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Insights --

The Many Faces of CRM

It's an Adverse Effect to Destroy an Archaeological Site!

Part Two

Thomas F. King

In the January issue of the SAA Bulletin [2000, 18(1): 19­20] I presented some background to the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation's (ACHP's) Recommended Approach for Consultation on Recovery of Significant Information from Archaeological Sites (1999b, 64 FR 27085­87). I discussed the "research exception to the Criteria of Adverse Effect" under the old ACHP regulations for implementing Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, and why the ACHP did away with this exception in its revised regulations (1999a, ACHP, Protection of Historic Properties, 36 CFR 800). Now, let us consider the Approach itself.

Here's the idea: Suppose an agency that is responsible for Section 106 review of, say, a new construction project finds an archaeological site that is interesting for research but frankly, Scarlett, nobody gives much of a damn about it for any other reason. The agency, in this case, should be able to develop a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) providing for data recovery that's consistent with the Approach and zip it through the remainder of Section 106 review. If the site is good for things other than research, or if there are other complexities involved, then the agency will have more work to do to convince the worldor at least, in theory, the ACHPthat the site ought to be dug up and blown away rather than preserved in place.

Important first point to keep in mind: Any site can be subjected to data recovery and destruction (DRAD), but the more complicated the site, the values ascribed to the site, and the issues surrounding the site, the more the agency is going to have to do to demonstrate that DRAD is the way to go.

Just reciting the Approach would exceed my word limit, so I will only try to summarize and interpret. There are two parts to the Approach. The first articulates general Principles that the ACHP thinks should be applied in deciding how to treat an archaeological site. Then the Principles are applied both to the process an agency should use in deciding what to do with a site, and to the Guidelines that a data recovery program should follow. In this article we will look at the Principles.

The Principles inform everything else in the Approach, and have application well beyond the Section 106 process. They begin with an obvious but foundational finding: The pursuit of knowledge about the past is in the public interest. However, they go on to note that a site may have important values for living communities and cultural descendants, as well as research values, so its appropriate treatment depends on its research significance, weighed against these other public values.

So: Archaeological research is in the public interest. But in deciding whether conduct research on a given site, we balance research interests against other public values.

Then the Principles note that (n)ot all information about the past is equally important; therefore, not all archaeological sites are equally important for research purposes.

The fact that a site is a site doesn't necessarily mean that we should spend the time and treasure to excavate it. This principle is underscored by another, holding that (r)ecovery of . . . information . . . as well as destruction without data recovery, may both be appropriate treatments . . . (Emphasis added). We can let sites go without data recovery, if Section 106 consultation leads to the conclusion that that's the thing to do. Note that this principle has to be interpreted with an eye toward the requirement of Section 110(b) of NHPAthat properties destroyed must be recorded. Section 110(b) requires that agencies make "appropriate records" of any historic property they're going to destroy or seriously alter. The legislative history of the 1980 amendments, when this requirement was inserted, make it clear that "appropriate records" can be archaeological, architectural, oral historicalwhatever's "appropriate," and the Requirements of other laws like the Archaeological Data Preservation Act of 1974 (a.k.a. Archaeological and Historic Preservation Act; Moss-Bennett Act), must be considered as well.

The Principles note that archaeology is destructive, and that management of archaeological sites should be conducted in a spirit of stewardship. Thus it follows that if an archaeological site can be practically preserved in place for future study or other use, it usually should be (although there are exceptions).

"Put up flags around the site, tell the catskinners to stay out of the flagged area, and we've 'preserved' the site, right? Wrong. The cows eat the flags, the pothunters follow the flags, the 'dozer driver gets confused about which side of the flag he's supposed to be on . . . And in any event, simply physically avoiding the site doesn't necessarily avoid impacts on it . . ."

So, acknowledging that there are exceptions, as a rule we ought to try to preserve archaeological sites in place rather than digging them up. However: Simple avoidance of a site is not the same as preservation. Here the ACHP is warning about the dangers of what is commonly called "flag and avoid." Put up flags around the site, tell the catskinners to stay out of the flagged area, and we've "preserved" the site, right? Wrong. The cows eat the flags, the pothunters follow the flags, the 'dozer driver gets confused about which side of the flag he's supposed to be on . . . And in any event, simply physically avoiding the site doesn't necessarily avoid impacts on itindirect impacts, or direct visual, auditory, or other impacts where these are relevant to the site's values.

If the 106 process results in the decision that DRAD is the thing to do, then a research design and data recovery plan based on firm background data, sound planning, and accepted archaeological methods should be formulated and implemented. Note the explicit use of the term "research design." There are still agencies that get all fussy about the notion that data recovery is about research; after all, they say, we're not the National Science Foundation. Well, tough. Once we decide to do data recovery it had jolly well better be research. The Principles go into some detail about how such research should be grounded in regional, state, and local historic preservation plans, the needs of land and resource managers, academic research interests, and other legitimate public interests (emphasis added).

The Principles emphasize that data recoveryincluding analysisshould be thorough, efficient, and cost effective. It should provide for reporting and dissemination of results, including dissemination that is understandable and accessible to the public. It needs to provide for curation of materials and records. Andwhat a concept!

Adequate time and funds should be budgeted for fulfillment of the overall plan (emphasis added).

Special respect is to be given human remains and funerary objects: The presence of human remains . . . usually gives the site an added importance as a burial site . . ., and the values associated with burial sites need to be fully considered . . . Note that this refers to all kinds of human remains and funerary objects, not just those covered by the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA).

Finally, if the agency plans (l)arge-scale, long-term . . . identification and management programs, the agency should consider things like periodic synthesis of . . . results, and professional peer review and oversight.

The Principles do two useful things: (1) They establish a sort of screen by which one can filter out those archaeological situations that require detailed multi-party Section 106 consultation from those that don't; (2) They set out some basic rules about archaeological data recovery that should be applied in any contextwhether one wants quick agreement to DRAD or not, and in fact whether one is working under Section 106 or under some other authority, or under no particular authority at all.

In the May 2000 issue of the SAA Bulletin we will consider how the Approach applies the Principles in Section 106 review. ·

Thomas F. King is an independent consultant and educator in cultural resource management who lives in Maryland.

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