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Ruins and Renewal
Summer/Fall 1998, vol. 3(2/3)

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*  Headwaters

(photo) Lloyd Masayumptewa, member of the ruins stabilization crew at Wupatki National Monument.

"Ethnic identity is accompanied by ethnic stigmatization, and the [ruins of the] Basque hotels, set within the larger building community that is the West, are reminders of the both the region's cultural diversity and cultural divisions. "

Thomas Carter

by Charles R. McGimsey III

Every river, no matter how large, begins with one small rivulet, its headwater. If the rivulet is to become a stream and subsequently a river it must be joined by ever increasing sources of support. So it is with ideas and actions that become successful programs, of whatever sort. They often have small, seemingly inconsequential, points of beginning that later, and with many additions, lead to significant developments.

It is hard for those of us active in archeology today, involved as we are with historic preservation plans, environmental impact statements, and cultural resource management, where nearly every federal agency has a staff of archeologists and each actively funds archeology as a normal part of its operations, to recall that immediately after WWII no such programs or activities existed–not even in anyone's mind's eye.

In the years immediately prior to the war the federal government had been actively involved with archeological projects, many of them quite massive, undertaken in relation to Depression Era social programs and TVA dams. But in 1944 the Depression was no more. The social programs were over and done with. Neither was there much left to do in the way of additional TVA dams. The federal government was completely out of the archeological business (except for work in the National Parks) and there was no reason for archeologists, or anyone else, to think that that situation would change.

But, as we know, the government did become very involved in archeology and remains so. How did that come to pass?

The River Basin Surveys, 1945

As WWII began to wind down the Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation began to gear up for a major post-war program of constructing power and water control dams on the Missouri River and its tributaries, as well as elsewhere. Sometime in 1944 Julian Steward, then with the Bureau of American Ethnology, read a news article about the proposed program and called Frank Roberts into his office to discuss what archeologists might do to counteract this major threat to the nation's archeological resources. In May 1944, Society for American Archaeology President J. Alden Mason established a planning committee (Fred Johnson, chair) to review WPA and TVA records so that the WPA work might form a background to legitimize further federal archeological endeavors. Johnson, who had been working for Steward, also became alerted to the proposed construction activity. He consulted with William Duncan Strong, Chair of the National Research Council's committee on the basic needs in archaeology (established in 1939 to provide for review of WPA archeological work and develop archeological standards), and with Ronald F. Lee (chief historian, National Park Service) and others in the National Park Service. Discussions with the Corps and BRec revealed just how far along their planning was and confirmed everyone's worse fears regarding the threat to archeology.

Over the next several months Johnson, with the help of Julian Steward and others, developed the concept of a small committee of professionals, independent of the federal government but with a broad base of organizational support, who would assist various federal agencies in recovering the threatened archeological materials. The result was what came to be called the Committee for the Recovery of Archaeological Remains, or CRAR. This committee first met in May 1945. It consisted of W. S. Web, who had played a major role in administering the WPA program, as chair; A. V. Kidder (who along with Web represented the ACLS); J. O. Brew (representing the American Anthropological Association), and Fred Johnson, as secretary (representing the SAA).

CRAR and the discussions leading to it were largely responsible for initiating the Inter-Agency Archaeological Salvage Program. For the next 30 years the committee was archeology's primary—indeed almost sole—voice in Washington, serving as advisor to the Smithsonian, the Park Service, other federal agencies, and Congress. More than once, it saw to the establishment of or saved essential appropriations for archeology during the period.

During 1945, CRAR helped the Smithsonian and the National Park Service negotiate a number of cooperating agreements with the two primary federal construction agencies, the Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation. Frank Roberts of the Smithsonian was dragooned into assuming the Herculean and largely thankless task of providing primary scientific direction, while the Park Service assumed primary responsibility for obtaining funds and for overall administration. Thus was created what became known as the Inter-Agency Archeological and Paleontological Salvage Program (or sometimes as the River Basin Surveys, though the latter term is generally used to refer to that portion of the work done under Smithsonian supervision). A major distinction between this program and most Depression Era federal funding was that now the funding was appropriated to support archeology directly, not archeology as a means to accomplish make-work for a depressed economy.

The initial emphasis was on funding Smithsonian crews to operate in the Missouri Basin and in a few reservoirs in other parts of the county. However, particularly after about l952, the National Park Service began entering into a series of cooperative agreements with local institutions to do reservoir salvage work both within and outside of the Missouri Basin. Funds were made available to the Park Service annually, using authority established by the Historic Sites Act of 1935, which transferred them to the Smithsonian. For the first two years or so the Corps and BRec made program monies available as well, but the Bureau of the Budget took a dim view of this and that source tended to dry up, especially after the passage of the Reservoir Salvage Act of l960. That act expanded operations to federally licensed dams, and was widely interpreted as making the National Park Service responsible for all funding. Although funding was relatively large (e.g., in fiscal 1952-53 the Smithsonian had ten parties in the field and state agencies operating under agreements with the National Park Service had nine), it was never even close to adequate for the amount of work that needed to be done. Despite the best efforts of CRAR on Capitol Hill, funding was always precarious. In 1949, funds were appropriated so late that they could not be spent during that field season and a whole year was lost. Even with its funding limitations, initiation of the Inter-Agency Program severely strained the archeological profession's ability to supply sufficient adequately trained personnel. Not until the mid '70s, when the passage of the Moss-Bennett legislation resulted in an avalanche of new investigations, was the profession placed under a similar strain.

The Expansion of Public Archeology, 1950

The San Juan Project, as it was called, is the prime (in both the sense of primary and premier) illustration of the federal government's indirect involvement in archeology immediately after the war. It can be considered the direct forebear of all so-called "contract," "project," or "salvage archeology," now called "CRM."

Sometime toward the middle of 1950, Jesse Nusbaum, departmental consulting archeologist of the National Park Service, based in Santa Fe, became aware of this project, which proposed building a series of gas pipelines across northern New Mexico and Arizona to California, with the southwestern section passing largely, but not entirely, through the Navajo Reservation.

In his role as DCA, Nusbaum had broadly defined responsibilities for protecting archeological resources on federally owned or controlled lands under provisions of the Antiquity Act of 1906, its uniform rules and regulations, and the Historic Sites Act of 1935. He tried, without success, to alert the Park Service and the Department of the Interior to the destruction of archeological resources to be expected as a result of the pipeline project.

On July 20, 1950, Nusbaum wrote an official letter to the general superintendent of the Navajo Reservation (a federal employee) recommending that El Paso Natural Gas meet the cost of an archeological survey for the pipeline's right-of-way, and the subsequent recovery of any archeological data that might be destroyed by the construction. In reply he received a phone call from the superintendent indicating that he did not wish to ask the company to meet such costs as he feared such a request would imperil the entire contract negotiations.

Given the lack of interest shown by his superiors and realizing he was in an administrative box as a Park Service employee, Nusbaum strove to find an alternative route. As it happened, his long-time friend Sam Akeah was the chair of the Navajo Tribal Council. Jesse called Sam and explained to him the nature of the situation and the danger to the archeological resources. As a direct consequence, Mr. Akeah, when he reviewed the initial draft of the pipeline contract a day or so later, indicated a desire to have a small paragraph inserted into the contract providing protection for any endangered archeological sites.

Doubtless because of Mr. Akeah's request, it was arranged for Nusbaum to meet several El Paso officials on the 28th for a flight to Gallup and subsequently to accompany them to a conference with the Navajo officials at Window Rock. Conversation with the El Paso people during that trip revealed that, while disturbed by the introduction of such a new element so late in the contract negotiations, they were not primarily concerned with the cost of the archeology but rather with the potential cost of any associated construction delays. Nusbaum was able to reassure them on that score and after further discussion the company agreed to fund the archeological research. This agreement was presented at the Window Rock conference, was accepted by all, and the contract negotiations were concluded successfully.

The archeological research project was a success, thanks in no small part to the archeologists involved, Jesse Nusbaum and Fred Wendorf, the project supervising archeologist, and their two field teams (all of whom were, in a sense, working in a new milieu), as well as to the cooperation received from the construction company and the Navajo Nation. Important data were recovered and promptly reported, and the construction work was not delayed. It was followed by other pipeline projects by El Paso and other pipeline companies and became a model not only for pipelines but for other private construction projects done on federal property or under federal permit or license.

Highway Salvage Archeology, 1954

In late March 1954, Fred Wendorf gave a talk about the El Paso pipeline project to a service club in Santa Fe. A few days earlier, while driving down US 66, he had noted federal highway construction that reminded him strongly of the pipeline survey and, at the conclusion of his talk, showed a few slides of this and commented that it was too bad that private firms seemed to be doing a better job of protecting archeology on federal property than the federal agencies themselves. Immediately after his talk, somewhat to Fred's discomfort, a gentleman introduced himself as Mr. W. J. Keller, New Mexico district engineer for the Bureau of Public Roads. However, Mr. Keller immediately assured Fred that he had similar concerns and suggested that they follow up on the problem. Three or four days later Mr. Keller arranged for a meeting in the office of Mr. C. O. Erwin, New Mexico state highway engineer, a meeting that included other state and federal highway officials and Jesse Nusbaum of the National Park Service. The audience proved to be sympathetic, and details for an informal operating program were rapidly worked out.

One of the early highway projects was carried out near Reserve, New Mexico, on U. S. Forest Service land and, while engaged in that project Fred met and discussed what was going on with some Forest Service personnel. As a consequence, it was arranged to undertake similar work in connection with Forest Service road construction. However, here a snag promptly developed. When the first bill was presented (for $600) the Forest Service business office refused to honor it and sent it off to the U.S. comptroller general for an opinion.

Fortunately, Mr. C. D. Curtis, U. S. commissioner of public roads, was interested in archeology (he had recently reviewed the New Mexico situation favorably) so when the problem arose with regard to the Forest Service he arranged for Fred to meet with the comptroller general to determine if the charges were appropriate. Fred's meeting went well and payment was approved for such projects. After the meeting Curtis noted to Fred that while that was all well and good, comptroller generals change and that it would be wise to incorporate such approval in law. New Mexico's Sen. Denis Chavez, the chair of the Senate public works committee, was at that time working on what was to become the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956; Rep. John Dempsey of New Mexico was the ranking member of the House public works committee. So Fred, being from New Mexico, had an "in." Accordingly, Sen. Chavez' staff was contacted and, back in New Mexico, Wendorf sat down with Keller and Erwin to draft an appropriate addition to the highway bill relating to archeology. Fred carried this draft with him for weeks awaiting a call from Chavez' staff. In due course the call came and he read them the proposed addition. It was duly incorporated into the bill.

All was not yet smooth sailing, however, for prior to the development of rules and regulations for the new highway legislation, there was a change in personnel at the Bureau of Public Roads and the new administrators were not favorably inclined toward archeology. Fred had one more ace in the hole. During WWII Rep. Sam Rayburn of Texas had nominated him to West Point (though circumstances had prevented his actually going). Calling on this connection, Fred contacted Rayburn and visited him in Washington. As a result, Rayburn's staff contacted the Bureau of Public Roads to inquire as to whether there was some insurmountable problem vis a vis archeology. Lo and behold, there was not, as it developed, and the Federal Highway Salvage Program was underway, although not without individual problems to be overcome in almost every state.

Reservoir salvage work and, after 1956, highway salvage, constituted the major federally funded involvement with archeology until the mid 1970s.


In concluding, perhaps I should emphasize that by highlighting, as I have, a few of the many individuals involved in initiating these post WWII programs that began the present commitment of the federal government to archeology, I am not propounding any "great man" theory of history. Far from it. The initial rivulets, while having a role to play, have relevance and value only when and to the degree that the rest of the sources are present and functioning well. Perhaps there is just a suggestion that much, if not most, history is happenstance: a succession of events whereby the right person is in the right place at the right time or, alternatively, in the wrong spot at the wrong time. Carpe Diem!


"The River Basin Surveys": Larry Banks, pers. comm., 1997; Brew, 1962; Corbett, 1961; Fagette, 1996; Johnson, 1973; Lehmer, 1971; Lyon, 1996; Roberts Jr., 1949; Gordon Willey, pers. comm., 1997.

"The Expansion of Public Archeology": Nusbaum, 1956; Fred Wendorf, pers. comm., 1997.

"Highway Salvage Archeology": Knudson, 1984; Wendorf, 1961; Fred Wendorf, pers. comm., 1997.


Brew, J. O., Introduction to Wendorf, Fred, Guide for Salvage Archaeology, Sante Fe: Museum of New Mexico, 1962.

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

Corbett, John M., "General Situation and Problems Outside the Missouri Basin," in Symposium on Salvage Archaeology, John. M. Corbett, ed., National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1961.

Fagette, Paul, Digging For Dollars, Sante Fe: University of New Mexico, 1996.

Johnson, Frederick, Letter to Jo Brew, J. O. Brew Archives, University of Arizona, 1973 (courtesy of Carol Gifford).

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

Knudson, Ruthann, "Ethical Decision Making and Participation in the Politics of Archaeology," in Ethics and Values in Archaeology, Ernestene L. Green, ed., New York: Free Press, 1984.

Lehmer, Donald J., Introduction to Middle Missouri Archeology, Anthropological Papers No. 1, National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1971.

Lyon, Edwin A., A New Deal for Southeastern Archaeology, University of Alabama Press, 1996.

Mackintosh, Barry, The National Historic Preservation Act and the National Park Service, History Division, National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1986.

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

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

McGimsey III, Charles R., "‘This Too, Will Pass': Moss-Bennett in Perspective," American Antiquity, vol. 50, no. 2 (1985), pp. 326-31.

Nusbaum, Jesse L., Introduction to Wendorf, Fred, Pipeline Archaeology, Laboratory of Anthropology and Museum of Northern Arizona, 1956.

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

Roberts Jr., Frank H. H., Teocentli, no. 48 (1949), pp. 16.

Wendorf, Fred, "Highway Salvage Problems in New Mexico and Arizona," in Symposium on salvage Archaeology, Johm M. Corbett, ed., National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1961.