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  Managing Archeological Collections 3. Laws, Regs, Policies, and Ethics Distance Learning

State, tribal and local laws and policies

The federal National Historic Preservation Act has served as a guide for many state, local, and tribal historic preservation laws and ordinances. State, local, and tribal governments have also developed policies that address archeological resources located on their lands. The scope of non-federal laws and policies tend to mirror federal historic preservation and archeological resources laws and regulations (i.e., National Historical Preservation Act; Archaeological Resources Protection Act; Secretary of the Interior's Standards and Guidelines for Archeology and Historic Preservation). However, non-federal entities, especially in the last decade, tend to write more detail into their historic preservation and archeological resource protection laws and policies than appears in a corresponding federal law or policy.

In 1991, only about a third of all U.S. states had issued laws, regulations, or policies that addressed the management of archeological collections (Carnett 1991). By 1997, laws in 35 states mentioned curatorial issues and at least 20 states had curation policies and guidelines. Most of these curation policies closely follow 36 CFR 79. By 1999, 37 states had laws that addressed archeological curation (State Historic Preservation Database; see this section's Links page). These findings suggest that states are increasingly concerned with the long-term management of and access to state-owned collections.

A Recent Survey

Policies and guidelines involving the collection of material remains during field survey, testing, and mitigation (or data recovery) directly impact the nature of the resulting collection, which then must be prepared and managed for the long term. In 1998, the Army Corps of Engineers Mandatory Center of Expertise for the Curation and Management of Archaeological Collections (MCX-CMAC) contracted staff from the Illinois State Museum Society to conduct a non-random survey on existing policies concerning field collecting, collections preparation for curation (i.e., cataloging, labeling, and packing), and long-term curation and use (Wiant and Loveless 1999). Six groups were surveyed: State Historic Preservation Officers, State Archeologists who are not associated with the SHPO, Tribal Historic Preservation Officers, State Department of Transportation, University-based Archeologists, and Archeological Consultants.

The survey results on the policies of 53 State Historic Preservation Officers are revealing. First, approximately one third of the SHPOs were not involved in field work so did not have detailed policies on either field collecting or management of the resulting collection. However, 83% had a field collecting policy of which 91% were written. Four of the SHPOs with written field collecting policies had different procedures for collecting prehistoric versus historic material remains. On a related note, eight State Archeologists were surveyed of which four had a written field collecting policy (two developed their own; two used the policy of another agency). Of those four, three had different field collecting procedures for prehistoric versus historic material remains.

The SHPO policies for collections preparation and long-term curation are also revealing. First, only 40% of the SHPOs cataloged artifacts and 36% cataloged associated records. Three quarters of those that cataloged artifacts had written procedures, whereas just over 50% had written procedures for cataloging documentation. Second, 42% of the SHPOs were involved in the curation of objects and 43% in long-term curation of associated records, mostly on a long-term basis. Only 59% of these, however, had written long-term curation policies or, at a minimum, a mission statement on curation.

The eight State Archeologists surveyed that are not part of a State Historic Preservation Office were located in a museum or university. Five of the eight surveyed cataloged both artifacts and documentation and all had written policies or procedures for these activities. Interestingly, six of the eight SAs had an electronic catalog of artifacts and documents. Seven of the eight SAs curated artifacts and documents of which only one curated for the short term. The one SA that did not curate was hampered because the state did not have a central repository. Five of the seven that curated had a written policy on the related activities. Unfortunately, the survey report does not discuss whether the policies of each SA filled gaps in the SHPO policies or were duplicate or conflicting policies.

Wiant and Loveless (1999) also surveyed fourteen THPOs concerning specific policies on field collecting, collections preparation, and long-term curation. Whereas 71% had a field collecting policy (one THPO tailored the policy to the project), about half of these were written in 1998. More importantly, 50% of the THPOs strictly forbade collecting on tribal lands unless artifacts might be destroyed. When collecting did occur, 50% of the THPOs cataloged both artifacts and documents. Of those, 57% had written procedures for cataloging. Four or 29% of the THPOs curated artifacts and documents of which one did so on a project-by-project basis. Two of the four had a written collections management policy.

The above discussion is merely an overview of parts of the MCX-CMAC survey conducted by the Illinois State Museum Society. There is considerably more useful information in the document, some of which is presented in the next sub-section.

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