A Brief History of the Antiquities Act of 1906

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

There’s quite a bit of history that led up to the creation and implementation of the Antiquities Act, starting with the general interest of the American people in the past. While president of the American Philosophical Society, Thomas 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, when pressure was placed on the government by the concerned public over destroyed historic and prehistoric ruins.

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 a window into the past, demonstrating a need for continued preservation of historic places and a place presenting history to the public.

Three major exhibitions brought Native American antiquities to the forefront: the Columbian Historical Exposition of 1892 in Madrid, Spain, the World’s Columbian Exposition, also known as the Chicago World’s fair, of 1893 in Chicago and the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition, also known as the St. Lous Worlds Fair, in St. Louis, Missouri. These 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 major sites in the American southwest such as the Mesa Verde Cliff dwellings in Colorado (Hutt et al. 1992:19). Railroad construction during the mid to late 19th century, allowed for the long-distance shipping of large fragile collections of archaeological remains—making it easier to send hundreds of thousands of artifacts across the united states.

Public concern with the destruction of antiquities and the growing professionalization of anthropology created a role for the government to step into. For example, in 1892, supporters of preservation sent congress petitions to protect and preserve Casa Grande, a prehistoric structure in southern Arizona. It became the first site to be protected by the feds. 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 of 1906 and the groundwork for future cultural resource management legislation.

President Theodore Roosevelt signed the Antiquities Act, on June 8, 1906, establishing a basic federal policy to protect and preserve cultural resources on public lands (Green 1998:123). The Antiquities Act created criminal sanctions to prosecute looters, the act allows the president to create historic scientific and national monuments, and the act established a permit system to examine and excavate archaeological sites on federal lands, meaning no work can be undertaken without a permit (Hutt et al. 1992:21). Consequently, the Antiquities Act protects “any historic or prehistoric ruin or monument, or any object of antiquity situated on lands owned or controlled by the Government of the United States” (United States Congress 1906:1).

Without the antiquities act, archaeologists wouldn’t have the current legislation that backs-up our work and the public wouldn’t have the amazing national monuments like Bears Ears in Utah. The antiquities act is a crucial piece of cultural resource legislation in the United States, which shouldn’t be overlooked, overshadowed by economic incentives, or overturned by those who do not understand the importance or preserving and protecting the past for future generations.

Links:

-If you are interested in my cited sources, you can find the associated book on Google. Feel free to message me if you would like the full reference or suggestions on further reading.

-NPS: https://www.nps.gov/archeology/tools/laws/antact.htm

-Legislation: https://www.nps.gov/history/local-law/anti1906.htm

 

Tin Cans and More

I think historic archaeological sites and artifacts sometimes get a bad rap for not being as interesting or fun for archaeologists to record and it can be difficult to explain to non-archaeologists the importance of protecting a pile of tin cans. I’m not talking about the large-scale heritage sites like Mount Vernon or a wooden fort, but piles of tin cans and other historic rubbish piles. While surveying, I have been guilty of being like, “ugh, another hole-in-top can. Break out gps.” At times, I have to remind myself the importance of recording the past, no matter the date. Where I’ve done most of my work in the southwest, isolated artifacts and dumps can tell us so much about how people lived during the 19th and 20th centuries. And there is so much more than just tin cans—there are beautiful amethyst and aqua glass, fragments of leather shoes, and so on, to discover. In different parts of the United States, amazing historic artifacts have been recovered from the 16th and 17th centuries, such as metal fragments of armor along the Santa Fe Trail. And, then there are all of the unique post-contact artifacts of various Native American groups, such as metal projectile points. So, in a nutshell, historic archaeology can be pretty fascinating.

Please note: it is both unethical and illegal to remove any kind of artifact—prehistoric or historic—from archaeological sites on public lands. It doesn’t matter how nice you think that historic bottle would look on your desk. Leave it!

For type guides on historic artifacts, visit:

-The Society for Historical Archaeology: https://sha.org/resources/20th-century-artifacts/

Who Were the Fremont People?

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Script from my ARCH365 Episode (click here to listen)

Some of the most spectacular rock art of the Great Basin and western Colorado Plateau was created by the Fremont, but who were the Fremont?

There are so many fascinating prehistoric peoples that made the Great Basin and American Southwest their home. The Ancestral Puebloans of Mesa Verde and Chaco Canyon, the Hohokam irrigation canals and ballcourts of southern Arizona, the gorgeous pottery designs of the Mimbres of New Mexico, and so on, are some of the more well-known prehistoric cultures. Outside of archaeology, one of the lesser recognized, but incredibly unique, prehistoric peoples of the Great Basin and Southwest are the Fremont.

The name for this culture comes from the Fremont River in Utah, where the Navajo and Ute Native American tribes discovered the first Fremont sites. The Fremont lived in the sagebrush and pinon high desert region of the Great Basin and western Colorado Plateau, so areas of Utah, Nevada, and Colorado. They occupied this region from 600 to 1400 AD. It is more difficult to trace the Fremont on the landscape as a distinct culture after 1200 AD. Their lifestyle may have changed after long periods of drought and competition for resources with their neighbors. The Fremont were roughly adjacent to and roughly were contemporaneous with the more famous Ancestral Puebloans, who constructed pueblos and cliff dwellings throughout the southwest.

Well, the very fact that they aren’t easy to classify makes them interesting. This was a diverse culture, differing widely across the landscape. While some Fremont people were building above ground structures, others were constructing subsurface pithouses; some lived in large groups, while others lived in smaller bands—all contemporaneously. Consequently, archaeologists have struggled to define the Fremont as a distinct culture as an entire group since there are so many exceptions. They were not a cohesive group, demonstrating their flexibility to adapt and change.

They were primarily hunter-gatherers, supplementing their diet with farming. Pithouse villages with 10 to 100 houses, dotted the landscape, although it’s unlikely that they were all inhabited at the same time. These small villages tended to be located near streams, where fields could be easily irrigated. Granaries, small structures that stored food, were built into hard to reach places for the lean times. The Fremont built communal structures, essentially an oversized pit house that could accommodate more than just a family; they would also build large structures at the center of their village. Artifacts like turquoise beads and other exotic materials have been found in these structures, suggesting that some kind of ceremonial activities took place.

The Fremont made all kinds of fascinating artifacts and artwork, including clay figurines. They are fragile pieces of art since most were made of unfired clay and are typically not larger than the palm of your hand. These figurines typically have a trapezoidal shape and sometimes have arms, hands, legs, male, female and androgynous forms, hair-dresses, tattoos, jewelry, and so on. In some areas of the southwest, they would have been used for ceremonies, while in others they may have been toys for children.

They also had a unique rock art style that is truly stunning. The rock art includes pecked and painted images of rhomboid to trapezoidal – shaped bodies with broad shoulders, wearing elaborate necklaces, earrings, and headdresses. There are typically zoomorphs, animals, on the panels, such as deer or elk. Figures tend to be located on south or west facing sandstone walls, possibly associated with water or canyon confluences.

The primary way to see Fremont archaeology is through rock art. Dinosaur National Monument has some of the most spectacular Fremont rock art in the west. Just remember that you can’t touch the rock art or remove any artifacts from sites located nearby. That’s unethical and illegal.

Links:

https://www.nps.gov/care/learn/historyculture/fremont.htm

http://historytogo.utah.gov/utah_chapters/american_indians/thefremont.html

Archaeology Podcast Network/ARCH365 Podcast:

https://www.archaeologypodcastnetwork.com/hq-downloads/arch365-289

Remembrance of Things Past

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Remembrance of Things Past

A glint of gold caught my eye while walking along the busy streets of Freiburg, Germany. Two small bricks situated in the sidewalk, just in front of a store, displayed names, dates, and place of death. These are known as the Stolperstein or ‘stumbling stones.’ Each stone commemorates the victims of the Nazi regime by placing their names in front of their former homes.   It is a form of keeping the memory of these people alive even though every physical trace of that individual is lost.

As archaeologists, we attempt to learn about the past by what is left behind. But what if those traces of life were systematically destroyed? How then can we learn about and from our past? When there is little to see above ground, reminders such as the stumbling stones are needed so that such atrocities are not repeated. Archaeologists can be called upon to find and provide evidence for terrible atrocities that happened in the past—no matter how hard a regime tried to erase the people and claim nothing was done, there is usually something to find below ground.

Archaeological excavations and lidar surveys at Nazi concentration camps, such as Treblinka, have revealed mass graves and gas chambers. As they uncovered the brick foundations of the gas chambers, the archaeologists noticed that the bricks had been stamped with the star of david. The Nazis had tried to disguise the gas chambers as Jewish bath houses, which is truly chilling subterfuge. The Nazis razed the camp to the ground, trying to erase the fact they murdered 900,000 Jews. But the excavations proved, without a doubt, what happened.

According to one of the archaeologists who excavated at Treblinka, uncovering the gas chambers was like ‘a window into the hell of what happened there.’ During the study of the Sobibor death camp in Poland, archaeologists used a combination of techniques, using low-altitude photography with a weather balloon to find the borders of mass graves and other features. And they found the gas chambers and personal items, showing how archaeology can provide an important part of history.

Archaeological techniques have been employed to excavate contemporary mass graves for the United Nationals International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and International Criminal Tribunal for Rawanda, to provide documentation—proof—of the acts of genocide that took place at each location. Work has also been conducted to assess human rights abuses throughout South America, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Archaeology can be a tool for the victims and a means to prosecute the leaders.

No matter how hard a group may claim that they did not commit any crime or how hard another group may say it was all a hoax, as archaeologists, we can find the evidence. Hopefully it is a way to provide closure to the families who lost loved ones. And, It is a small way of saying to the victims, ‘I see you. You matter. And I won’t forget.’

*Listen to the ARCH365 Podcast of this blog post.

*For more information:

http://www.npr.org/2012/05/31/153943491/stumbling-upon-miniature-memorials-to-nazi-victims

http://www.livescience.com/44443-treblinka-archaeological-excavation.html

Women in Archaeology Podcast: The History of Women in Archaeology – Episode 20

March 19, 2017

Alternate Title: Mother********* Episode about F***ing A**-Kicking Women of that Patriarchal Bull***t We Call Archaeology HISTORY! – Episode 20

This is a fun one!: On Today’s episode, the hosts talk about the history of women in archaeology, influential figures, and their all-time favorite barrier breaking women of the field.

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Check out all of our podcasts on the Archaeology Podcast Network!