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How the Conflict between East and West Resulted in the Antiquities Act of 1906
Hal Rothman, Department of History, University of Nevada
Session: "Examining the Historical Context for the Antiquities Act (1879-1906)", Society for American Archaeology Annual Conference, April 2, 2005

(Abstract) The Antiquities Act of 1906, the law that allowed the establishment of national monuments, was a potent addition to the arsenal of conservation. Signed into law by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906, the act was vague. It permitted the president to proclaim as national monuments any part of the public domain with only a signature of the executive pen. Although the framers of the bill claimed that its primary use would be the reservation of small areas of prehistoric significance, the bill was an important part of a trend that granted the chief executive considerable control over public lands. In the hands of a president such as Roosevelt, the power to establish national monuments was a valuable asset for conservation goals.

At the same time, the law resolved a long-standing struggle between the eastern establishment and westerners who lived in proximity to archaeological ruins. Since the 1880s, the two loosely defined groups had struggled for control of American prehistory; the Antiquities demonstrated a victory for the institutional and professional twentieth century and its representatives, the archaeologists and anthropologists who worked in universities and museums, and the avocational and sometimes avaricious amateurs who lived nearby. The Antiquities Act heralded the end of an era of openness in the West, replacing the actions of individuals with the decisions of institutions. The Antiquities Act reflected a shift in values, one that came to characterized the twentieth century United States.

For more on this paper, see America's National Monuments. Originally published 1989, electronic edition, 2005.