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Studies in Archeology and Ethnography 2 Implementing the Antiquities Act: A Survey of Archeological Permits 1906-1935

Chapter 1: Introduction

Public archeology in the United States received a long-sought and hard won legislative boost for antiquities protection in 1906. On June 8, 1906, a federal law, an Act for the Preservation of American Antiquities (16 U. S. C. 431-433) was signed into law by President Theodore Roosevelt after several arduous decades of dedicated attention to the issue. Better known as the Antiquities Act, its enactment responded to a growing concern over the issues of looting and vandalism of American archeological resources. Proponents of the Act's passage intended to provide appropriate mechanisms to halt the plundering of antiquities and destruction of archeological sites, which was pronounced in the southwestern United States. Additionally, supporters envisioned a statute to shelter irreplaceable archeological deposits, ancient architectural ruins, and natural resources from destruction or pillage by homesteaders, curious tourists, and pothunters increasingly known to frequent the American West (Lee 1970/2001; Rothman 1989: 12; Thompson 2000a).

The Antiquities Act initiated a federal system and infrastructure to protect American antiquities on public land, regulate public archeological activities, and punish malefactors known to have disturbed ancient sites and ruins. By declaring antiquities, scientific objects, and places as public sources of education, scientific information, and/or commemorative value, the Antiquities Act established fundamental policies for the treatment of cultural resources that influenced archeology and historic preservation throughout the twentieth century (McManamon 1996, 2001). The law empowered the President to establish protected reserves of public land, referred to as national monuments, by simple proclamation without congressional action. Additionally, it regulated all excavations, investigations, or removals of objects of antiquity from public land. Potential investigators were required to apply for and be issued a permit that validated their studies. Supporters hoped the passage of antiquities protection legislation would provide a mechanism through which the Federal government could prosecute and punish those who violated the Act's provisions.

This study explores two aspects of the Antiquities Actís impact on public archeology between the Actís passage and 1935. The first is a consideration of the many administrative developments within the Department of the Interior required to implement the Act. During this twenty-eight year period, the Department of the Interior developed a permit system for the review and issuance of applications; the National Park Service was created; new functions, such as the Department Archeologist, were established; and other challenges that arose were addressed. Secondly, this survey explores some of the projects undertaken by the earliest Antiquities Act permit recipients, and discusses some of the troubles that plagued field and federal archeologists throughout the initial third of the twentieth century.

The research and analysis here reflects the contents of only one archival collection, albeit a large one, of Antiquities Act permits records from the period 1907-1935. The permit data reviewed for this project and discussed in the text that follows are derived from an archival holding of Department of the Interior documents now housed at the National Archives Records Administration II (NARA II), located in College Park, Maryland. The collection consisted of 338 permits issued by the Department of the Interior between 1907 and 1935 as well as copious amounts of associated correspondence. The data documented and discussed in this report provide a presentation of the initial scientific archeological and palaeontological excavation projects approved by the Department of the Interior with hopes of enhancing knowledge of ancient America.

Records of additional Antiquities Act permits issued by the Department of the Interior during these years may be located in other facilities. Other collections and depositories may contain additional permits that could result in further findings. Several permits, for instance, are mentioned in the different editions of the Annual Report of the Department of the Interior, but I was unable to locate the permit records in the archives. Similarly, departmental queries and documents within this collection also shed light upon several permits I had no success in finding or documenting while conducting my research at the archives with the primary source data.

Why There is an Antiquities Act

National Park Service historian Ronald Lee wrote a detailed, informative, and interesting history of the Antiquities Act (Lee 1970/2001; see also Thompson 2000a). Historian Hal Rothman has published a detailed history of the implementation of the statute, in particular, the National Monuments section (Rothman 1989). Readers are referred to these sources for more information than can be provided in this brief historical summary section.

As the last quarter of the nineteenth century began, the American Southwest accumulated increasing numbers of settlers, as well as adventurous or curious visitors. Some sought collections of antiquities valued strictly for private or financial gain (Fowler 2000:92-219; Hinsley 1991, 1996; Ise 1961:144). The resultant looting, vandalism, and increased homesteading escalated the destruction and removal of American antiquities from public land (Bandelier 1890-92; Baum 1904; Hewett 1906; Nusbaum in Ise 1961:145). As early as 1891, an extensive collection of archeological material was exported from Mesa Verde to Sweden, the result of excavations conducted by Gustav Nordenskiold (1893; see also Lee 1970/2001; Wegner 1980; Lister 1991). Substantial local protests were raised when the removal of the excavated artifacts became known. Yet, despite legal challenge, the export proceeded.

Fifteen years later, the continued threat to America's past resulted in an extensive national campaign to protect the valuable traces of the ancient past that remained undisturbed. At the same time adventurers and early archeogists in the Southwest were digging up archeological remains, public fasciniation with native people and the rapidly closing American western frontier was growing (Cronin 1994; Hinsley 1991; Lister and Lister 1981; Runte 1987). This public appeal attracted additional attention to American antiquities, highlighting the looting problem, but also increasing the commercial value of genuine antiquities. In an attempt to combat its national perceptions of inferiority felt in comparison to ancient European cities, castles, and other cultural marvels, "the agelessness of monumental scenery instead of the past accomplishments of Western Civilization was to become the visible symbol of the new [American] nation (Runte 1987: 12)." The natural environment of the United States, as well as archeological and cultural vestiges throughout the Western landscape, became tied to a wave of American nationalism.

The natural and cultural resources, the "jewels" of America, gained an appreciation that surpassed monetary value and natural resource extraction. Areas and sites, such as Casa Grande, Mesa Verde, and Yellowstone began to be cherished by more Americans for the valuable natural, cultural, scenic, and scientific contributions they offered the nation (Cronin 1994:612; McManamon 2000). Private citizens and civic organizations, increasingly alarmed and informed by reports of the removal of American antiquitites organized to combat the problems caused by archeological looting, site vandalism, and modern development. The Anthropological Society of Washington, The American Anthropological Association, the Archaeological Institute of America, and others provided steady and eventually successful support for political and legislative action to protect American archeological sites (Lee 1970/2001; Thompson 2000b).

Following many unsuccessful attempts, interested parties were able to secure the enactment of "An act for the preservation of American Antiquities", on June 8, 1906. By 1906, passage of antiquities legislation had been building for twenty-four years. As early as 1889, George Hoar from Massachusetts entered a petition before the Senate seeking special status for areas in the Southwest in order to protect and preserve the natural and cultural resources being discovered. Hoarís measure failed, as would many others (see Lee 1970/2001; Rothman 1989; Thompson 2000a, b). Ultimate success in the early summer of 1906 was hard won; only the steady perseverance of concerned parties gave the United States its first general protective statute for any kind of American cultural resource or historic property. In addition to providing a foundation for regulating public archeological investigations and protecting archeological sites, the Antiquities Act established key principles from which future historic preservation policies and statutes would be derived (McManamon 1996).

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