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Conference on "Renewing Our National Archaeological Program"

Bill Lipe and Chuck Redman

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Preface to the Preliminary Report

This preliminary report of the Tempe Conference on "Renewing Our National Archaeological Program" is a slightly revised version of the draft report that was produced in March 1995 following the conference. This draft was circulated fairly widely by electronic means and in paper form at an open forum at the SAA Annual Meeting in New Orleans.

In response to circulation of the draft preliminary report, a number of letters, email messages, and verbal comments have been received by members of the "renewing" task force. A summary of those comments is presented below, following the preliminary report.

The next steps for the "renewing" task force will be to take these comments into account, to prioritize the issues and recommendations, and to develop a final report. The task force is also expected to propose specific actions that the SAA, SOPA, and other archaeological organizations might take to see that the report's primary recommendations are implemented.


Publicly mandated archaeology in the U.S. has achieved enormous success over the past 25 years, working within a legal and regulatory framework largely provided by sections 106 and 110 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), the Archaeological Resources Protection Act (ARPA), state and local laws, and most recently, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). This framework forms the core of what we are calling a "national archaeological program." This is not a program in the formal sense, and the archaeology done under it articulates in various ways with historic preservation, environmental protection, and academic training and research. The various aspects of publicly mandated archaeology are interrelated, however, and the human and financial resources currently being devoted to public archaeology in the U.S. represent a significant national commitment to preserving, managing, and interpreting the archaeological record.

As it has developed over the past 25 years, this program has changed the face and practice of archaeology in the U.S. It has resulted in a great increase in substantive knowledge, new research methods and management techniques, new career paths, and new organizations that provide research and preservation expertise. Those of us who were in the field before 1970 well remember how few tools were available when economic development or other federal agency actions posed threats to archaeological sites. From that perspective, today's treatment of similar problems is a marvel of comprehensive attention to archaeological values. Despite these successes, however, today is not a time to rest on our laurels and remain unreflectively satisfied with "business as usual."

During the past year and a half, criticisms of aspects of the national archaeological program have multiplied, and in some quarters, have grown more strident. Currently, many new ideas for productive change are being discussed by archaeologists themselves. Anyone who attended the May 1995 forum on "Restructuring American Archaeology" at the SAA annual meeting in Minneapolis or who has logged on recently to archaeologically oriented electronic mailing lists is keenly aware of the extent and intensity of the debates going on within the field of archaeology. And from outside our field, there have been criticisms of the federal role in archaeology and historic preservation from certain members of Congress, as well as from scattered voices in the private sector, state and federal agencies, Indian tribes, and the larger historic preservation community. During the past year and a half, an attempt to cut funding for the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation nearly succeeded, the archaeology grants program of the National Endowment for the Humanities was suspended due to budget cuts, the Historic Preservation Fund was reduced, the federal contribution to the National Trust for Historic Preservation was halved, and most federal agencies saw declines in their allocations for cultural resource programs.

It was in this context of internal and external calls for change that a small conference on "Renewing Our National Archaeological Program" was organized by the Society for American Archaeology (SAA) and the Society of Professional Archeologists (SOPA) with support from the National Park Service. The conference, which was held February 11-13, 1996, was hosted by the Department of Anthropology at Arizona State University and co-chaired by Chuck Redman and Bill Lipe.

The participants were experienced in the major work environments present in American archaeology today: Roger Anyon (Zuni Archaeological Program), Catherine Cameron (University of Colorado--and formerly, the Advisory Council), Don Fowler (University of Nevada-Reno, and past president, SAA), Edward Friedman (Bureau of Reclamation), Tom Green (Arkansas Archeological Survey), Bill Lees (Oklahoma Historical Society and president-elect, SOPA), Steve Lekson (University of Colorado Museum), Bill Lipe (Washington State University and president, SAA), Frank McManamon (National Park Service), Mike Moratto (Applied EarthWorks), Charles Niquette (Cultural Resource Analysts, and president, American Cultural Resources Association [ACRA]), Charles Redman (Arizona State University), Lynne Sebastian (New Mexico Historic Preservation Division), Donna Seifert (John Milner Associates, and past president, Society for Historical Archaeology [SHA]), and Gary Stumpf (Bureau of Land Management). This group continued after the conference as a task force, charged with receiving input from archaeologists and other interested parties and preparing a final report on the topics considered at the conference.

Conference Goals

The goals of the conference were (1) to identify problems that hinder the effectiveness of the national archaeological program and to suggest some ways in which these problems could be remedied, (2) to promote further discussion of problems and solutions within archaeology and related fields, and (3) to encourage professional societies and other interest groups to press for changes needed in the national archaeological program to make it better serve the public interest. The conference was not intended to create a detailed blueprint, but to recommend general directions for change. One useful model was the work of the SAA Committee on Ethics in Archaeology, which has raised archaeologists' consciousness about ethical problems by publishing background papers and by developing a statement of general ethical principles that has been adopted by SAA.

The "renewing" conference was intended to be an initial step in focusing debate and discussion on current problems and their solutions. The next step was the electronic circulation of a draft of the conference's preliminary report in a number of venues. The task force also hosted an open forum at the SAA Annual Meeting in New Orleans, where copies of the draft preliminary report were circulated and the floor opened to discussion. The report was subsequently published in the SOPA Newsletter, and the statement of issues and the preliminary recommendations published below is little changed from this version. Rather than attempt substantial revisions at this point, it seems more reasonable to let the draft statement of issues and recommendations stand as part of the preliminary report. The comments that have been received as a result of circulating the draft preliminary report are summarized below, and plans are being made to bring the task force together again to revisit the issues and recommendations in light of the public discussion the report has provoked.

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Issues and Preliminary Recommendations

While recognizing that the national archaeological program is embedded in the larger area of cultural resource management and overlaps with the related field of historic preservation, the conferees came together as archaeologists and focused primarily on issues that affect the field of archaeology and the archaeological record. The conference organizers felt that at this stage it would be too difficult to try to organize a meeting of all the interest groups that influence publicly mandated archaeology.

There was general agreement that the primary social contribution of archaeology is the information about past human history that can be provided by the systematic study of the material remains of that history using appropriate archaeological methods. Understanding the full range of past cultures also contributes to understanding the diverse cultures of the present. From this standpoint, the conservation and management of the archaeological record is important in order to ensure that archaeological studies can continue to provide society with new information about the human past. The conferees also recognized, of course, that in addition to being sources of information, archaeological sites and artifacts have a variety of meanings and values to numerous groups in society, and they often evoke in visitors a direct sense of connection with the past. Future archaeological study, therefore, is not the sole basis for the conservation, management, and enjoyment of the archaeological record.

After an initial review of issues that might be considered, the group decided to focus on five issues where there appeared to be problems or obstacles to achieving a more efficient and effective national archaeological program. These did not exhaust the list of issues concerning the participants, but it was recognized that the scope of discussions had to be limited if anything was to be achieved. Below is a condensed and preliminary summary of the issue areas and the conference's recommendations.

Improving Implementation of the National Historic Preservation Act

The conferees felt that the concepts underlying Section 106 and its implementing regulations are sound. The process established by Section 106 is not intended to "stop the world" but allows historical values to be considered in federal undertakings while projects proceed with minimal risk of litigation. Although federal agencies have the primary responsibility for taking into account the effects of their actions on historic properties, they do so under rules promulgated by the Advisory Council for Historic Preservation and they must consult with the state historic preservation officers (SHPOs). This involvement of three parties provides necessary checks and balances.

Section 110 of the NHPA calls for the development by federal agencies of comprehensive programs for the identification, evaluation, consideration during project planning, protection, and management of significant historic properties, including archaeological resources. Few agencies have been able to develop such programs under Section 110, yet this kind of approach offers flexibility and a broader view that is not afforded by the project-by-project method usually applied in the Section 106 procedures.

Given this context, the conferees felt that Section 106 needs to be applied more flexibly and with more focus on successful and timely outcomes, rather than on formal process. To this end, they proposed the following recommendations:

Increasing Professional Knowledge and Expertise at all Levels of Archaeological Resource Management

The conferees recognized that many of the problems experienced in the national archaeological program were not failures of system or process, but of judgment exercised by practitioners, whether they be resource managers, regulators, or researchers. It was felt that increasing the professionalism of personnel throughout the system would increase its effectiveness and accountability. To this end, it was recommended that:

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Making Better Use of Existing Information in Decision Making about Archaeological Resources.

It was recognized that information generated by the national archaeological program often remains obscure and difficult to access. As a result, costly decisions regarding survey, assessment, and impact mitigation are often made without adequate consideration of the results of previous work. The conferees proposed the following recommendations:

Improving the Dissemination of Information from Publicly Mandated Archaeology

The conferees recognized that the national archaeological program has produced an enormous amount of new information about the past, but that the mechanisms for disseminating this information are only weakly developed. This is a serious problem, because information about the past is a primary source of archaeological value and hence underlies much of archaeological resource management. As noted above, providing such information to the public is the primary social justification for the practice of archaeology. It was recommended that:

Recognizing Multiple Interests in Archaeology and Archaeological Resources

In addition to the information they can yield to archaeological research, archaeological resources have heritage value to many groups within American society, and management decisions about them may also have significant economic implications for the users of other resources. The conferees felt that certain problems in the national archaeological program can be traced to a lack of understanding, by archaeologists, participants in the consulting process, and resource managers, of the multiplicity of legitimate interests in archaeology and archaeological resources and the extent to which federal law requires that these interests be recognized. The participants therefore recommended:

Translating Recommendations into Action

Although the "renewing" task force is not itself designed to serve as a political action group, the conference participants hope that their work will be a positive influence on the multiple and diffuse efforts to rethink and renew our national archaeological program that are currently under way.

The preliminary report of the Tempe conference is being disseminated to raise consciousness about the issues, largely within (but not confined to) the archaeological profession, and to promote discussion of these issues and possible solutions to the associated problems. The task force felt that a reasonable consensus among archaeologists was possible on most of the problems and potential solutions discussed at the conference. Most of the recommendations developed by the task force are at this point stated in a very generalized manner. Archaeologists, resource managers, and others participating in the national archaeological program need to consider how and whether the proposed solutions might work "on the ground," and provide feedback to the task force.

The "renewing" task force felt that many of the problems it identified were amenable to solution by changes in practice, but that some might require regulatory change. Whether amending existing laws would be desirable remained an open question; most thought there should be greater efforts to apply the laws more effectively. A number of mechanisms for promoting change in practice, laws, and regulations are available at a variety of levels.

First, as has been noted, a number of organizations that participate in the national archaeological program are engaged in redesigning and rethinking roles and practice. Federal agencies are in the process of "reinventing" themselves, and budgetary constraints are requiring them to accomplish the same functions with less money. The SHPOs are under similar constraints. The Advisory Council is in the process of revising its regulations governing Section 106. And judging by the traffic on the ACRA list-server, many consulting archaeologists are engaged in a reexamination of current practices. We hope that the recommendations of the task force can be an important influence in the outcome of these efforts to change.

Second, the major archaeological societies have some ability to promote particular courses of action in Congress and within the federal agencies, often in conjunction with other historic preservation groups. We hope that at least some of the recommendations of the task force will be adopted as policy goals by the major societies and that they will effectively promote these goals in their contacts with Congress and the agencies.

Third, most states now have active professional archaeological councils or similar groups. These organizations have the potential to be very effective at the grassroots level, and many are in fact achieving this potential. State-level groups are in the best position to work with SHPOs to promote change, and can also be effective in influencing agencies and members of Congress. These groups will also be key to any efforts to develop statewide certification processes for professional archaeologists. Again it is hoped that the reports of the task force and the discussions stemming from these reports will help focus the change agendas of statewide archaeological organizations.

Bill Lipe is president of SAA and Chuck Redman was the chair of the Tempe conference on "Renewing Our National Archaeological Program."

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Summary of Comments on the Draft Preliminary Report

Bill Lipe

A number of comments and responses to the draft preliminary report were received after it was circulated electronically and in paper form at the SAA annual meeting. Over 20 SAA members spoke from the floor at the open forum in New Orleans. A number of people sent thoughtful critiques and suggestions to me by mail or email, and several members of the task force weighed in with additional perspectives, some derived from discussions with colleagues. In July I was able to attend the meeting of the National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers in Duluth, Minn., where the preliminary report received some attention. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all those who took the trouble to respond to me and to other members of the task force regarding the issues raised in the preliminary report.

Many comments indicated support of the "renewing" study and general agreement with most of the recommendations made in the preliminary report. In my summary below I have concentrated on those comments that provided criticism or additional points of view. I have rarely used direct quotations in this summary. Rather, I have attempted to synthesize the main points raised. Probably not everyone who sent in comments will agree with my phrasing; however, the approach I took seemed better to me than stringing together short quotations taken out of the context of longer messages.


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Improving the Implementation of the National Historic Preservation Act

Increasing Professional Knowledge and Expertise at all Levels of Archaeological Resource Management

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Making Better Use of Existing Information in Decision Making about Archaeological Resources

Improving the Dissemination of Information from Publicly Mandated Archaeology

Recognizing Multiple Interests in Archaeology and Archaeological Resources

Bill Lipe is president of SAA.

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