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descriptive analysis

The Permit Records

Electronic records for 3,208 issued permits have been entered into the NADB-Permits database. They include permits for archeological and paleontological work spanning almost 80 years between 1907 and 1986.

Type of Permit Granted
(figure) Number of Archeological and Paleontological Permits Granted in NADB-Permits
Figure 1: Number of Archeological and Paleontological Permits Granted in NADB-Permits.

NADB-Permits contains 2,660 permits issued for archeological work and 489 permits issued for paleontological work. Fifty-two permits were issued for both types of work. Seven records do not indicate either type (Figure 1).

Unfortunately, the total number of permits issued between 1906-86 is not known and, therefore, an unknown number of permits are not included in NADB-Permits. All of the 2,122 permits housed by offices of the Departmental Consulting Archeologist and the NPS's Archeology Program (DCA/AAE) are in the database. As well, 744 permits were entered into the database from the National Anthropological Archives (NAA) of the Smithsonian Institution. NPS staff also entered information 338 permits held by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). The combined holdings from these locations total well over 3,700 individual permit records of which approximately 500 are duplicates. The Smithsonian Institution advised on permit applications until around 1984 and retained copies of their permit application correspondence. These are housed in the NAA. The Department of the Interior and, later, the NPS (DCA/AAE) also retained copies of their permit application correspondence for filing and subsequent archiving. Although some 500 permit files have the same permit number, they usually contain different information at the different locations, such as copies of permits, original correspondence, maps, reports, and other associated materials. In the following discussion, however, the duplicates are not counted.

Legislative Authorities

Legislative Authority and Permits
Antiquities Act and ARPA, 1907-86
(figure) Number of Permits Issued by Law between 1907-1986
Figure 2: Number of Permits Issued by Law.

Archeological permits were issued under the Antiquities Act between 1906 and 1984. Beginning in 1979, permits began to be issued under the Archeological Resources Protection Act, as well as the Antiquities Act. After 1984, permits were no longer issued exclusively under the Antiquities Act.

In the database, 1,278 of the entered permit records were issued exclusively under the Antiquities Act and 1,124 permits were issued exclusively under ARPA. One hundred five (105) permits were issued under both Acts and 115 records do not list any legislative authority (Figure 2).

Federal Agency Involvement

Under both the Antiquities Act and ARPA, all permitted activities require permission from the federal department and/or agency having management authority over the project lands. Twenty-three permit granting agencies are identified in the permit records, including the Water and Power Resources Service (WPRS) and the Department of Defense (DOD), in particular, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (COE). Agencies that manage the majority of permitted project lands in NADB-Permits, however, are from the Department of the Interior (DOI), particularly the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the National Park Service (NPS), the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR), and the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA).

Archeological Permits Issued 1907-1986
State or
Total State or
Total State or
NM 406 MD 14 MI 4
AZ 375 OK 14 NY 4
CO 301 DC 10 OH 4
UT 272 FL 10 TN 4
CA 268 GA 9 IA 3
NV 183 ND 9 VI 3
WY 159 NE 9 AL 2
AK 157 NC 6 IL 2
MT 119 MN 5 LA 2
ID 100 MO 5 MA 2
OR 86 SC 5 MS 2
KS 44 VA 5 PA 2
WA 29 WI 5 RI 2
TX 22 AR 4 DE 1
SD 18 GU 4 ME 1
KY 15 IN 4 VT 1
Table 1: Number of Permits Issued by State.

Many permits in NADB-Permits identify only the Department of the Interior as the permitting land manager without greater specificity. These permits are generally for the period of 1907-1935. Later in date, however, over 2000 permit records in NADB-Permits are for work conducted specifically on BLM lands. This is because the BLM issued a purchase order to the NPS to fund the entry of their approved permits.

Permits by State and Territory

Archeological permits have been issued throughout most of the United States (Table 1). The records in NADB-Permits identify only five states with no archeological permit activity: Connecticut, Hawaii, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and West Virginia. Paleontological work has been done in both Hawaii and New Jersey, however. Of the U.S. territories, only Guam and the Virgin Islands had any permitted activities recorded in NADB-Permits. Each U.S. territory has federal property and preservation responsibilities under the various federal archeology and historic preservation laws. The assorted issues of jurisdiction, geographic limitation, and delayed involvement by archeologists in compliance work, however, may help explain the relative lack of permit activity in the U.S. territories.

The majority of archeological permit work documented in NADB-Permits was concentrated in the western states of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. Work in these states generally increased over the years, particularly during the period between 1970-1982 (Figure 3).

Archeological Permit Activity
Trends for Select States Between 1970-1982
(figure) Number of Archeological Permits Issued by State, 1970-82
Figure 3: Number of Permits Issued by State, 1970-82.

No single explanation can be cited for these trends. If accurate, and not a bias of the archival record, the data may reflect several causes. The western focus probably is due to the large federal land holdings in the western states. The overall increases might be explained by: (1) increased development, such as big utility or road projects, that required archeological compliance work, (2) better information gathering for land management purposes, or (3) expanding opportunities for archeological investigations because of greater student participation or increased grant funding.

Frequency of Permits Over Time

The NADB-Permits data show an overall increase in the number of permitted archeological activities throughout the United States. After a lull in activity during the World War II era, the volume of issued archeological permits recorded in NADB-Permits increased through the 1970s, reaching a peak around 1982 (Figure 4).

Archeological Permits in NADB-Permits
Grouped in Ten Year Increments, 1907-86
(figure) Number of Archeological Permits Issued between 1907-86 in 10 Year Increments.
Figure 4: Number of Permits Issued between 1907-86 in 10 Year Increments.

The increase in archeological permits coincides with the strong preservation movement during the 1960s. The passage of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 (NHPA) and the enactment of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) require agencies to be aware of their compliance responsibilities. Since then, federal agencies not only sponsor archeological activities, but also hire staff archeologists to meet their obligations regarding the preservation and protection of archeological resources.

The number of permits declined slightly after 1982, which probably relates to several factors. The first might be the transition from the permit authority under the Antiquities Act to that of ARPA, and the accompanying transfer of the permitting process to individual federal agencies. A second factor might relate to the regulations governing ARPA permits, which required that federal agencies assume individual responsibility for permitting and compliance. Thus, they were no longer required to issue permits for their own undertakings on their own lands. Third, the National Park Service no longer received information about individual permits of other agencies, except for ARPA violations that are documented in the Secretary’s Report to Congress on Federal Archeology. Finally, the decline may merely be a bias in the permits found at NPS, NARA, and NAA and entered into NADB-Permits.

Permits for Submerged Resources

Thirty-four permits in NADB-Permits were specifically granted for submerged archeological excavations. The permit applications identified several types of submerged cultural resources for investigation, including ships or inundated village sites located in a variety of environments.

Several of the submerged excavations were located off the shores of the Florida Keys, while other permitted projects focused on rivers, along the banks of river basins, and reservoirs. Most of the permitted projects in NADB-Permits were conducted in Alaska, California, Missouri, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, and the Virgin Islands.

Many permit applicants did not distinguish between submerged or terrestrial locations on their application forms, however, so the precise nature and scope of much of the work documented in NADB-Permits cannot be determined.

Paleontological Permits

Paleontological Permits
Issued 1907–1986
State Total
WY 106
UT 68
CO 58
MT 56
AZ 55
NM 42
CA 41
SD 30
NV 16
ID 16
TX 15
OR 11
NE 9
AK 5
KS 4
MO 2
NJ 2
HI 1
GA 1
IL 1
AL 1
KY 1
Table 2: Total Number of Paleo-
ntological Permits Issued by State.

Based on the 489 records currently in NADB-Permits, paleontological work focused in the western portion of the United States. This was undoubtedly due to specific, regional environmental conditions, which promoted fossil preservation and discovery. Although never numerous, the paleontological permits in NADB-Permits were issued in 22 states since 1907 (Table 2).

Most of the permits were issued for Arizona, Colorado, Montana, Utah, and Wyoming. Some trends can be seen for the period of 1970-1985 (Figure 5). For example, Wyoming had the most paleontological permits in the early years of the decade. Its numbers peaked around 1978 and then drifted down. Most of these states followed the same pattern. After some initial paleontological interest, South Dakota experienced decreased permitted activity over time, whereas work in Utah, New Mexico, and Montana generally increased. Paleontological permits maintained a stable presence in states such as California and Montana.

Paleontological materials are still protected on public lands under the Antiquities Act, and the federal land manager must permit any paleontological activities. At least two national parks, Agate Fossil Beds in Nebraska and Dinosaur National Monument in Utah and Colorado, were authorized primarily because of the presence of paleontological remains. Many more paleontological remains exist on other federal lands.

Paleontological Permit Issued in Select States,
1970-85 (per two year increments)
(figure) Number of Paleontological Permits Issued for Seven States in Two Year Increments, 1970-85.
Figure 5: Number of Paleontological Permits Issued for Seven States in Two Year Increments, 1970-85.

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