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Archeological Assistance Program: A National Strategy for Federal Archeology
Francis P. McManamon

Archeological Assistance Program
Reproduced from CRM 13(2):21-22, 1990

Progress in Federal archeology, broadly defined to include the archeological activities of land managing agencies, agencies that provide funding for or undertake development activities, and agencies that regulate development, would benefit from the identification of a list of broad areas for intensified, concerted activity. Such a list of common concerns should be used to describe and focus Federal archeological preservation, interpretation, and management by presenting in a short, understandable format the major archeological challenges confronting Federal agencies. It could be used within agencies/departments/bureaus to argue for the resources necessary to meet these challenges more effectively.

The list also could be used to identify for Congress, foundations, professional organizations the programs and projects to which agencies give highest priority. Specific agency objectives and tasks could be identified as parts of a common, national effort to preserve America's archeological heritage. Such unity of purpose would gain support for archeological preservation both within agencies and from other organizations and individuals. This list could serve as the core of a statement by level officials supporting archeological preservation. The statement would not commit agencies to specific actions or levels of funding. However, it would highlight topics for special emphasis. Individual archeologists or preservationists working on projects or programs would be able to use this formal support by senior Administration officials within their offices to argue for improvements in their archeological programs. Such a strategy would have practical applications at the national, regional, state, and local levels within agency programs. In July 1989, a memo was circulated to archeologists at the headquarters offices of Federal agencies, Federal Historic Preservation Officers, and a few others suggesting the development of such a national strategy. Distributed with this memo were copies of the last chapter of Federal Archeology: The Current Program, giving a detailed description and analysis of Federal archeological activities. This chapter identifies four general areas that should be emphasized to improve Federal archeology:

  1. Inventory and evaluation of archeological sites and the curation of archeological collections and records;
  2. Sharing of information about archeological properties, reports, projects, and other activities among agencies;
  3. All out efforts to apprehend those who loot Federal state, local, tribal, and private archeological properties; and
  4. Emphasis on public education, outreach, and involvement activities as part of Federal archeological programs and projects.

With the help of the Bureau of Reclamation, an open meeting to discuss a national strategy for Federal archeology was held on December 4, 1989, in conjunction with a general meeting of Federal historic preservation officials in Denver. About 30 individuals attended this national session. Among the attendees, most of whom participated in the discussion during the session, were representatives of the Bureau of Reclamation, Federal Highway Administration, Environmental Protection Agency, Forest Service, Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and National Park Service. Also participating were the National Institutes of Health, Army, both the military branch and the Corps of Engineers, Air Force, Society for American Archaeology, Soil Conservation Service, and Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation and Enforcement.

There was general agreement that these four areas of activity cover many of the specific challenges facing archeologists and others concerned about Federal archeology. Several topics within these areas were singled out during the discussion. The curation of collections and records, the sharing of information and expertise through training programs, and concerns about the repatriation to Indian Tribes of portions of collections were mentioned several times.

Most frequently discussed was the need for more and better public outreach, whether through better press coverage, improved interpretation, or public involvement projects. Public outreach was highlighted constantly during the session. This strong interest suggests that public outreach activities should be at the top of the list. Several speakers suggested that the very positive results from public outreach could be used to make progress in other necessary, but less exciting, areas of curation, inventory, evaluation, anti-looting activities, and interagency information exchange.

The next step in developing a national strategy will be to formalize a list of general areas for emphasis and a statement for review and official approval. Comments generated by the July memo and the December meeting, and responses to this announcement will be taken into account in this effort. Individuals interested in commenting are encouraged to do so either through their headquarters archeological staff or directly to Francis P. McManamon, Chief, Archeological Assistance Division, National Park Service, P.O. Box 37127, Washington, DC 200137127; telephone (202) 343-4113.

Dr. Francis P. McManamon is Chief of the Archeological Assistance Division, National Park Service, WASO.