Maureen L. KING / Colleen M. BECK
(Research Institute, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA)

In the United States, the archaeological study of atmospheric nuclear testing remains at the Nevada National Security Site began in 1991. The initial archaeological research identified, recorded, and documented extant nuclear testing material culture at specific locations on the landscape. This work was spatially limited and could only provide a narrow view of the historic context. As the years passed, the archaeologists’ understanding of nuclear testing increased, contributing to the recognition of larger test landscapes and historic districts. This process primarily focused on the visible post-test remains in a limited area. Eventually, this view was extended to encompass buildings and structures, distant from the actual test ground zero, but integral to the testing program, such as bunkers that housed remote instrumentation and trenches for military troops. This was achieved through the incorporation of information in historic documents, engineering plans, and archival photographs, which included pre-test planning, construction, and other activities that could be compared to the post-test remains. Working with recent aerial and terrestrial radiological survey data at several test locations, the fundamental material culture research has been broadened to incorporate the associated radiological plume, an invisible but detectable landscape feature. This approach brings an added dimension to the archaeology of atmospheric nuclear test sites by showing an aspect of nuclear testing not previously considered part of the material culture. This integrative methodology highlights the complexity of studying the unique aspects of nuclear testing sites.

Keywords: States, methdology