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  Departmental Consulting Archeologist

Department of the Interior Order No. 229, issued in 1927, designated Jesse L. Nusbaum (pictured at right), Archeologist of the National Park Service and Superintendent of Mesa Verde National Park as “…Archaeologist for the Department of the Interior…” The order directed that “…bureaus handling archaeological matters will refer them to Mr. Nusbaum for his recommendation.” Although the Department of the Interior had been involved with archeological sites since the last quarter of the 19th century, this was the first designation of an official to advise on archeological activities.

Two and a half years later, another departmental order emphasized the oversight responsibility of Nusbaum’s position for all archeological matters. Department Order No. 393 specified that “all requests for permission to explore prehistoric ruins on the public domain, in the national parks, and on Indian reservations, are…referred to him [Nusbaum]…no permission will be given for any scientific or other party to carry on investigations or remove prehistoric relics without the consent of the Secretary…”

Jesse Nusbaum was the first archeologist employed by a Federal agency other than the Smithsonian Institution. Nusbaum was hired by the National Park Service in 1921 as the superintendent of Mesa Verde National Park. As noted above, in 1927 he began to serve as an advisor to the Secretary of the Interior on archeological activities and topics that related to Department of the Interior bureaus and public lands. As Department Archeologist, Nusbaum focused his efforts on the implementation of the archeological permitting procedures required by the Antiquities Act. He both reviewed applications for Antiquities Act permits that the Department of the Interior received and he spent considerable time during field seasons visiting excavations and checking on the investigations conducted under permits.

Nusbaum wrote four annual reports as Archeologist for the Department. These were published as Department of the Interior reports covering his activities and recommendations in the years 1929, 1930, 1931 and 1932. The last report was drafted but not printed, but it is in the department’s official files. Although he focused much of his time as Department Archeologist on the administration of Antiquties Act permits, Nusbaum also was engaged in other archeological matters, including: advocating better protection of archeological sites scattered over the lands of the Department; preventing unlawful excavation and gathering of objects of antiquity on federal and tribal lands; and, encouraging the publication of the archeological results of permitted studies through the scientific and educational institutions that carried out most of the work done under early Antiquities Act permits.

In 1931, Nusbaum took leave from the NPS to develop the Laboratory of Anthropology, part of the Museum of New Mexico, in Santa Fe. He continued to serve as advisor to the Secretary of the Interior and Interior bureaus on archeological issues, and his title was modified to reflect this relationship, becoming “consulting archeologist,” thus, modifying the title to the one still used today, Departmental Consulting Archeologist (DCA). By 1935, Nusbaum had returned to the NPS and held positions at Mesa Verde and the NPS office in Santa Fe, as well as serving as DCA, until the end of his long career in 1957. Following his retirement, he continued his involvement in archeology as an independent consultant until his death at age 88 in 1975.

From its earliest days, when Jesse Nusbaum constituted the whole of professional archeology within the NPS, the bureau has devoted some of its archeological expertise to providing programmatic and technical assistance regarding archeological topics to other Federal agencies.

Following the conclusion of World War II, NPS archeologists played key roles in overseeing and conducting “salvage” or “rescue archeology” associated with the reservoir construction program and, ultimately, for Federal programs related to highways, pipelines, and other development activities.

With the passage of the National Historic Preservation Act in 1966 and the implementation of its requirements during the following decade, other Federal departments and agencies began to develop their own archeological programs. Within the Department of the Interior, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Reclamation, the Fish and Wildlife Service, and Minerals Management Service all have developed internal archeological programs since the 1970s. Agencies outside of Interior, particularly the Forest Service and Corps of Engineers also have substantial archeology programs, and other agencies fund large numbers of archeological investigations as part of their planning for public projects.

The Federal archeology program expanded throughout the last century; it now includes hundreds of archeologists in national forests, parks, districts, agencies, and other offices throughout the country. The activities of these professionals range from caring for specific archeological resources on public lands to assisting other public agencies with their archeological investigations and programs.

Today the Departmental Consulting Archeologist function is still carried out by the NPS. The specific activities and programs of this function have changed with the times, but still involve providing technical assistance, as well as coordinating the Federal Archeology Program. Many of these efforts are focused on the points of the National Strategy for Federal Archeology:

Preserve and Protect Archeological Sites in Place

  • Identify, evaluate, and document sites
  • Increase our understanding of the past and improve preservation through well-designed research
  • Assess and document threats to sites and monitor their condition
  • Prevent or slow deterioration of sites by stabilization and other means
  • Fight looting with public awareness programs and effective legal strategies among archeologists, law enforcement officers, and public prosecutors

Conserve Archeological Collections and Records

  • Locate collections and records, assess their condition, and conserve appropriately
  • Identify actions needed to ensure long-term care of and access to collection and records
  • Undertake, facilitate, and promote research using collections and records to better understand the past

Utilize and Share Archeological Research Results

  • Synthesize research results, particularly from limited-distribution, technical reports, to advance scientific knowledge, further preservation, and better inform the public
  • Facilitate use of archeological databases by managers and researchers
  • Develop data standards to better share research results

Increase Outreach and Participation in Public Archeology

  • Establish education programs as a regular agency function
  • Interpret archeological research for the public in a way that is accurate and understandable
  • Consider the views of diverse cultural groups when interpreting the past
  • Engage the public in archeology through professionally directed volunteer programs

From a single archeologist focused on Antiquities Act permits in the Southwest, the DCA’s role has expanded substantially during the last century. It now involves archeological coordination and technical assistance throughout the Federal government. Nonetheless, the primary goal remains to ensure that public archeological investigations and programs enhance the public benefit that can be derived from careful study and preservation of archeological sites and objects.

Additional Sources of Information:

Browning, Kathleen D.
2003 Implementing the Antiquities Act: A Survey of Archeological Permits, 1906-1935. Studies in Archeology and Ethnography, No. 2. Archeology Program, National Park Service, Washington, DC.

McManamon, Francis P. and Kathleen D. Browning
1999 Department of Interior’s Archeology Program. CRM 22(4):19-21.

NPS History Collection, Harpers Ferry Center
2004 Finding Aid, Jesse Nusbaum Papers, 1921-1958. <www.nps.gov/hfc/products/library/nusbaum.htm; accessed 1 May 2007>.

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  [NPS photo] Departmental Archeologist Jesse Nusbaum.