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Archeology for Interpreters > 3. What Are Archeological Resources? >


                  examine the Spanish Chapel's

Spanish Chapel's footprint at the Presidio of San Francisco, Golden Gate NRA. (Will Elder)

Archeological resources are the physical evidences of past human activity, including evidences of the effects of that activity on the environment. What makes archeological resources significant is their identity, age and context in conjunction with their capacity to reveal information through the investigatory research designs, methods, and techniques used by archeologists (NPS 1997:67).

Archeological resources occur in virtually every unit of the national park system. They are critical to understanding and interpreting American prehistory and history. They include prehistoric and historic period sites, materials found in museum collections, the records associated with these sites and materials, and interpretive media such as museum exhibits, web sites, public programs, and publications. They are often fragile and may be easily destroyed unless proper attention is paid to their management (National Park Service [NPS] 1997:67).

Archeological resources represent both ancient cultures and periods after European colonization, up to the present day. They are found above and below ground and under water. Examples include, but are not limited to:

[photo] The battleship USS Arizona is an underwater 
                  archeological resource at Pearl Harbor National Historic Landmark, 
                  Hawaii. (Southeast Archeological Center, NPS)

The battleship USS Arizona is an underwater archeological resource at Pearl Harbor National Historic Landmark, Hawaii. (Southeast Archeological Center, NPS)

A historic period house, for example, may have a broad variety of material culture associated with it (e.g., in construction trenches and trash pits) that can be examined effectively using archeological techniques. The remains of historic properties or of resource types not typically included in the historical record—such as prehistoric rock paintings or undocumented dwellings—will have archeological value when they can reveal significant information. Examples of submerged archeological resources include sunken ships and aircraft and inundated prehistoric campsites and historic forts.

Archeological remains in collections and the records that document them and sites from which they were recovered are also considered archeological resources and must be managed accordingly (NPS 1997:67-68).

Case study

(photo) George Washington's birthplace.

The footprint of George Washington's birthplace in Colonial Beach, Virginia. (Stan George)

George Washington was born at a prehistoric site? Many national parks represent cultures other than those for which the park is known. At George Washington Birthplace National Monument, Native American sites were discovered in the early 1990s, including Woodland Indian shell mounds. Check with your park or regional archeologist to find out if your park contains “unexpected” archeological sites.