First Annual National Park Service Historic Preservation Conference
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Keith Anderson

Since we have expanded our subject of discussion beyond the Historic Structures Report I would like to talk to the general question of how well archeology is being used in Park Service studies and planning. Background for this discussion is: (1) our Activities Standards and Administrative Policies; (2) a number of case studies in the Western and Southwest Regions; (3) the host of new problems in conservation, planning and management that have stemmed from NEPA, the Executive Order, and the Historic Preservation Act, and; (4) new directions in the field of archeology itself. In this framework it is fair to say that archeology is now being fully or adequately used in Resource Management. I think the reasons for this may be several:

1. There is a lack of understanding of what archeology is.

2. Archeology is often simply left out of the planning and management process.

3. There is sometimes failure to recognize problems, with the result that we operate on the assumption that the problems have been dealt with.

4. There is simple lack of analysis of problems in many cases, resulting in shotgun priorities for archeological studies and management.

The first problem is to communicate what archeology is all about. Archeology works in a variety of domains of study, but overriding interest in this country is its anthropological orientation. American Archeology is a systematic, objective, and comparative approach to human social life and culture. It emphasizes generalizations, concerned with patterned behavior shared by groups of human beings. Understanding this behavior involves such variables as shared perceptions, biological needs, and the relationship between man and his social and physical environments. Granted, much of this kind of information may not be accessible to the archeologist but in recent years archeologists are attempting more and more to organize and design their studies to recognize, analyze, and interpret the physical residue of these behavioral variables.

To put this rather vague discussion in more sharp relief, I would like to say what archeology is not. Archeology is not a discipline which concerns itself just with sites, objects and structures. The archeological universe of study is much broader than this and includes any source of information about the lives of past people. This may include - but certainly is not limited to - artifacts, architecture, plant and animal remains, local geology, soil composition, topography and the modern environment.

Archeology is not just digging. Archeology utilizes any data which will clarify the record of man's past. Today archeological studies begin with abstracting models from ethnography, sociology, history, geography, ecology, and conceivably even social psychology. These models form the basis for research questions and govern field procedures. Archeology utilizes surface collections, archives, museum collections, the non-artifactual contexts of an archeological resource and a number of special studies like palynology, zooarcheology and biological studies. Even when excavation is conducted it is not just a random exploration but is beginning to be conducted in more and more systematic ways to maximize a limited sampling of a resource which is non-renewable and steadily diminishing.

Most definitely archeology is not merely exciting searches and burrowings through the biggest and most unique monuments of the past, but concerns all ranges of past human behavior, from the smallest campsite to the largest mound.

Finally, archeology should not result simply in the production of descriptive catalogues, but in thoroughly documented, problem oriented reports. If carried out according to standards now being developed by the Society for American Archeology, these reports should show clearly the relationship between the problem underlying the project and the final results.

In archeology today there is also a growing viewpoint that the discipline needs to change from an exploitive strategy to a conservationist strategy. Archeology is being recognized as a limited resource and one which needs to be husbanded to maintain a representative universe of study for future generations of archeologists and the archeologist's public. Curiously, this resembles our own organic act, and reinforces the value of National Parks not only as repositories for esthetically pleasing objects and monuments but also as a data bank to be held in trust for those who are concerned with the systematic study of the remains of past peoples. Given this conservationist view we can very rightly ask ourselves if we are justified in major excavations in large mounds, middens and pueblos within the Park System simply because they are there, when archeological resources are disappearing daily outside the parks. Obviously we are not.

I would guess the lack of understanding of archeologists' holistic approach may be in part responsible for not fully utilizing it in our Park situations. This is not in criticism of past studies; and I haven't reviewed a wide range of historic structures reports, historic resource studies or historic studies plans, but I would like to suggest a number of ways that archeology can be a beneficial and integral part of all studies. In at least some situations, it has been entirely omitted in cases that were not obviously "archeological." In other cases it has been attached as something of an afterthought.

I think that all studies would, in most cases, benefit from both anthropological and archeological assessments. For instance, one element of an Historic Structures Report is an historical data section which includes "data pertinent to the structure and setting but not to the development project that may be obtained in the course of investigation and is not already included in an historic resource study." Archeological data on the other hand is restricted to a description of investigative plan and techniques, inventory and plat of the surface and subsurface remains, and recommendations for stabilization restoration. What is missing here is an assessment or data summary that places the historical situation in anthropological and archeological perspective as background to the structure. In one historic structures report chosen at random the provision for operating the structure in the administrative section was that "the exterior, interior and grounds of the Hauser House will be employed to interpret social, economic and cultural life of the region during the first 60 years of the 19th century." This particular house had been occupied by a series of owners, each of which represented a particular segment of the rural society that had occupied North Carolina. The comprehensive historical data and scholarly documentation in the report provided a wealth of information from which anthropological questions could have been framed. Development and pursuit of these questions could have contributed significantly to the stated purpose of this historic structures report.

I am suggesting then, that in the historic structures report we could be adding another item, paraphrasing one already in the report; "anthropological data pertinent to the structure and setting but not to development projects that may be obtained in the course of the investigation." Similar items could be contained in resource study plans and historic resource studies.

The archeological point of view could be of considerable benefit if used more extensively than it is at present in the Historic Structures Report. The technology and construction sequence of house building certainly reflects a number of social, economic and environmental variables in prehistoric structures. That is, beyond the basic architectural and photogrammetric record that is presently made there is a good deal of data that reflects what stratum of society the house occupants belonged to, the history of the use of the house, and the natural resources that were used in its construction. From the few examples that I have examined it appears that the basic use of archeology for historic structures is to resolve questions of historical fact concerning dates of occupation, who the occupants were or what the total configuration or location parts of the structure were. This, of course, is a valid pursuit and can result in very useful questions, maps, and proposed subjects of study. However, an anthropological archeologist doing his or her job should be able to provide a good bit more information, since, this structure represents: (1) part of a natural and social environment; (2) a series of events and stages of development in the society in which the building was constructed; (3) the technology of a period and region and; (4) the skeleton of a basic social unit or community. Unfortunately, much of this information can be lost or masked by stabilization or restoration done before comprehensive study of the structure.

What I am getting at is that the interests of archeologists and anthropologists are the interests of the visiting public and interpreters: the social and cultural background for the historic and prehistoric monuments that are preserved in the Park System. George Washington was not simply the "Father of our Country," he was also a representative of a particular social class whose values and life style were critical in the origins of our present government and cultural system. In the places where he dwelt and was reared were deposited a good bit of information on this social class and on this cultural background.

An honest word of caution here; just hiring an archeologist won't guarantee these kinds of marvelous insights. If such a study is to be included as an integral part of the historic study, the professional should be an archeologist with demonstrated competence who submits an acceptable design and works according to this research design. He should also have demonstrated the ability to produce a report that is satisfactory for these purposes. This caution is given because archeology is in an exploratory phase of growth. Really adequate research of this kind is physically and intellectually demanding and not all archeologists may be interested in or capable of producing the level of report that we need.

Finally, more emphasis should be placed on providing overall studies and plans corresponding to the historical studies plan, the historical resource studies and historical management plan in the Activities Standards. These have been done under a number of guises in the past. Some years ago Archeological Research Management Plans were produced. Recently in the Western Region we have found it necessary to update these. We are acquiring archeological overviews, roughly comparable to historic resource studies. As an experiment, cultural resource management sections were incorporated with natural resource management plans. While the title and some elements of the format may not correspond exactly to the Activities Standards, their intent was the same: to establish a reasoned and justified set of priorities for research as well as some guidelines for management for the Park Staff. In the previous absence of historians in the Western Regional Office, we have focused on prehistoric occupations in Parks, although we have dealt with the history as best we could. We are now doing our first overview of historical archeology for Joshua Tree National Monument. We are probably remiss for not doing this for all Parks, particularly those commemorating historical events.

Such overviews and plans should provide a reasonable basis for priority research, allowing more efficient use of labor and funds and avoiding the shotgun or squeaky wheel approaches to priorities. The only real difference between the cultural resource management plan and plans in the Activities Standards (Historic Studies Plan, Historic Resources Master Plan), is that we have attempted to flag for Park Managers all proposed activities and developments within the Park which would require preservation.

The talks on Historic Structure Reports were followed by a discussion dealing mainly with what kind of information was expected to be found in a HSR. The main purpose of a HSR is to provide the data which is necessary to permit the preparation of construction drawings and specifications. But there is always a tendency to overdevelop or extend studies beyond what is really needed; each project should have a research design, determined by researcher and area managers to prevent overresearch; we are researching a lot of things to death which are not necessary. Sometimes we use the HSR as a resource study or umbrella for the whole research investigation of a site. We have to have funding and programming for resource studies, otherwise we will continue to depend on HSR for information which is needed for interpretation and the planning process. An appropriate Historic Resource Plan will point out what is really needed.

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Last Updated: 14-Jul-2009