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common ground

The Delta Endangered
Spring 1996, vol. 1(1)

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*  Common Ground

(photo) Young Indian girl.

"We explain to the kids why, from the beginning of time in our homeland, we had the mounds. You can feel it in the classroom. There's a sense of dignity and a sense of loss."

Glenda Galvan

by Francis P. McManamon

"Common ground" refers to space, either physical or psychological, about which a variety of individuals with diverse backgrounds hold similar feelings or views. It is a place where people who might otherwise not have much to agree about can find reasons to work together and, perhaps, even come to appreciate the perspectives of others.

Common ground encompasses places in which many of us have a stake. Ninety years ago, the people of the United States, acting through their elected representatives, resolved to set aside archeological sites on public lands as common ground. It was decided that individuals ought not to dig about haphazardly in ancient sites, removing whatever caught their fancy to keep or sell. To that end, the Antiquities Act, signed into law on June 8, 1906, by President Theodore Roosevelt, regulated excavating sites and collecting artifacts. Such activity was to be limited to those with the expertise to carry out careful, well-recorded investigations. Furthermore, in order to receive permission to do so, investigators had to commit to use what they found for public benefit. Investigations were to be conducted " . . . with a view to increase the knowledge of such objects," which were to be set aside "for permanent preservation in public museums."

Through the Antiquities Act, Americans accepted the notion that archeological resources are valuable mainly for the information they represent. A few sites may contain commercially valuable artifacts, but this is not the primary benefit derived from investigating them.

In the years since the act was passed, public support and statutory protection have expanded for all kinds of historic properties, often translating to preservation on private lands. Success in preserving these sites requires working closely with landowners as well as employing regulatory tools. This is particularly the case for the Delta earthworks, most of which are privately held, discussed in this issue of Common Ground.

The world is more complicated than it was in 1906. The advocates of the Antiquity Act could not have foreseen the multitude of perspectives that now must be considered in making preservation truly a common endeavor. Increasingly, consulting with Native Americans and other ethnic groups with special relationships to archeological sites requires knowledge of ethnographic approaches sensitive to the concerns of traditional cultures. Often these approaches are the key to forging consensus on how to solve otherwise intractable problems—in short, finding common ground.

In using these words as this publication's title, we aim to underscore that while each segment in our audience has its own perspective, there is much in common. Our readers work in federal, state, tribal, and local governments, colleges and universities, and private firms; some work abroad. They are land managers, curators, Native Americans, historians, archeologists, and others.

Yet the issues they face cut across the barriers. Determining the most appropriate way to preserve a site. Ascertaining the best public interpretation for it—or deciding that no interpretation is best. Making these decisions frequently calls for more than one discipline's expertise. All perspectives can contribute to the dialogue.

By sharing our expertise and views, we make them clearer to others. Clarity does not ensure agreement among a diverse group, but it can show where our interests intersect. Common Ground, like its predecessor Federal Archeology, intends to foster this process.

We welcome our long-time colleagues in ethnography as formal partners in this endeavor. We renew our commitment to our other colleagues, our clients, and all our partners in the work of protecting, preserving, and interpreting our common ground.