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common ground

The Future of Public Archeology
Winter 1999

Online Archive

*  Headwaters, Part 2: Tributaries

(photo) New Mexico's Fort Union National Monument on the head of a microchip.

"A shocking number of exhibit-goers were surprised at the extent of the Native American presence. "

Anna-Eliza H. Lewis and Brona G. Simon

by Charles R. McGimsey III

Archeology Goes to Capitol Hill, 1960-1974

Like rivers, legislative programs have complex and multiple origins. It is both interesting and informative to look upstream to the tributaries and, ultimately, to the headwaters of those tributaries. Only by so doing can we understand how the river, or the program, came to life and functions as it does.

An earlier article (Common Ground summer/fall 1998) looked at how, during the postwar boom, three almost inconsequential streams became headwaters of the federal archeology program: the River Basin Surveys, corporate involvement with public archeology, and highway salvage archeology. Here, we explore three legislative tributaries that, together with these earlier events, largely shaped the program as we know it today.

1966: The National Historic Preservation Act

The Historic Preservation Act of 1966, along with the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 and the Archeological and Historic Preservation Act of 1974, provided the legislative support under which cultural resource management, as we know it, developed.

The first established the philosophical base and administrative structure, the second made archeology a required part of planning for every federal agency and project, while the third supplied the rationale for ongoing funds tied to programs and projects as they develop, rather than to a single annual estimate of what NPS—then the central funding agency for archeology—might need. Interestingly, neither of the first two had any input from archeologists, while the third was developed and passed almost exclusively by them.

Historic preservation grew rapidly in the years immediately following WWII. Activities like urban renewal and the construction of new highways were recognized as posing an ever increasing threat to our past, particularly to what came to be known as the built environment. Various societies and organizations sprang up around the country each with a goal of preserving an element (or elements) of the past before it disappeared as so much had already been lost.

In 1947 the National Council for Historic Sites and Buildings was convened at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. Archeologists J. O. Brew and Frank Roberts were present (as was NPS historian Ronald F. Lee, who had a strong interest in archeology) so the discipline was not completely overlooked. But the emphasis was on preserving buildings. Out of this meeting came the draft of the charter founding, in 1949, the National Trust for Historic Preservation. While the Trust's charge encompasses archeology, that has never been a major thrust of its efforts.

By the early 1960s the public and the federal government had become increasingly receptive to action along the preservation front. The National Endowment for the Arts and Humanities was established in 1965. About that same time, Supreme Court decisions affirmed that not only "health" and "safety" but also "public welfare" was a constitutional right. And public welfare was interpreted broadly to include the right to beauty, cleanliness, and the preservation of elements of the past.

It was in this milieu, in the fall of l965, that a special committee on historic preservation (chaired by Rep. Claude Rains of Alabama) was formed under the auspices of the U. S. Conference of Mayors. Consultants to the committee included Ronald F. Lee, now regional director of the NPS northeast region.

The committee's findings and recommendations—which addressed archeology as well as the built environment—were published in the book With Heritage So Rich. Even more importantly, they were promptly incorporated into the legislation that became the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966.

1969: The National Environmental Policy Act

The Environmental Policy Act has had as important an affect on archeology as any single piece of legislation, yet no archeologist was involved with, or probably even aware of, its progression through the congressional mill to passage. The act was brought into being by those whose primary concern was the natural environment, yet section 101(b)(4) states "it is the continuing responsibility of the Federal Government to use all practical means consistent with other essential considerations of national policy, to improve and coordinate Federal plans, functions, programs, and resources to the end that the Nation may preserve important historic, cultural, and natural aspects of our national heritage . . . " The presence of the two words "historic" and "cultural"—the only place they occur in the entire act—became the basis for subsequent court decisions solidifying the incorporation of archeology into NEPA. I had long wondered how those words came to be there.

The initial ideas that developed into NEPA evidently didn't originate with some group outside of Congress, nor did any special interests shepherd it through to passage. The drafting was primarily the work of the Senate Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs under the direction of Sen. Henry Jackson of Washington, and, in the House, of Rep. John Dingell of Michigan. Their initial work concentrated on the concepts that became title II of the act; that is, the establishment of the Council on Environmental Quality.

At some point, however, Lynton K. Caldwell, a professor in forestry at Indiana University, was brought in to advise the committee. He evidently was the architect of the concepts that became title I.

During his career Caldwell had spent some time advising the government of Thailand on environmental affairs. There he became impressed with how cultural ideas and practices affect a people's attitudes and actions with regard to the environment.

Caldwell did not want NEPA to become simply another pious statement but rather sought some way to provide an "action forcing" mechanism. In response, Dan Dreyfus of Sen. Jackson's staff—who was responsible for much of the actual drafting—developed the concept of the environmental impact statement.

The EIS is not designed to be, in itself, a scientific study, but rather a gathering and review of the essential evidence relevant to a potential threat to the environment. Nor does the EIS require that any specific action be taken. It does require consideration of the relevant historic, cultural, and natural data before any final decision is made. Caldwell's experience convinced him this was essential to understanding the complexities of any natural system. Therefore, he took care that NEPA contained wording to assure that all decisions be made in complete historical and cultural context. And we all are very much in his debt.

Before leaving NEPA we must also take note of the critical role played by Larry Banks, at the time the sole archeologist with the Corps of Engineers. His leadership and determination were instrumental in bringing the Corps to initiate an early implementation process for NEPA, including on-the-ground review of historical and archeological resources. This set an example that other agencies followed.

1974: The Archeological and Historic Preservation Act

The Moss-Bennett Act can trace its origin to a simple question I posed in 1968: How could the Arkansas Archeological Survey, which I then directed, best use several thousand dollars in salary money that would not carry forward into the upcoming fiscal year? I addressed my question to Hester Davis, state archeologist, with whom I shared an office.

The idea that came out of our discussion was to ask Jimmy Griffin and Phil Phillips to join us in a review of the Mississippi Valley's archeology (the two had carried out a seminal study with Jim Ford, recently passed away). Phil had other commitments but Jimmy was able and willing to participate.

That summer, Jimmy, Hester, and I toured the valley. We asked all the archeologists active in the area to meet with us at either Greenville, Mississippi, the bootheel of Missouri, or East St. Louis. Despite the short notice, some 50 of them attended. At each session, we reviewed what we thought we knew, discussed the evidence on which our "knowledge" was based, and considered what our research priorities should be in the future. This may have been the first archeological research design ever developed for a region of the United States.

However, there were other even more significant results, for the discussions crystallized in the minds of all of us that not only were sites in the valley imminently threatened (documented over several years with studies of land leveling, surface mining, etc.) but that the threats were on a national not a regional scale. We came to realize, as well, that solutions, if such there were, would have to be sought on a national stage. It was decided that some form of legislation be explored. As a direct result, early in 1969, Carl Chapman and I made the first of what came to be many trips to Washington, D.C.

The problem with the River Basin approach was that it limited archeology to areas behind dams and demanded a lump-sum appropriation, requested and defended annually, without providing for emergencies or changes in the programs of the agencies actually causing the losses. Our legislative goal, quite simply, was to authorize every agency to use its funds to investigate the threatened resources. In short, Moss-Bennett was designed to provide a legislatively based philosophy for funding archeology on an ongoing basis, something singularly lacking in the River Basin approach and the l960 Reservoir Salvage Act.

We met with a number of congressional staffs, including that of Sen. Fulbright. His staffers agreed that there was a problem, that our ideas were sound, and that there would be no opposition if we handled it well. We were appalled when they said it would take us five years. We ultimately settled on Senator Frank Moss of Utah and Representative Charles Bennett of Florida as sponsors and sat down with the former's staff to draft the bill. The legislation went through multiple drafts, many hearings, and three sessions of Congress before, five years later, as predicted, it became law in 1974.

During that time I personally visited every congressional delegation, often on multiple occasions. Many, many others lobbied as well. One unintended consequence was to alert the profession to the need for active congressional attention; this led, ultimately, to the SAA Government Affairs Committee with its full time lobbyist.

With the advantage of hindsight, Moss-Bennett has been criticized for not having been tied more closely and overtly with the 1966 preservation act. At the time, none of us involved with Moss-Bennett thought this seemed necessary. The administrative organization provided by the 1966 act was adequate, in place, and—despite various initial organizational struggles—beginning to work reasonably well. Hester Davis and I, two of the three principle authors of the first Arkansas State Historic Preservation Plan, saw no basic problems in our state with Moss-Bennett fitting right in. We had been strongly advised by our congressional sponsors to amend rather than introduce legislation. Amending the 1966 act was one possibility, but the 1960 act codified the restriction of funding to NPS, and as Moss-Bennett was directed specifically toward broadening the funding base for archeology, the latter law was the logical one to change. Further, it was simpler (always a desirable legislative approach) for the very reason that the 1960 act did not directly involve other complex programs. To have endeavored to tie Moss-Bennett closely with the l966 act would have opened a very complex can of worms indeed.

To be sure, problems did develop with integrating Moss-Bennett with the Historic Preservation Act, just as there were problems with other aspects of it before things got shaken down. Possibly, Moss-Bennett should have referenced the 1966 act in some way. But, viewing things retrospectively, I do not believe that attempting to integrate the two would have alleviated the problems that later arose. Had we attempted to do so, I believe that Moss-Bennett would have sunk without a trace as it moved through Congress, and cultural resource management, as we know it, would not have developed.


The streams of events explored in these two articles united to become the river that is the federal archeology program. One headwater I have not covered is Executive Order 11593. This is not because it was not a significant element leading to the development of the program, but simply because I haven't a clue as to what brought about its issuance. If others do know I hope they will enlighten the rest of us.


"The National Historic Preservation Act": Mackintosh 1986, Mulloy 1976, Rains et al. 1966.

"The National Environmental Policy Act": Caldwell 1982, Ruthann Knudson, pers. comm., 1997.

"The Archeological and Historic Preservation Act": King, Hickman, and Berg 1977, McGimsey III 1981, McGimsey III 1985.


Caldwell, Lynton K., Science and the Environmental Policy Act, Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1982.

King, Thomas F., Patricia P. Hickman, and Gary Berg, Anthropology in Historic Preservation, New York: Academic Press, 1977.

Mackintosh, Barry, The National Historic Preservation Act and the National Park Service, Washington, D.C.: Department of Interior, National Park Service, History Division, 1986.

McGimsey III, Charles R., "Archeology: A Profession in Transition," Early Man, vol. 2, no. 3 (1981), pp. 28-32.

_________, "‘This Too, Will Pass': Moss-Bennett in Perspective," American Antiquity, vol. 50, no. 2 (1985), pp. 326-331.

Mulloy, Elizabeth D., The History of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, 1963-1973, Washington, D.C.: The Preservation Press, 1976.

Rains, Albert et al., With Heritage So Rich, New York: Random House, 1966.