[NPS Arrowhead] U.S. Dept. of Interior National Park Service Archeology Program
Quick Menu Features
* Sitemap * Home
national historic landmarks

(photo) Bighorn sheep petroglyphs at the Coso Rock Art District NHL. Photograph by Far Western Anthropological Research Group.


National Historic Landmarks – Archeological Properties

The designation of National Historic Landmarks (NHLs) is an important tool for ensuring that future generations may continue to benefit from the preservation of these places.

NHLs are designated by the Secretary of the Interior in recognition of their exceptional significance as special areas that express the depth and breadth of American life and help us to understand the history of the American people. Sites designated as NHLs are automatically listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

NHLs identified for their exceptional importance in archeology either have already yielded significant knowledge or are considered likely to do so. They often impart information of major scientific importance by revealing new cultures, or by shedding light upon periods of occupation over large areas of the United States. Archeological NHLs offer Americans ways to look at the past in new and rich ways by producing data affecting theories, concepts, and ideas to a major degree.

Historic Contexts and Nominations

Research documents called historic contexts provide a framework for identifying, evaluating, and documenting potential properties for either designation as National Historic Landmarks and or for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. Such contexts summarize what is significant about a particular time and place, define property types, take stock of sites (known and projected), pose research questions, provides evaluation criteria, and discusses key bibliographic material.

For NHL studies, such historic contexts are called Theme Studies. Nominations for landmark status are evaluated by at least one of these themes:
Peopling places - Focuses on demography and settlement
Creating social institutions - Examines how social life emerges and develops
Expressing cultural values - Looks at issues of belief and their representation
Shaping political landscapes - Deals with identity, territoriality, and interaction
Developing economies - Explores how people extract, produce, distribute, exchange, and consume resources
Expanding science and technology - Looks at material remains, technology, and technological organization
Transforming environments - Examines humans’ response to the environment and their impact upon it
Changing roles in the world - Assesses major contributions to knowledge and how events relate to the rest of the globe

Archeological Theme Studies

Theme studies provide the historic context for related properties and they serve several functions important to historic preservation. Theme studies serve as a vehicle to:

  • gather and analyze archeological and other evidence;
  • identify, evaluate, and nominate nationally significant archeological properties as National Historic Landmarks;
  • update current National Park Service documentation for these places;
  • develop and refine information that can be used by archeologists working in the field, as well as federal, tribal, state and local government agencies to protect, preserve, and interpret these properties.

Some important archeological theme studies have been completed recently and are available.

Earliest American Theme Study
The Earliest Americans Theme Study for the Eastern United States is a multi-year effort of the NPS and our partners in the historic preservation community and the Society of American Archeology’s NHL Archeology Committee. This theme study recognizes nationally significant archeological sites associated with the initial peopling of the Eastern United States.

Historic Contact in Northeastern North America (1992)
(adapted into Robert S. Grumet, Historic Contact: Indian People and Colonists in Today’s Northeastern United States in the Sixteenth through Eighteenth Centuries, University of Oklahoma Press, 1995.) Also see the "articles" page.