National Park Service Organic Act of 1916

Enactment of the National Park Service Organic Act, 16 USC 1, in 1916 follows the intent of the Antiquities Act by establishing the National Park Service. The act created an agency with the mission to protect, conserve, and preserve both natural and cultural resources on public lands for future generations (King 1998:13). Establishing the National Park Service allowed for the regulation of designated areas as national parks, monuments, and reservations. According to the Act, the main purpose of the National Park Service is to “conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such mans as well leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations (United States Congress 1916:1). As cultural resource managers, archaeologists, and/or concerned citizens, it is our duty to ensure that the National Park Service, and the Department of the Interior as a whole, keep to this promise of keeping our parks and national monuments protected and preserved for future generations.

King, Thomas F.

2000 Federal Planning and Historic Places: The Section 106 Process. Altamira Press, New York.

United States Congress

1916 The National Park Service Organic Act: 16 USC 1, 2, 3, 4, August 25, 1916. Washington, D.C. U.S. Government Printing Office.

The National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA)

The following may be a bit dry, but I love this stuff (i.e. I’m a huge CRM legislation nerd) . . .

What is the NHPA?

A major piece of cultural resource management legislation that provided laws for the protection of cultural resources and identified the need for increased public knowledge of cultural resources was the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA). The Urban Renewal Program launched by the Kennedy administration increased the destruction of natural and cultural resources (King 1998:15). City slums, which were once historic centers, were destroyed in the name of progress. As King (2000:16) notes, federal agencies “damaged or destroyed stuff that people valued because it embodied their history. . .This was sometimes necessary; the old often, maybe usually, had to make way for the new.” First lady Johnson coordinated a program during the Johnson administration to create a comprehensive report on historic preservation needs. The report recommended that Congress should create a national historic preservation program, outlining the legislative provisions in the National Historic Preservation Act (King 1998:15).

Signed into law by President Johnson on October 15, 1966, the National Historic Preservation Act established a process for preserving United States historic heritage, including historic properties. Congress declared in Section 1(b)(1)(3) that “ the spirit and direction of the Nation are founded upon and reflected in historic heritage. . . historic properties significant to the Nation’s heritage are being lost or substantially altered, often inadvertently, with increasing frequency” (United States Congress 1966:1). Government agencies would now have a compliance process that forced them to think and plan before inadvertently or purposefully destroy a property of significance on public lands. Such properties include both prehistoric and historic archaeological sites and historic buildings. Section 106 of the Act provides the specific compliance process for any Federal undertaking. As for public education, the Act sets provisions to not only protect and preserve significant properties for the benefit of the public, but also endeavors to involve the public.

NHPA and Public Outreach

Did you know that there is language in the law to provide education and outreach to the public? The language of the National Historic Preservation Act is explicit in stating the importance of preserving historic heritage for the public before it is lost through “progress.” The Act also states in Section 1(b)(2), “the historical and cultural foundations of the Nation should be preserved as a living part of our community life and development in order to give a sense of orientation to the American people” (United States Congress 1966:1). Therefore, “the preservation of this irreplaceable heritage is in the public interest so that its vital legacy of cultural, educational, aesthetic, inspirational . . .will be maintained and enriched for future generations of Americans” (United States Congress 1966:1). In order to pique public interest in historic heritage, Section 101(3)(G) states that designated State Historic Preservation Officers (SHPO) have the responsibility to provide the public information, education, training, and any technical assisted needed in historic preservation (United States Congress 1966:7). Section 401 describes the necessity of a coordinated National initiative to promote research, provide training, and distribute information on preservation (United States Congress 1966:43). Consequently, education is crucial for the public to understand the preservation process.

The Act does make provisions for public involvement during the Section 106 process to voice concern of the potentially negative effects of an undertaking on a significant property. Section 110(2)(E)(ii) of the Act notes that consultation with the interested public, including Indian tribes, is necessary in the identification and evaluation of historic properties (United States Congress 1966:21). SHPO developed education programs on historic preservation, as well as the National initiative to promote training in historic preservation, have the potential to provide the public with the necessary information to become a major voice during the Section 106 consultation process.  The public has every right to demand a role in the compliance process and expect the government to hear their voice, due to the process outlined by Section 106.

King, Thomas F.

2000 Federal Planning and Historic Places: The Section 106 Process. Altamira Press, New York.

United States Congress

1966 National Historic Preservation Act of 1966:16 USC 470, October 15, 1966. Washington, D.C. U.S. Government Printing Office.



A (Very Brief) History Leading Up to Current CRM Legislation

Interest in academic archaeology in service of the government and public in the United States can be traced to Thomas Jefferson in 1799 (Schroeder 2009:169). While president of the American Philosophical Society, Jefferson asked the organization to record antiquities before such artifacts were lost to future generations. Examples of both government and civic preservation include the protection of ancient earthen mounds throughout the Midwest (Schroeder 2009:172). The Ohio Company designated ancient mounds and earthworks in Ohio as important public places for preservation. However, unlike modern legislation in cultural resource management, government intervention was minimal until the 19th century and the pressure placed on the government by the concerned public over destroyed historic and prehistoric ruins. As Schroeder (2009:172), “most of the earliest efforts at preservation were accomplished by communities, civic groups, and other organizations exerting efforts to assure the protection of ancient monuments.”

During the 19th century, with the growing popularity of antiquities collections, European museums tended to focus on craft demonstration in order to generate a greater interest in antique material than the cultural aspect of material culture. However, American museums and preservation societies focused on material culture as opposed to artifact demonstrations, especially with historic houses (Anderson 1982:292). By the mid-19th century, Americans were keen on historic preservation efforts. This effort was rooted in the need to preserve what civic leaders and middle-class professionals considered to be traditional American beliefs and cultural values. Groups like Sons of the American Revolution and Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities hoped to create a sort of shrine to the past, idealizing of the nation’s founding fathers and influential sites from the American Revolution (Durel 1986:230). Historic houses, such as George Washington’s home of Mt. Vernon, provided tangible access to the past, demonstrating a need for continued preservation of historic places and presenting history to the public.

Three major exhibitions brought Indian antiquities to the forefront: the Columbian Historical Exposition of 1892 in Madrid, Spain, and the 1904 World’s Columbian Exposition of in Chicago and the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis, Missouri (Thompson 2000:210). The exhibitions displayed the material remains of recently excavated regions of the American Southwest. The display of Indian antiquities romanticized the American west and generated a demand for Indian antiquities and art. Growing interest in archaeological materials led to looting of ancient ruins in the American southwest with the discovery of monumental ruins such as the Mesa Verde Cliff dwellings in Colorado (Hutt et al. 1992:19). Railroad construction during the mid to late 19th century, “facilitated long-distance shipping of goods, including large, fragile collections of archaeological materials, which previously had been transported in wagons” (Hutt et al. 1992:19).

Public concern with the destruction of antiquities and the growing professionalization of anthropology provided a role for the government in preservation and archaeology. For example, Casa Grande in southern Arizona was the first federally preserved prehistoric archaeological site in 1892, due to petitions to Congress by supporters of preservation (Schroeder 2009:172). The need for federal legislation was brought to the forefront by archaeologist Edgar Lee Hewett. Knowing key members of Congress and professional societies, Hewett was appointed a member of the American Anthropological Association (AAA) to work towards creating antiquities legislation (Thompson 2000:236). Hewett’s work the AAA helped establish the language of the Antiquities Act of 1906 and the groundwork for future cultural resource management legislation. And the rest is history.

Important Cultural Resource Legislation in the United States

  • Antiquities of 1906
  • Organic Act of 1916
  • Historic Sites, Buildings, and Antiquities Act of 1935
  • Reservoir Salvage Act of 1960
  • National Historic Preservation Act of 1966
  • National Environmental Policy Act of 1969
  • Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979
  • Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990

References Cited

Anderson, Jay

1984 Time Machines: The World of Living History. The American Association for State and Local History, Nashville.

Durel, John W.

1986 The Past: A Thing to Study, a Place to Go. In Public History: An Introduction, edited by Barbara J. Howe and Emory L. Kemp. Robert E. Krieger Publishing Company, Malabar.

Hutt, Sherry, Elwood W. Jones, and Martin E. McAllister

1992 Archaeological Resource Protection. The Preservation Press, National Trust for Historic Preservation, Washington, D.C.

Schroeder, Sissel

2009 Thinking About a Public and Multidisciplinary Archaeology. Reviews in Anthropology 38: 166-194.

Thompson, Raymond Harris

2000 The Antiquities Act of 1906 by Ronald Freeman Lee. Journal of the Southwest 42(2): 197-269.

Favorites in Archaeology: Chaco Culture National Historical Park

Check out the ARCH365 episode! You can listen to the episode on the Archaeology Podcast Network or download it from iTunes.

It’s a quiet and remote place in northwest New Mexico, surrounded by sandstone cliffs. Wind whistles through the canyon at high speeds, churning up the sandy soil. While wandering around the high desert landscape of Chaco canyon, it’s hard to imagine that this area was once a major cultural center about a thousand years ago, where thousands of prehistoric people gathered. There is marginal rainfall, little vegetation, and so on, but something about this area was special to the Ancestral Puebloans and their descendants. Chaco Culture National Historic Park in New Mexico contains a staggering number of pueblos, absolutely spectacular archaeological sites with hundreds of thousands of artifacts, which were created by the Ancient Puebloan peoples, also known as the Anasazi.

The Prehistory of Chaco Canyon

During the mid-1000s AD, the ancestral Puebloan people built ‘great houses,’ buildings containing hundreds of rooms, multiple stories, all with unique masonry, creating an easily recognizable Chacoan type of architecture. These buildings were typically constructed to face specific solar, lunar, and cardinal directions, and specifically placed in a spot surrounded by sacred features, like mountains or mesas. Evidence shows that some of these great houses took decades to centuries to construct, which isn’t too surprising considering how much went into each building. Pueblo Bonito, the largest of the great houses, would have covered 3 acres, contained more than 600 rooms, and was 4 to 5 stories tall! It also contained dozens of kivas, circular ceremonial rooms, and two large plazas. That’s a lot of planning and building!

Chaco Canyon developed further into a major ceremonial, administrative, and economic center in the Puebloan world by 1050 AD and it had far reaching influence, from building styles to pottery types. The Ancestral Puebloans built canals to direct water to farm fields to grow corn, beans and squash for an ever growing population. They created over 200 miles of roads, a sort of prehistory super highway, that connected not only the great houses of Chaco, but to over 150 pueblos throughout the region. The great houses of chaco were likely major hubs of ceremonial and commercial activities, with far reaching influence outside their social-cultural sphere. Chacoan influence can be seen at Mesa Verde National Park, a series huge cliff dwellings in Colorado. Also, Archaeologists have found macaw feathers and copper bells—indicating a complex trading network all over the southwest into Northern Mexico.

And then something happened. Was it drought? Was it conflict? During 11 and 1200s AD, building slowed down and influence waned. People began to leave Chaco Canyon migrating to different areas in the southwest, possibly due 50 years of drought conditions. Whatever the reason, the great houses were abandoned. Modern Southwest Puebloan tribes are the descendants of the Ancestral Puebloans and many the groups consider the creation and abandonment of Chaco as part of their migration story. Consequently, many Native Americans consider Chaco Canyon a spiritual place to be respected.

The Archaeological History of Chaco Canyon

Archaeologists, even after 100 years of studying Chaco Canyon, are still scratching their heads as to why did these people build in such a desolate place? Why were the buildings constructed where they were? Why was the area abandoned? And most of all, who WERE these people? Archaeologists have been carefully piecing together a story for Chaco Canyon, but there is still so much to discover and learn. The ruins were first documented by Euro-Americans during the early 19th century, but it wasn’t until 1890s that excavations were conducted by the American Museum of Natural History from New York. This was known as the Hyde Exploring expedition. Fred and Talbot Hyde were tipped off to the area by Richard Wetherill, a self-taught archaeologist who discovered the cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde—Wetherill hoped the brothers would finance an expedition and they ended up doing a 5 year excavation at Pueblo Bonito. The Wetherills actually moved to Chaco Canyon, building a house next to the west wall of Pueblo Bonito! Wetherill and the Hyde brothers excavated enough artifacts, and human remains, to fill an entire freight car at the end of just one season.

So, the scientific excavations weren’t what we would consider today as ‘best practices.’ Also, there was a lot of controversy that all of the artifacts were being shipped to the East, as opposed to staying in New Mexico. Rumors that artifacts were being sold to the highest bidder also were circulating. With the creation of the Antiquities Act of 1906 and the establishment of the Chaco Culture National Historic Park in 1907, Chacoan sites were better protected from will-nilly excavation. Other excavations, surveys and studies have taken place by the National Geographic Society, the University of New Mexico, and a number of multi-disciplinary research projects through the Chaco Center. Recent surveys have identified more than 2400 archaeological sites in the park boundary!

Fun facts and finds at Chaco Canyon:

  • In the first season of excavations, the Hyde Expedition uncovered from one room at Pueblo Bonito, 114 ceramic jars, 22 ceramic bowls, and 21 jar lids. And this type of pottery is stunning, with painted geometric designs.
  • Chaco Canyon is also an UNESCO World Heritage Site!
  • Thousands of exquisite turquoise necklaces, earrings and beads have been observed. One necklace contained 2500 beads! The turquoise likely came from a mine over 100 miles away.
  • A dam was excavated in 1967 that emptied into a canal that directed water to 24 acres of farmland. If there was 1 ¼ inches of rain in one storm, this canal could have carried 540,00 gallons of water to the farmlands of one of the great houses. This type of building allowed the Chacoans to live in such an arid area!
  • The black on white pottery made at Chaco was painted with a mineral paint created by grinding up red or brown stones with iron minerals and then mixed with water.
  • Cylinder jars excavated from Pueblo Bonito were found to have a residue for Cacao, the beanlike seeds from which chocolate is made. Chaco is now the first place known North of the Mexican border to use Cacao to make a specialized drink. Consequently, the people of Chaco were trading with cultivators in Mesoamerica.

When visiting Chaco Canyon, keep in mind that its far more than a tourist destination. For archaeologists, it is a place rich in prehistory and mystery. For the descendents of the Ancestral Puebloans, it is a place to be honored. Think of each great house, every archaeological site, as one giant museum that deserves careful consideration and respect.

Learn more about Chaco Culture National Historic Park: on the National Park Service or Unesco world heritage sites webpages.


Further Reading:

  • In Search of Chaco edited by David Grant Noble
  • Clay, Copper, and Turquoise: The Museum Collection of Chaco Culture National Historic Park by Western Natl Parks Assoc
  • The Archaeology of Chaco Canyon: An Eleventh-century Pueblo Regional Center by School of American Research Press
  • There are also numerous scholarly articles on this topic

What is Feminist/Gender Archaeology? A Nutshell Perspective

During graduate school, one of my professors instructed us to think outside our little academic box through a thought experiment: imagine you’re in an elevator with someone who has no idea what an archaeologist actually does; describe what you do to them without using any jargon in 150 words. No jargon? *Gasp!* It was surprisingly hard. I almost threw up my hands and boiled archaeology down to “I study dead people’s stuff.” That assignment stuck with me, always niggling at the back of my mind when I attempt to explain anything archaeologically related. And, in the least boring way possible. More recently, participating in the Women in Archaeology podcast has made me wonder: how would I describe feminist and/or gender archaeology?

Here we go . . .

To start with, using as much jargon as I please, we have to look into the origins of this theoretical approach. A major shift occurred in archaeological theory during the mid-1970s and 1980s towards a more inclusive viewpoint. There were growing concerns that the processual approach, the major theoretical approach of the day, focused too much on settlement patterns and ecological adaption. According to Trigger, “Processual archaeologists paid little attention to studying specific religious beliefs, cosmology, iconography, aesthetics, scientific knowledge, or values of prehistoric cultures” (2006:443). In essence, the very people who created the objects or habitations were being ignored.

Another critique of processualism was that archaeologists were applying examples of modern-day societies/Western concepts on cultures, assuming the gendered division of labor and level of social complexity was the same in the past. Meaning the ‘man the hunter’/’woman the gatherer’ way of thinking was being exposed as limited (and dumb). If a woman wanted a scraper, I doubt she waited around for someone to make the tool for her. There was also a growing awareness of the lack of female representation in archaeology in the United States (Trigger 2006:458). Women were typically regulated to the laboratory as technicians, not being taken as seriously as their male counterparts. Male domination of the field had led to major gender biases when looking at archaeological material and also led to the denial of women to more prestigious positions.

The key issues:

  1. Human agency ignored (i.e. what people?)
  2. Applying modern-day examples of societies to the past (i.e. women were only gatherers and never held important positions)
  3. Major under-representation of women in archaeology

And so, there were those who began to think differently. Major influences on archaeological theory included the postmodernist movement and Marxist anthropology (Trigger 2006: 444). Postprocessualism, which focuses more on subjectivity (i.e. assumptions/biases of the archaeologist) and human agency (i.e. the people behind the artifact), developed during this period. Can you guess who was being denied human agency in previous theoretical approaches? Women! Why? Wylie discusses how dominant archaeological theories considered gender too difficult to reconstruct, making the subject outside of scientific inquiry/undermining objectivity (1991:36). Apparently, trying to figure out what women did in the past was just not “sciencey” enough. Feminist archaeology grew out of this period of theoretical change, providing a different way of looking at the past.

“What might a feminist approach to theory look like in archaeology? At its core, it would be about knowledge and power, difference and identity, social life and the social production of belief and praxis” (Conkey 2007:306). In a nutshell, feminist archaeology uses a feminist lens to interpret the past and understand our own biases; this approach also considers sexuality, class, and race in past societies. This approach looks for what has been missed in the past by archaeologists. It challenges the status quo! It allows alternative voices to be heard! Questions about women and gender in archaeological research were finally being addressed through feminist theory. However, during the 1990s, there was a growing split between feminist and gender archaeologies.

Gender archaeology acts as a sort of umbrella, a type of methodology that includes feminist, queer, and other kinds of archaeological theories. It looks at the social construction of gender and the roles that are created in that culture per gender. There are archaeologists that see the two theories as distinctly different (i.e. feminism is not inclusive enough) while there are others who see the theories as almost interchangeable to feminist theory falling under gender archaeology. According to Conkey and Gero (1997:426), “we now consider feminist resources essential to understanding the production of archaeological knowledge . . .and the potential of gender research more specifically . . .These perspectives matter not merely to gender research in archaeological but to archaeology as a wider practice.” So, feminist literature, theory, archaeology, etc. can inform gender theory and how gender archaeology can be practiced.

Consequently, feminist and gender archaeology:

  1. Offers a means to review how archaeology has been conducted (i.e. find biases, the voices that have been ignored, etc)
  2. Provides a method to study women and other marginalized groups
  3. Focuses on gender, but also considers gender with sexuality, race, and class.

Phew, that was a lot of theory. The key point is that having multiple ways of looking at the past is crucial. Moving on . . .So, let’s say I’m standing in an elevator with one other person and we get into a light conversation about my profession as an archaeologist. I happen to mention that I study archaeology with a feminist lens within a gender archaeology theoretical framework—my elevator partner’s eyes begin to glaze over. They’re confused. They simply shake their head and mutter, “what?”

Feminist and gender archaeology in 150 words or less . . .

Since women make up half of the population, it’s important to think about how women contributed to civilization throughout history. Otherwise, as archaeologists, we would only get half of the picture. In the past, we just assumed women didn’t play as much as a role as men, but you know what they say about ‘assume’ and I doubt anyone wants to be an ‘ass.’ Feminist thought provided, and still does, a way to give us a bigger picture on the past and way to fight our assumptions of the past. Gender archaeology includes feminist thought, giving archaeologists a way to look at how past people may have created specific roles for each other; it gives a way to see how people may have been marginalized or treated as less important. Again, it’s all about making sure we give everyone in the past an equal voice.

Works Cited

Conkey, Margaret W. and Joan M. Gero

1997 Programme to Practice: Gender and Feminism in Archaeology. Annual Review of Anthropology 26:411-437.

Conkey, Margaret W.

2007 Questioning Theory: Is There a Gender of Theory in Archaeology? Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 14:285-310.

Gero, Joan M. and Margaret W. Conkey

1991 Tensions, Pluralities, and Engendering Archaeology: An Introduction to Women in Prehistory. In Engendering Archaeology: Women and Prehistory, edited by Joan M. Gero and Margaret W. Conkey, pp. 3-30. Blackwell Publishers Ltd, Oxford, United Kingdom and Cambridge, United States.

Trigger, Bruce G.

2006 A History of Archaeological Thought. 2nd ed. Cambridge University Press, New York.

Wylie, Alison

1991 Gender Theory and the Archaeological Record: Why is There No Archaeology of Gender? In Engendering Archaeology: Women and Prehistory, edited by Joan M. Gero and Margaret W. Conkey, pp. 31-54. Blackwell Publishers Ltd, Oxford, United Kingdom and Cambridge, United States.

**Originally written for the Women in Archaeology website/blog.  Check out that amazing website and podcast!


National Monuments Under Threat


Trying for some levity during this sh**-storm. I sincerely hoped Trump wouldn’t go through with it. I actually drew this cartoon a few days ago. No matter what, I stand with Bears Ears and all of the other National Monuments under threat.

For information on Trump’s move to shrink National Monuments, see:

Trump Shrinks Utah Monuments in Historic Move:

Trump Orders Largest National Monument Reduction In U.S. History:

Lithics Galore


We certainly love our jargon in archaeology. If you’re on a hike with an archaeologist and they suddenly stop and excitedly shout, ‘Ooo! Lithics!’—you’ll now know what on earth they’re talking about after this episode. A lithic is essentially any artifact made of stone and it is the most common type of artifact archaeologists find at prehistoric archaeological sites, since many artifacts, such as bones or clothes, simply do not preserve well. In some areas, lithic artifacts are the only clues left to figure out what happened in the past. Many types of artifacts fall under the umbrella of lithics, such as flakes, which are the bits of stone knocked off a larger core of rock while flint knapping. Other lithic artifacts include all of those amazing stone tools you see in museums: spear points, projectile points or arrowheads, axes, ceremonial knives, and so on.

Lithic Analysis is the study of lithic artifacts and that analysis can go in many different directions. For example, with a flake you can determine if it is the product of core reduction or from the finishing touches of making a tool, like a knife. Stone tools can act as chronological markers. Certain types of projectile points were made earlier in time than others, giving archaeologists a way to see how tools were manufactured differently over time. From an overall analysis, you can determine what kinds of tools were being created at a site, if certain kinds of materials were being traded, or the specific function of certain stone tools by examining the damage or use of worked edges. Worked edges can help archaeologists determine if a tool was being used to cut wood or meat, or to scrape a hide. So, if a large number of identifiable scrapers were found at a site, it was likely an area for processing hides, skins, or wood. If a lot of projectile points were observed, that site may have been a hunting camp as opposed to a village. Lithic analysis can include determining if a tool was repeatedly –reshaped to prolong its use. So, something like a small projectile point that was made to be smaller and smaller because parts of it broke off.

The most important thing about analyzing stone tool manufacture is that it provides a window into prehistoric lifeways and behavior. There are many examples of experimental archaeology projects where archaeologists have learned flint knapping to better understand the manufacture of stone tools, heat treated materials to see if it knaps more easily to create tools, thrown spears or shot arrows at large haunches of meat to see how those tools break during impact, scrape hides or cut wood to see what kind of use-wear forms on blades or scrapers, replicate tools to better understand their function, and so on. Not only are these projects incredibly important in our understanding of past behaviors, it’s fun.

Please keep in mind that if you’re hiking on public lands, like at a National Park, and you find any kind of lithic, you are more than welcome to pick it up, look at it, take a picture—but always put it back where you found that flake or arrowhead. It is illegal and unethical to take artifacts, no matter how much you want that arrowhead.

Click Here to listen to the ARCH365 episode on the Archaeology Podcast Network. You can also download the episode from iTunes.


Fantastic Book: ‘Lithics: Macroscopic Approaches to Analysis ’ by Andresfky