Archeology in the U.S. is rooted in the 1700s when European settlers encountered,
and were intrigued by, ancient mounds and earthwork complexes. Systematic
archeological recording and the creation of collections began later in the
early and mid-1800s spearheaded by the American Philosophical Society, the
American Antiquarian Society, and the Smithsonian Institution. Myths about
ancient mound builders in the midwest and southeast also spurred archeological
research, particularly as a science. During the 1800s, American archeology
was linked closely with cultural anthropology, linguistics, and physical
anthropology since Native Americans were seen as examples of what human
life had been like in prehistoric times. Near the end of the 1800s, Worlds
Fair and museum exhibitions displayed American Indian antiquities, and various
investigators published accounts of their archeological discoveries. Unfortunately,
the growing popular appeal of American archeology was accompanied by commercial
demands for authentic prehistoric antiquities and the looting of artifacts
from archeological sites for private use. Scientific investigators visited
and reported on the destruction and looting of prominent ruins, such as
Pecos in New Mexico. These descriptions were used to argue for federal action
to protect archeological sites enacted in 1906.
Thomas Jefferson directs the first controlled excavation of
an ancient mound in Virginia, "the first scientific excavation
in the history of archaeology."
Courtesy Parks & History Association
- Applied historical archeological methods are used to find
the French settlement of St. Croix in order to settle a political
boundary dispute between Britain and the U.S. (The St.
Croix Island International Historic Site was established
in 1949 and given its current name in 1984.)
- The American
Philosophical Society circular letter requests information
about antiquities, encouraging its members to provide written
descriptions of the ancient site works in their local areas
- AAS publishes Description of Antiquities Discovered in
the State of Ohio and other Western States by Caleb Atwater.
Hot Springs Reservation
is established in Arkansas. An early example of a natural resource
preserved for the public.
Mound by Squier and Davis
Courtesy of the National Anthropological Archives (NAA)
- American Antiquities and Discoveries in the West by
Josiah Priest is published.
Institution (SI) is established with Joseph Henry as the
Secretary. Henry believes that the "collection of data should
precede theorizing..." and focuses archeological investigations
on systematic recording, description, and analysis.
Courtesy of the NAA
Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley by Squier
and Davis is published as the first volume of the Smithsonian
Contributions to Knowledge series. This work describes
and illustrates ancient mounds and earthwork complexes of Native
Courtesy of the NAA
- Archaeology of the United States by Samuel Haven is
published by the SI.
- Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove of giant sequoias
are set aside as a public park for preservation through a bill
granting them to the State of California.
- Frederick Law Olmsted writes "Preliminary Report upon the
Yosemite and Big Tree Grove" arguing for the preservation of
- Yellowstone is established
by Congress as the world's first National Park. This event marks
the inauguration of the policy of setting aside tracts of land
in federal ownership for public use and long-term preservation
of important natural and cultural resources. The land is retained
in custody of the DOI.
The Bureau of Ethnology (renamed Bureau of American Ethnology
(BAE) in 1897) is formed under SI direction by John Wesley Powell.
Anthropological studies concentrate on the then perceived disappearing
Native American communities in the western states.
John Wesley Powell
From The Exploration of the Colorado River and Its
Canyons, by John Wesley Powell
- The Archeological
Institute of America (AIA) is founded in Boston, MA under
the leadership of Charles Eliot Norton.
- The American
Association for the Advancement of Science elects Henry
Lewis Morgan, an anthropologist, as President.
- The Anthropological Society of Washington is formed.
AIA supports Adolph Bandelier's investigations of archeological
sites in the Southwest through 1885. Bandelier reports on the
extent of looting and vandalism occurring at Pecos, which raises
concern for American antiquities. Eventually the reports are
used during discussions and debate in the U.S. Congress over
the issue of government action to protect archeological sites.
Map of Serpent Mound by Squier and Davis
Courtesy of the NAA
- Senator George F. Hoar (MA) raises the issue of destruction
of archeological sites in the U.S. Senate, but legislation is
Mound, Ohio, is purchased, excavated, and preserved by F.
The Boston Herald publishes an account of Cushing's work
with the Zuni/Hopi. This raises awareness of the looting problem
in the southwest and leads to additional support for the preservation
movement by wealthy Bostonians.
Casa Grande Ruin Reservation
Anthropologist begins publication.
- At the urging of concerned citizens, Congress appropriates
$2000 to enable the Secretary of the Interior to repair and
protect Casa Grande Ruin in Florence, AZ. Congress also authorizes
the president to reserve the land where the ruin is located
from settlement or sale.
The Museum of American Archaeology is established in Philadelphia
Yosemite National Park
George A. Grant photo
- The Forest Reserve Act is enacted. By 1901, 46 million acres
are managed as forest reserves (renamed national forests in
Gustav Nordenskiold, a Swede, begins to dig at Mesa Verde with
the help of the Wetherills.
- President Benjamin Harrison signs an executive order that
reserves the Casa Grande
Ruin and 480 acres around it for permanent protection because
of its archeological value.
- World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago and the Louisiana
Purchase Exposition (1904) in St. Louis introduce the American
public to U.S. antiquities. In addition, university museums
display American Indian antiquities. These events gain the public's
attention and raise awareness about the need to support and
preserve archeological resources.
- Nordenskiold publishes The Cliff Dwellers of the Mesa
Verde, Southwestern Colorado: Their Pottery and Implements.
The realization that American antiquities have been removed
from the US by collectors like Nordenskiold provides a strong
argument for protective legislation.
- SI publishes Cyrus Thomas' Report on the Mound Explorations
of the Bureau of Ethnology.
- The Hyde Exploring Expedition starts excavations at Pueblo
Bonito in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico. The extensive collections
that were the objective of these excavations were used to create
the American Southwest exhibits at the American Museum of Natural
History in New York City.
The Kensington Rune Stone is found on a farm in Minnesota. It
is translated from Norse runes and is found to describe an expedition
of Swedes and Norwegians to the Americas in 1362. Declared a
hoax a year later, recent analysis shows that the language on
the stone is a modern Swedish dialect spoken only in the American
Midwest and the runes are of recent vintage also.
Kensington Rune Stone
- Committees from the American Association for the Advancement
of Science and AIA combine efforts to promote a bill for the
permanent preservation of aboriginal antiquities on federal
- Several bills for the protection of antiquities on public
lands are introduced in the House of Representatives. They attempt
to place prehistoric ruins, monuments and objects in the care
and custody of the Secretary of the Interior; permit excavations
and related activities for educational or scientific purposes;
prohibit the destruction, injury, removal, or counterfeiting
of archeological sites, objects and monuments; and allow the
Secretary and President to establish preserves and parks. These
bills are defeated or die without further action.
- The Department of Anthropology is established at the University
of California at Berkeley by A. L. Kroeber.
Senator Cullom and Representative Hitt, both of Illinois, introduce
two bills to protect American antiquities.
Pueblo Bonito, Chaco Canyon
- Pueblo Bonito ruin in Chaco Canyon, NM, is withdrawn from
sale or homesteading by the General Land Office.
- A Committee on the Preservation of the Remains of American
Antiquities is established at the AIA annual meeting in St.
- Representative Lacey of Iowa introduces a bill to preserve
antiquities on Federal land. Congress adjourns before it can
be entered for discussion.
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