National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA)
The National Environmental Policy Act covers both cultural and natural resource management. It is an authority for managing the impacts of all federal actions on the “human environment.” Cultural resources are collected under Section 101 (b)4, which gives the federal government responsibility to “preserve important historic, cultural, and natural aspects of our national heritage, and maintain, wherever possible, an environment which supports diversity, and variety of individual choice.” Contract archeologists deal with NEPA by preparing either an Environmental Assessment (EA) or an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for a federal project. Archeological compliance and preparation of these statements usually involves scoping and/or surveying. NEPA is unique in that it links all socio-cultural impacts, highlighting the relationships between past cultures and their living descendants.
The Archeological and Historic Preservation Act of 1974 (or the Moss-Bennett Act, or the Archeological Data Preservation Act) continues the fight to preserve archeological resources during development, but it is broader in scope. The AHPA and its amendments call for the “preservation of historical and archeological data (including relics and specimens) which might otherwise be irreparably lost or destroyed as the result of … any federal construction project or federally licensed activity or program.” Another significant stipulation is that up to 1% of the cost of a federal project could be used for “recovery, protection, and preservation of any data deemed endangered.”
AHPA requires the Secretary of the Interior to submit an Annual report to Congress “…indicating the scope and effectiveness of the program, the specific projects surveyed and the results produced, and the costs incurred by the Federal Government as a result thereof.” It is also the first piece of legislation since the Antiquities Act to mention the care of archeological collections.
Plastic protects the evidence of looting at Vicksburg National Military Park, where Civil War relic hunters excavated numerous holes causing wide spread damage to sensitive archeological sites. (NPS)
ARPA is important from the standpoint of managing archeological collections because it:
- acknowledges federal ownership of objects excavated from federal lands;
- calls for the preservation of objects and associated records in a “suitable” institution, and
- prohibits public disclosure of information concerning the nature and location of archeological resources that require a permit or other permission under ARPA for their excavation or removal.
An application for an ARPA permit must include authorization and a written agreement between the federal agency and an appropriate repository that will house and curate the collection recovered from the project. This permit process applies to all excavations on federal and Indian/tribal lands. ARPA also is the third law that permitted the Secretary of the Interior to issue regulations on the care and management of archeological collections. These regulations (36 CFR Part 79) were issued in 1990.
In order to accommodate the repatriation or disposition requirements of NAGPRA, the ARPA regulations dealing with custody and ownership of archeological collections were amended in 1995 (see 43 CFR Part 7.13).
Artifacts submerged in the waters of Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida. (NPS)
Under the Abandoned Shipwreck Act, the U.S. Government asserted title to three categories of abandoned shipwrecks: abandoned shipwrecks embedded in a State's submerged lands; abandoned shipwrecks embedded in coralline formations protected by a State on its submerged lands; and abandoned shipwrecks located on a State's submerged lands and included in or determined eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places.
The Act directed the National Park Service to prepare guidelines to assist States and Federal agencies in developing legislation and regulations to carry out their responsibilities under the Act. In accordance with the Act, the guidelines are intended to maximize the enhancement of cultural resources; foster a partnership among sport divers, fishermen, archeologists, salvors, and other interests to manage shipwreck resources of the States and the United States; facilitate access and utilization by recreational interests; and recognize the interests of individuals and groups engaged in shipwreck discovery and salvage.
For your information
Shipwreck Act Guidelines
These Guidelines provide advice to the States and Federal agencies on how to manage shipwrecks in waters under their ownership or control.p
The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) is an important piece of federal legislation that impacts archeological fieldwork and curation. Passed in 1990, NAGPRA deals with aspects of archeology both in the field and in the repository. It also affects any public museum or repository that received federal funding before or since 1990. In the field, NAGPRA reinforces many aspects of the Archeological Resources Protection Act (ARPA).
Archeological research that may affect sites of religious or other cultural importance to an Indian tribe or other Native American group must also be preceded by notification of and consultation with that group. NPS archeologists, in coordination with NPS ethnographers, curators, and park superintendents, must ensure that archeological research on park lands complies with all policies and requirements. Agreements reached in the consultation process are documented in writing, This is particularly important where there is potential to encounter Native American human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects, or other objects of cultural patrimony during archeological research (NPS 1997, p. 73).
NAGPRA also impacts archeological collections. First, it has set forth standards for repatriation. Second, it requires that every federal agency and federally funded museum or repository completes a summary and inventory of all NAGPRA-related objects in their care. NAGPRA has forced many agencies and museums to find out exactly what they own and for what collections they are responsible. NAGPRA also contains provisions for repatriation of these objects to lineal descendants or culturally affiliated Indian tribes or Native Hawaiians (Childs and Corcoran 2000).
For your information
This web site accesses National NAGPRA, the program assisting the Secretary of the Interior with his responsibilities under NAGPRA, and focuses on NAGPRA implementation on a national basis.
This web site describes the Bishop Museum of Honolulu's controversial loan of 83 ancient Hawaiian artifacts worth millions of dollars to a Native Hawaiian Organization in light of NAGPRA requirements.