The crisis in transportation funding in Pennsylvania has had some consequences for the management of heritage resources.  Since the Federal Highway Administration and PennDOT are legally required to consider the effects transportation projects have on archaeological sites and historic structures and districts, the historically low levels of funding have made that mandate more difficult. The crisis has also limited the opportunities young archaeologists and historians have to gain practical experience in their profession, and to advance their careers as the numbers and size of transportation projects shrink. In 2010, archaeologists at PennDOT and at Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP) launched a new program intended to help address both problems.

PHAST Crew 1A partnership between IUP and PennDOT created the PennDOT Highway Archaeological Survey Team (PHAST).  PHAST utilizes graduate and undergraduate students as field and lab technicians for archaeological reconnaissance work on small projects, under the direction of a graduate student with sufficient field experience to act as a field director. PennDOT archaeologists serve as principal investigators, and directly supervise and review the work. Based at IUP, PHAST works primarily from mid-May through mid-August. The projects they work on are typically less than one acre, and are not methodologically complex. Since 2010, PHAST has completed over 50 projects in nearly every corner of Pennsylvania, with some pretty impressive results.

PHAST Crew 3The average PHAST project costs about $3,000 start to finish. Consulting costs for the same kinds of projects can easily run to ten times that amount, so the program has saved Pennsylvania taxpayers a substantial amount of money at a time when transportation dollars are very scarce. Beyond the dramatic cost savings, the program provides the young field technicians with their first post-field school experience on real public projects.  It also provides the young field directors with their first supervisory and leadership opportunities, experience that is very difficult to get and one of the minimum federal requirements for professional archaeologists.  PHAST technicians and field directors gain direct, real-world experience in many of the central skills of archaeological resource management, including: project scoping, geoarchaeology and remote sensing technology, archaeological survey and excavation, artifact curation and analysis, mapping and using GPS and GIS, and technical report production and writing.

PHAST Crew 2PHAST has worked on a variety of project types, including small bridge replacements, minor widening and intersection improvements, and a number of trail projects. The work is conducted to the standards of the PHMC’s Guidelines for Archaeological Investigations, and the direct oversight and involvement of PennDOT’s full time professional archaeologists has ensured excellent quality control, laying a solid foundation the young professionals can rely on throughout the course of their careers.  The program has been so successful that two of PennDOT’’s sister agencies, the PHMC and the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, have made use of it through cooperative agreements with PennDOT.

Plans for PHAST’s future include continuing fieldwork and analysis for small projects, increasing public outreach and public involvement effort through online and social media outlets, public programs, and exhibits. The cooperative agreement that supports PHAST is in place for the next three years and is likely to be renewed, so we all look forward to seeing lots of bright young faces working on transportation and other projects for some years to come. Those young people will help ensure that our projects protect the past for the future, as they learn the ropes of professional heritage resource management. They’ll also provide the taxpayers and program managers with a cost effective and innovative approach to public archaeology by working hard, working smart and working PHAST!

If you’d like to know more about PHAST, contact Joe Baker at or Amanda Rasmussen at


Joe Baker is an archaeologist, writer and editor working at PennDOT’s central office. He has been doing these things for three federal agencies and three state agencies since 1979. He has a Bachelors’ degree from Penn State and an MA from the University of Montana. Through no fault of his own he has served in various capacities for a number of professional and non-profit organizations, most recently TRB, but has so far successfully avoided leadership positions in any of them. He is interested in educating and encouraging young professionals in CRM and in Pre-Contact and Historic archaeology. He has more avocational interests than is really healthy, and tries not to take himself too seriously.

Amanda Rasmussen is a graduate student and current field director for PHAST at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Through an internship with PennDOT archaeologists in 2010, as well as PHAST, Amanda has gained valuable experience in cultural resource management.