[NPS Arrowhead] U.S. Dept. of Interior National Park Service Archeology Program
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common ground

History Through a Pinhole
Fall/Winter 1996, vol. 8(3/4)

Online Archive

*  The Road Ahead

(image) Salmon.

"There is an undefinable but compelling sensation one has upon coming across, in a clearing or along a barren road, a structure that was once a thriving enterprise."

Thomas Harding

by Francis P. McManamon

"Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose."
Alphonse Karr, Les Guepes, 1849

The steady downsizing and restructuring of much of the federal government has brought changes to the NPS archeological assistance division, as it has to many other offices concerned with archeology and historic preservation. In this case, the change involves the reestablishment of a connection broken a generation ago. The National Park Service functions of providing leadership and coordination for federal archeology—the focus of AAD and its regional offices—have been combined with the park archeology and ethnography functions previously carried out by the anthropology division. The result is a new entity, the Archeology Program.

This combination reunites two aspects of the NPS archeological program divided in 1973. At that time, the park archeology function, along with the other park system historic preservation disciplines, were removed from the NPS office of archeology and historic preservation. As a result, OAHP and its archeological branch, interagency archeological services, strengthened its focus on the nation's preservation needs beyond the park system. To that end, OAHP gathered NPS archeologists, historians, and historical architects into a unit that moved forcefully and effectively to broaden and intensify the federal and state commitment to archeology and historic preservation.

Now we have come full circle to a recombination of the functions split in the early 1970s. Of course, the program in 1995 is much different from the program in 1973.

For one thing, the Park Service now has a strong ethnography function, introduced in 1981. As part of the program realignment, we aim to reinforce this function by developing databases, encouraging cooperative research, fostering consultation with native peoples, and promoting sound interpretation in the interest of informing decisions about park resources. To accomplish this goal, NPS cultural anthropologists will work closely with planners, managers, and communities to identify cultural and natural resources that have continuing significance for present-day peoples.

For another thing, the park system archeology functions have changed since the ‘70s. Then, the focus was on excavation and fieldwork. Now, although there is still fieldwork, excavation is less extensive, usually limited to identifying, evaluating, and recovering data during park construction projects. The focus is much more on surveying sites, inventorying resources, and managing information.

Likewise, the archeological leadership and coordination function has changed. No longer is supervising contracts for archeological investigations a main focus. More likely activities include improving information exchange (for example, by promoting and building the National Archeological Database), coordinating interagency initiatives, working with others on public outreach, and providing the means, such as through this quarterly, to encourage communication among the community interested in archeology and historic preservation.

We have received strong support from the Director and other senior Park Service officials to continue all of the basic functions and activities carried out by NPS archeology and ethnography in recent years. We are committed to increasing cooperation with partners in other agencies and like-minded organizations at all levels. There is a renewed emphasis on professionalism, on scholarship, and on scientific information to improve resource management, research, interpretation, data management, and other essential activities.

Here at the national center, our efforts to contribute to these endeavors will include fostering communication and cooperation among Park Service field offices, especially among archeologists, ethnographers, and other preservation professionals in parks, centers, and system support and field offices. Our goal will be to enhance the abilities of the broad network of NPS professionals to protect, preserve, and interpret archeological and ethnographic resources within and beyond park boundaries. The program emphasis, though broadened, will continue to focus on effective cultural resource management, through resource protection, public outreach, interagency cooperation, and information exchange.

As evidence of our broadened perspective, watch for the retitled Federal Archeology in the next issue. Common Ground: Archeology and Ethnography in the Public Interest will be coming soon to a mailbox near you!

Francis P. McManamon is Chief, Archeology Program, and Departmental Consulting Archeologist, National Park Service, Department of the Interior.