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 [graphic] National Register Bulletin Guidelines for Evaluating and Registering Archeological Properties

U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service

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Archeology is the study of past ways of life through material remains. Archeology is often combined with oral history and ethnography to generate multidisciplinary or interdisciplinary studies of past lifeways and is usually categorized as a social science. In the United States it is considered one of the four fields of anthropology along with cultural, biological, and linguistic anthropology.

Archeologists have at least three connected over-arching goals. The first is to reconstruct sequences of societies and events in chronological order in local and regional contexts. The second is to reconstruct past lifeways, including the ways that people made a living (such as how they obtained and raised food as well as how they produced, distributed and consumed tools and other goods); the ways they used the landscape (such as the size and distribution of camps, villages, towns, and special places); and their interactions with other societies and within their own society (such as household structure, social organization, political organizations and relationships). The third is to achieve some understanding of how and why human societies have changed through time.

To pursue these goals, archeologists must assemble information from many individual sites. The synthesis of archeological research requires a great deal of time, but it is the accumulation and comparison of answers to many questions of seemingly local or short-term interest that allow questions of major anthropological significance to be addressed. For example, archeologists seek to understand the effects of environmental change and population pressure and the impact of human actions on the landscape. Such questions often require pieces of information from numerous small and large sites. Like most sciences, archeology is less involved with spectacular discoveries than with testing modest hypotheses about rather humble phenomena. The accumulated results of such tests provide the basis for large scale research. Thus, no one should be surprised at the fact that archeologists often work more on small, simple, ordinary, and seemingly common properties rather than the rare, big, impressive monuments.

photo of metal artifacts Figure 1. Metal artifacts of Spanish origin excavated from site LA 12315 in Bernalillo County, New Mexico, represent the physical remnants resulting from contact between the Spanish and Native American groups in the southwestern United States. (Museum of Albuquerque)



As humans interact with their environment and with each other, they leave behind evidence of their actions. Derived from the common phrase "archeological site," the National Register defines an archeological property as the place or places where the remnants of a past culture survive in a physical context that allows for the interpretation of these remains. It is this physical evidence of the past and its patterning that is the archeologist's data base. The physical evidence, or archeological remains, usually takes the form of artifacts (e.g., fragments of tools or ceramic vessels), features (e.g., remnants of walls, cooking hearths, or trash middens), and ecological evidence (e.g., pollens remaining from plants that were in the area when the activities occurred). Ecological remains of interest to archeologists are often referred to as "ecofacts." Things that are of archeological importance may be very subtle, that is, hard to see and record. It is not only artifacts themselves that are important but the locations of artifacts relative to one another, which is referred to as archeological context (not to be confused with historic contexts, discussed below).

In accordance with National Register terminology, an archeological property can be a district, site, building, structure, or object. However, archeological properties are most often sites and districts.


photo of site LA 12315 Figure 2. An excavated Spanish house from site LA 12315 in Bernalillo County, New Mexico, is an example of an archeological feature. (Museum of Albuquerque)

An archeological property may be "prehistoric" (pre-contact), "historic" (post-contact), or contain components from both periods. What is often termed "Prehistoric archeology" studies the archeological remains of indigenous American societies as they existed before substantial contact with Europeans and resulting written records. The National Historic Preservation Act treats prehistory as a part of history for purposes of national policy; therefore the terms "historic," and, "historical," as used in this document, refer to both pre and post-contact periods. We use the term "pre-contact" instead of "prehistoric" in this bulletin unless we are directly quoting materials which use the term "prehistoric," quoting legislation or regulations, or unless we are referring to the language used in other bulletins.

The date of contact varied across the country. Therefore there is no single year that marks the transition from pre-contact to post-contact. It is important to use the periods of significance for a property to understand its chronological place in the history of what is now the United States. For example, between 1492 and 1495, Christopher Columbus landed on the island of Puerto Rico; Juan Ponce de Leon named and explored the Florida peninsula in 1513; the English labeled a portion of the Atlantic coastline (now North Carolina) as "Virginia" in 1584, and Jean Nicolet arrived in Wisconsin in 1634. In the western United States, Juan de Anza contacted the Native Americans of what is now inland Southern California in 1749, the year that Alex-andria, Virginia, already a thriving port, was officially chartered; and Meriwether Lewis and William Clark first contacted the Native Americans of the northwest plains in 1805, several centuries after Columbus arrived in the New World. Thus, the boundary between the pre-contact and post-contact periods is individually defined from region to region. What constitutes contact between Native Americans and Europeans also varies. In most regions of the country, Native American groups experienced European contact through long-range trade and the diffusion of European diseases long before they had any direct, face-to-face interaction with Europeans.

photo of ecofacts

Figure 3. Ecofacts can include juniper berries, charred corn cobs, corn kernels, squash seeds, egg shell fragments, wild plant seeds, peach pits, gourd seeds, and domesticated beans. (Museum of Albuquerque)


Historical archeology is the archeology of sites and structures dating from time periods since significant contact between Native Americans and Europeans. Documentary records as well as oral traditions can be used to better understand these properties and their inhabitants. An integrated historical and archeological investigation will generally produce more information about a particular historic property (or activities associated with that property) than would have been gleaned through the separate study of either the archeological remains or the historical record alone. For reasons of consistency, we use the term "post-contact" instead of "historical," when referring to archeology, where appropriate, in this bulletin unless we are directly quoting materials which use the term "historical," quoting legislation or regulations, or unless we are referring to the language used in other bulletins.

Archeological properties also may include standing or intact buildings or structures that have a direct his-torical association with below-ground archeological remains. Historic places such as Mount Vernon, the home of George Washington, that are well-recognized for their historical and architectural importance often contain hidden archeological components.

Archeological remains can be terrestrial or underwater. Although it is common to think of underwater archeology as dealing exclusively with shipwrecks, there are many types of sites that are submerged. Some sites, for example, are submerged under the water of reservoirs.

Archeologists strive to better understand humankind and its history through the study of the physical remains that are left behind and the patterning of these remains. Even modern trash cans and landfills may be worthy of investigation (e.g., Rathje 1977, 1979). For the purposes of the National Register of Historic Places, however, archeological properties are at least 50 years old. An archeological property less than 50 years old may be listed in the National Register if the exceptional importance of the archeological remains can be demonstrated.


The purpose of this bulletin is to assist in the documentation of archeological properties for the National Register. Across the United States, archeological properties are a finite and increasingly threatened cultural resource. Because archeological sites contain a unique source of information about the past, their study can often require a considerable investment of personnel and funding in background research, excavation, and curation. As the only official national listing of important archeological properties, the National Register is a valuable tool in the management and preservation of our increasingly rare archeological resources. Thus, National Register nominations should be prepared for archeological properties where the management or preservation of the property is anticipated or desirable. All archeologists should be well versed in the kinds and level of information needed to complete a National Register nomination form prior to conducting fieldwork.

In many ways, a National Register nomination often is similar to a synopsis of an archeological research report. Research summaries describe the physical environment of the site, sketch the cultural background for the project area, outline the history of previous investigations, detail the nature of the archeological record at the site, and elucidate the important scientific questions that were addressed by the study. National Register nominations contain components comparable to this ideal research report, with specific emphasis on the description of the site and its significance in understanding our past (See also, Sprinkle 1995).

This bulletin provides specific guidance on how to prepare National Register of Historic Places nomination forms for archeological properties. This guidance applies also to the preparation of the individual nominations that accompany multiple property National Register nominations. It also applies to Determination of Eligibility (DOE) documents. Although DOE documents need not be prepared on the standard nomination forms, use of the forms will ensure that all relevant information is included.


Most archeology in the United States is done as a result of statute and regulation, particularly that of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, as amended (NHPA). Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act requires that Federal agencies take into account the effect their projects have on properties listed in or eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. As part of the process, the State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO), Federal Preservation Officer (FPO) or Tribal Historic Preservation Officer (THPO) and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, where appropriate, must be afforded an opportunity to comment on the proposed project. It is the responsibility of the Federal Agency to comply with the Advisory Council's regulations, 36 CFR Part 800, to ensure that these cultural resources are considered in the Federal planning process.

The evaluation criteria for the National Register of Historic Places are used for the daily work of cultural resource management by every Federal agency to identify cultural resources that may be affected by Federal or Federally assisted projects. The criteria are applied far beyond the actual listing of sites in the Register; they are applied to nearly every potentially threatened site on Federal, much state land, and on private lands. Defining the research potential and other values of archeological sites and districts according to these criteria has affected the way the public, as well as the profession, regards the significance of archeology. There has been a great deal of discussion in the professional literature about the significance concept and its application to archeological properties. For an annotated bibliography see Briuer and Mathers (1997). See also Briuer and Mathers (1996) and Lees and Noble (1990a, 1990b). Different groups value properties for many different reasons. The importance of consultation with descendant and other concerned communities has been emphasized in much professional and scholarly literature (Dongoske et al. 2000; Stapp and Longenecker 2000; Epperson 1999; Blakey 1997; Blakey and LaRoche 1997; Swidler et al. 1997), encouraging professionals to promote communication among the social, scientific, and preservation communities about the significance concept, archeology, and cultural resource management in general.


Anyone may prepare an archeological property nomination and submit it to the National Register through the appropriate SHPO, a FPO, or a THPO. At a minimum, the preparer(s) should have a first-hand knowledge of the relevant archeological and historical literature and of archeological resources similar to the property being nominated or have the assistance of persons who do.

In general, archeologists who meet the minimum qualifications for a professional in archeology have the knowledge or expertise needed to adequately describe and evaluate the significance of an archeological property. These qualifications include a graduate degree in archeology, anthropology, or a related field; field and analytical experience in North American archeology; at least one year of full-time supervisory experience in the study of archeological properties; and a demonstrated ability to carry research to completion. With guidance from a SHPO, FPO, or THPO or Federal agency or with training through paraprofessional certification programs or academic course work, avocational archeologists and others can acquire the knowledge needed to prepare archeological nominations. (The minimum qualifications for an archeologist are outlined in the Professional Qualification Standards for Archeology in the Secretary of the Interior's Standards and Guidelines for Archeology and Historic Preservation (48 FR 44716). Laws, regulations, standards, and conventions related to cultural resources can be found on the Internet at http://www.nps.gov/history/linklaws.htm.

Listing of a property in the National Register of Historic Places does not give the Federal government any control over a property, nor does it impose any financial obligations on the owners, or obligations to make the property accessible to the public, or interfere with an owner's right to alter, manage, or dispose of their property. Listing in the National Register provides recognition that a property is significant to the Nation, the State, or the community and assures that Federal agencies consider the historic values of the property in the planning for Federal or Federally assisted projects. In addition, listing in the National Register ensures that significant archeological resources become part of a national memory. Listing may influence the public's perception of archeological resources, and often influences a community's attitude toward its heritage (See also NPS 1994: viii, ix; Little 1999).


For more information about the Advisory Council's regulations and Section 106, see the website for the Advisory Council for Historic Preservation at www.achp.gov, or refer to the Federal Register/Vol. 64, No. 95.



Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) requires Federal agencies to consider the impacts of their undertakings on properties included in or eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places. Regulations provide two ways to make eligibility evaluations. Formal determinations are made by the Keeper of the National Register at the request of the Federal agency official (36 CFR 63.2). More commonly, Federal agencies use the Consensus Determination of Eligibility (Consensus DOE) process provided by Section 800.4 of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation's regulations. This allows Federal decision makers, in consultation with SHPOs, FPOs or THPOs, and other consulting parties to assess a property and, should they both agree that it meets the criteria for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, treat the property as eligible for purposes of compliance with Section 106 of the NHPA as implemented by the Council's regulations.

The use of the consensus process does not allow for a lower threshold for significance than the formal Determination of Eligibility or National Register listing procedures. Determination of Eligibility is a legally recognized finding that a property meets the criteria for listing in the National Register. Under Section 106, properties that are eligible are given the same legal status as properties formally listed in the National Register, requiring that the Federal agency official "take into account" the effects of an undertaking upon them. To qualify, a property must be found to meet one or more of the National Register criteria (See "Evaluating Archeological Properties Under the Criteria," in Section IV) either by the formal determination of the Keeper (36 CFR 63) or by the consensus process. It is essential to note that the same criteria, including concepts of significance and integrity, apply to properties determined eligible and those accepted by the Keeper for formal listing in the National Register. This means that a property determined eligible could be nominated to the National Register because it meets the same criteria, although nomination is not legally required.


Although the information in the National Register is part of the public record, Section 304 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), as amended in 1992 and Section 9(a) of the Archeological Resources Protection Act (ARPA) provide the legal authority for restricting information about archeological properties. The National Register bulletin Guidelines for Restricting Information About Historic and Prehistoric Resources specifies the legislative authority and provides procedural guidelines for restricting information in the National Register as well as in other inventories.

Section 304 (a) Authority to Withhold from Disclosure, reads as follows:

The head of a Federal agency or other public official receiving grant assistance pursuant to this Act, after consultation with the Secretary, shall withhold from disclosure to the public, information about the location, character, or ownership of a historic resource if the Secretary and the agency determine that disclosure may - (1) cause a significant invasion of privacy; (2) risk harm to the historic resource; or (3) impede the use of a traditional religious site by practitioners.

In this context privacy refers to the privacy of individuals, as this term is defined by Federal law.

Archeological Resources Protection Act (ARPA) protects archeological resources on public lands and Indian lands. Section 9(a) permits the withholding from the public of information concerning the nature and location of any archeological resource unless such information does "not create a risk of harm to such resources or to the site at which such resources are located" [(9(a)(2)].

The full text of the relevant sections of these laws should be consulted.

Vandalism, artifact collecting (also called pot hunting, looting, relic hunting, bottle collecting, etc.) and removal of historic features or structures are all activities that diminish the integrity of an archeological site. In order to minimize the possibility that these activities will occur as a result of nominating the site to the National Register, the preparer or the appropriate Preservation Officer may ask that the specific location of the property be restricted. There is no need to prove that a particular site is at risk if other similar types of sites are endangered. Other kinds of information (e.g., the presence of human remains or marketable artifacts) may also be restricted. Restricted information other than location should be clearly marked as such on a separate continuation sheet and not in the body of the text. Locational information is provided in specific sections of the nomination and is deleted easily. For this reason, the preparer should ensure that locational information is indeed restricted to easily deleted parts of the text and not scattered throughout the description of the property.

If the property and its location are generally known, then locational information should not be restricted. Also, if all of the site information should be made available to those conducting research or, for example developing heritage tourism or education projects, then the information should not be restricted.


The National Register helps us understand and appreciate our heritage and what specific places mean in American history. National Register documentation is used by researchers, planners, teachers, tourism professionals, community advocates, property owners and the general public. National Register documentation is an important source of archeological information directly available to the general public. The National Register Information System (NRIS) is a data base that is available to anyone via the Internet as a link on the National Register Web Page: www.nr.nps.gov. It does not contain specific locational information for properties where this information is restricted. The NRIS facilitates research that is regional and comparative. Multiple property documentation, in particular, can provide excellent source material for both professional research and popular interpretation (See Appendix B of this bulletin).

The National Register's Teaching with Historic Places program develops lesson plans based on National Register documentation. These lesson plans are available to teachers and others via the Internet at http://www.nps.gov/nr/twhp. National Register travel itineraries, Discover Our Shared Heritage, describe and link registered historic places. Travel itineraries are available on the Internet at http://www.nps.gov/nr/travel and some are available in print.

Listing of resources promotes their preservation rather than destruction, thereby fostering stewardship of significant places. Planning is more efficiently done when information about properties that are recognized as significant is readily available in nominations. Unless properties are actually listed in the National Register, it is difficult for archeological sites-particularly those not readily apparent to the casual observer-to be fully appreciated by the public. However, the Section 106 process treats properties that are eligible for the National Register in the same manner as properties that are listed in the National Register for the purposes of managing archeological properties.


Archeological properties are nominated at the local, state, or national level of significance. The SHPO, THPO or the FPO make the recommendation as to level of significance based upon the documentation presented in the nomination. Most archeological sites are listed as significant at a statewide or local level. Note that "statewide" is checked for "regionally" significant properties. The preservation officer may check "nationally" significant if the significance of the property transcends regional significance.

The Secretary of the Interior can go a step further with national significance and designate a property as a National Historic Landmark (NHL). In order to make this determination, the Secretary applies the NHL Criteria and follows the procedures in 36 CFR, Part 65-National Historic Landmarks Program. The NHL Criteria set a stringent test for national significance, including high historical integrity. There are six NHL Criteria, however, archeological sites are evaluated generally under Criterion 6, which reads:

(6) that have yielded information of major scientific importance by revealing new cultures, or by shedding light upon periods of occupation over large areas of the United States. Such sites are those which have yielded, or which may reasonably be expected to yield, data affecting theories, concepts and ideas to a major degree.

If a property appears to be nationally significant and qualify for designation as a National Historic Landmark, then Appendix V of How to Complete the National Register Registration Form should be consulted for additional guidelines on completing the National Register form and providing supplemental information. (Also see technical briefs on the NHL program: Grumet 1988; 1990.) In-depth guidance is provided in the National Register bulletin How to Prepare National Historic Landmark Nominations (For more information on ordering and viewing National Register Bulletins via the Internet, go to: http://www.nps.gov/nr/publications).


Appendix A, of this bulletin lists the current National Register bulletins that provide guidance on nominating properties to the National Register. The primary bulletin for all individual and district nominations is How to Complete the National Register Registration Form. How to Complete the National Register Multiple Property Documentation outlines how to prepare a multiple property documentation form.

It is important to consult How to Apply the National Register Criteria for Evaluation, especially when evaluating archeological properties that may also be important for their association with historical events or broad patterns, significant persons, or significant architecture. How to Establish Boundaries for National Register Properties and in particular its appendix, Definition of National Register Boundaries for Archeological Properties, will be especially helpful. Those working with places of cultural value to local communities, Indian tribes, other indigenous groups, and minority groups will want to consult Guidelines for Evaluating and Documenting Traditional Cultural Properties. Other National Register Bulletins, especially those on particular resource types such as: America's Historic Battlefields, Mining Sites, and Rural Historic Landscapes, may also be useful.

In addition to the requirements described in this and other National Register bulletins, individual SHPOs, THPOs and FPOs may request additional information not required as part of a complete National Register form. Prior to budgeting for, or embarking upon, a nomination project, consult the appropriate Preservation Officer about additional requirements and the nomination review process.


National Park Service Thematic Framework (NPS 1996) http://www.nps.gov/history/history/thematic.html

Archeological Assistance Program Technical Briefs http://www.nps.gov/history/aad/aepubs.htm#briefs1): #3: Archeology in the National Historic Landmarks Program. 1988, 1990. Robert S. Grumet. #10: The National Historic Landmarks Program Theme Study and Preservation Planning. 1992. Robert S. Grumet.

Heritage Preservation Services (http://www.nps.gov/history/hps): Protecting Archeological Sites on Private Lands. 1993. Susan L. Henry. Preservation Planning Branch, Interagency Resources Division, National Park Service.

Strategies for Protecting Archeological Sites on Private Lands. 2000. Susan L. Henry Renaud. Heritage Preservation Services, National Park Service. http://www.nps.gov/history/hps/pad/strategies



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