more damaging than crown fires. Smoldering tests are underway for all artifact types. In the past year, members of the ArcBurn team have conducted several professional presentations and completed a number of publications to engage the public.

ArcBurn is collaborating with FRAMES to create a new portal for fire and cultural resources to house useful reports and papers on fire effects on cultural resources, increasing public access. For more information on ArcBurn, please visit the ArcBurn website:

For more information, contact: Rachel Loehman at

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