The Heartland Research Group Q&A #2 – LiDAR (7/4/2023)


Heartland Research Group Q&A #2 – LiDAR

▪ By Jay Mackley
By Jay Mackley
LiDAR Pass demo

LiDAR Sweep

Q1. What exactly is LiDAR?
A1. LiDAR is an acronym for Light Detection and RAnging. LiDAR sends laser beam pulses from an airplane to create a map based on the reflected light. Later the raw data files are processed to remove vegetation and buildings in order to reveal precise ground elevation and contours.

Q2. Okay so why is the Heartland Research Group generating LiDAR data?
A2. Publicly available LiDAR is currently at a low resolution, so we took the opportunity to have Don Cummins of Air Data Solutions map the Nauvoo area with high-resolution LiDAR on both sides of the Mississippi. In accordance with our Mission Statement, we hoped to find ancient American mounds or other terrain features that would guide our ground research.

LiDAR 29 Passes

29 LiDAR scans including Nauvoo

Q3. How much land was scanned and how detailed is the resolution?
A3. To scan 34,000 acres, Air Data Solutions made 29 passes with each pass at 75438 x 4654 pixels to make 10,181,565,108 pixels total. Each pixel has georeferencing metadata, including GPS coordinates, attached to it.


LiDAR vs Satellite Imagery

Q4. What were the results? Did you find anything?
A4. Some mounds were identified on the Illinois side of the river that we already knew about. On the Iowa side I did not find anything unusual on the farmland. It has been cultivated for nearly 200 years. However, especially south of Montrose I found earthworks in the foothill areas.


Jay Mackley stands on berm rising to the top of the bluff south of Montrose. 2021

Q5. I have never heard of this. How did you find it? When did this discovery happen?
A5. With the terrain visualization programs ArcGIS and QGIS, I carefully examined the LiDAR dataset where I discovered the earthwork berms. I announced my findings to the Heartland Research Group on January 23, 2022. On March 27, 2022 an HRG Expedition team examined a part the earthwork berms on the property of local prominent farmer and land owner.


Mike Stahlman counts tree rings on Chatfield berm.

Q6. And what did the Expedition Team find out?
A6. Several local farmers are interested friends and supportive of HRG efforts. With permission, a berm earthwork was examined by the Expedition Team as indicated by the LiDAR. Mike Stahlman of the HRG took a core sample from a large tree at the top of the berm and was able to count the rings and date the tree to 1878 (144 years old).


Jeri Mackley stands in front of 7′ berm near Montrose.

Q7. Wow. So what does this mean? Is this proof of an ancient structure?
A7. We do not consider the evidence so far to constitute proof of ancient origin but we do consider the evidence strong enough to warrant additional research. The local land owners say:
1. The berms go back to at least the early 1940’s. At that time they were also forested over.
2. They have no idea where the berms came from or why they are there.
3. The berms are fruitful areas for hunters of ancient artifacts and much has been found there over the years (artifact hunters have told us the same…)
4. The berms are not used for water retention or flood control.
5. Farmland at the top of the bluff (bluff plateau) of the foothills was once used for cattle which destroyed the vegetation and led to flooding which washed out some of the berms in modern times. Removing the cattle solved the flooding problem.


Berms southwest of Montrose. LiDAR vs Satellite view.

Q8. Why were these earthworks never found before?
A8. Erosion has destroyed parts of the berm so only portions of the whole can be seen by any one farmer. It’s also hidden within the tree line. It took the LiDAR imaging to see that there is a pattern of continuity. It was hidden in plain sight.


13′ berm. Photo taken with no leaves on the trees. Near Montrose Iowa.

Q9. How long is this thing? Do you have any idea of the size by volume?
A9. QGIS measurements indicate about 5 miles of berm earthworks which are still extent. Flooding, highways, roads and development has leveled or greatly reduced another 5 miles. The original would have been 9.42 miles which is as far north as the scanning goes. As for volume we need to take more measurements to come to an average size, however my rough estimate is the current remains are probably in the range of 200,000 to 350,000 cu yards for the five miles extent.


The Great Serpentine Mound in Ohio

Q10. How does that compare to other earthworks in North America?
A10. The Great Serpent mound in Ohio is 1,348 feet long with about 40,000 cu yards. The largest pyramid in North America is Monks mound at Cahokia Illinois at 815,000 cu yards.


Bottom of photo is top of Montrose bluff area.

Q11. Why go to all the effort to build such a structure?
A11. There are two theories:
Flood control is one possible answer. You can see two water control berms in the LiDAR image to the right in the middle of the farm field. The earthwork berm is marked as “B”. However, the “B” berm in the bluff does not have the composition or placement to match the profile of a water control berm and only a few of the berms have any water near them.

At this point inquiries have produced no written or oral record of construction.

The other theory is one of military use. The berm may have once formed the foundation for a defensive wall. There are detailed accounts in the Book of Mormon of how defensive walls were built and how they involved wooden palisades and earthwork berms.

There is no proof or conclusive evidence for any theory at this point and more evidence is needed to show an ancient origin.


Q12. What are your future plans for this?
A12. We need more field work and more information but this year has absorbed all HRG resources with the Phoenicia restoration, land acquisition and museum planning. We would like to excavate several areas along the berms as soon as we can find the time, money, and expertise to do so. Excavation can help answer questions of construction technique, size, and age. The crops need to be off the fields so the earliest possible time would be a 2024 date.

▪ Jay Mackley
Jay Mackley

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HRG History — by Jay Mackley

The Heartland Research Group is a grassroots, boots-on-the-ground organization that believes that the historical narrative of the Book of Mormon took place in the Heartland of North America. The HRG is active in archaeological research and in the acquisition, restoration and display of ancient American artifacts. The HRG is currently preparing an ancient ship replica called the "Phoenicia" for display. The ships construction design is patterned after a shipwreck dating to 600 BC. The Phoenicia ship made modern voyages, first around Africa and then also from the Middle East to Florida in 2019 – proving that voyages around Africa or from Sidon to North America were feasible anciently.

Heartland Research Inc is a 501c3 private operating foundation for archaeological research and to complete preparations for the Phoenicia display. Current plans are for a museum large enough to house the Phoenicia ship and many other ancient artifacts and exhibits from North America. The location of the museum is planned to be in Zarahemla which is Lee County Iowa, near the Mississippi river and east of Nauvoo, Illinois.

Our activities are too many to list, but some recent major expeditions are listed below. Many of these expeditions are open-ended and we expect to continue research in these and other similar activities as time, resources, and volunteers become available. We have dozens of volunteers and hundreds of donors, large and small, but we need many more. Check out the websites listed below for details of Heartland Research Group projects. Our current project is is our biggest yet: to refurbish the Phoenicia ship for display.

Go to the Donation Page

We invite you to support our efforts so we can complete these worthy goals!
If you have skills or knowledge to contribute to our research and discovery projects, please contact us directly to volunteer.

  • What: Sonar scanning of Mississippi between Nauvoo and Keokuk. The purpose of the expedition was to discover a crossing route that ancient people could have taken.
  • Who: Heartland Research Inc volunteers.
  • Where: Between Keokuk and Nauvoo, Iowa.
  • How: Private donations of money, time and equipment.

  • What: Magnetic scanning of 221 acres of farmland near Montrose, Iowa. The purpose of the expedition was the discovery of fire-pits and other evidence of ancient occupation.
  • Who: Members of the Heartland Research Inc, local farmers, volunteers, plus technicians from German company SYNSYS. Signs of habitation were found with magnetometery scanning and then C14 dating.
  • Where: Near Montrose Iowa and between Montrose and Fort Madison Iowa.
  • How: Large and small donations of money, time and equipment.

  • What: A one week seminar in Fort Madison, Iowa with 25+ participants. Included visits to the Putnam museum in Davenport, Iowa. There were twelve presentations on the ancient history and written languages of the upper Mississippi.
  • Who: Members of Heartland Research Inc plus presenters and interested attendees.
  • Where: Fort Madison, Iowa.
  • How: Private donations for space, time and lodging.

  • What: Ground penetrating electrical resistivity scanning for building foundations using electrical resistivity equipment from LandVisor.
  • Who: Members of Heartland Research Inc and volunteers.
  • Where: Zarahemla in Lee County, Iowa.
  • How: Private donations and ground support.

  • What: Metal analysis for alloy content. Ancient arrow and spearhead found in Wisconsin stream of cast bronze.
  • Who: Heartland Research Group
  • Where: Sample found in Wisconsin stream by scuba diver.
  • How: Private donations for lab analysis.

  • What: High resolution LiDAR scanning by supporter Air Data Solutions of 34,000 acres in Lee County, Iowa and also part of Illinois. The focus was to create high quality digital maps showing the terrain of the land, especially in the foothill areas where large earthworks are found. Discovery of 5-10 miles of ancient earthworks from LiDAR using QGIS and ArcGIS visualization software.
  • Who: Members of Heartland Research Inc plus AirData Solutions Inc.
  • Where: Lee County, Iowa and also part of Illinois, covering the much of Nauvoo.
  • How: Private donations for services, data processing, and analysis.

  • What: Commence process of restoring the world's oldest ship replica from 600BC, which has circumnavigated Africa and crossed the Atlantic ocean from the Middle East to America.
  • Who: Members of Heartland Research Inc plus volunteers.
  • Where: Lee County, Iowa between Montrose and Fort Madison.
  • How: Private donations for materials, space, and equipment plus donations in labor.

Mission Statement

The Heartland Research Group researches archaeological evidence of the ancient civilizations of America.
Heartland Research Group activities include:

  • Field Research
    Uses archeological techniques and scanning technologies to reveal the remains of ancient civilizations.
  • Ancient Artifacts
    Encourages and facilitate study of ancient North American artifacts, including tablets, tools, weapons, metal works, and other items.
  • Geography
    Research and develop maps, using scanning technologies and other means, to identify the locations and activities of ancient civilizations.
  • Linguistics
    Analyze and translate ancient writings found in North America, especially those relating to other civilizations world wide.
  • Preservation and Display
    Collect, restore, preserve, catalog and exhibit ancient artifacts and replicas, and make them readily available to researchers and viewable to the public.
  • Archaeology, Geology, and History
    Study and research into all aspects archaeology, geology, and history that shed light on ancient North American peoples and cultures.
  • Promotion and Support
    Raise awareness of our activities. Work directly with and support individuals and groups in activities that share our same goals.
The Heartland Research Group welcomes researchers and interested parties of all backgrounds to share their analysis and findings of ancient American heartland civilizations.

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