Archaeology and Public Policy: A New Vision for the Future

Advanced Seminar

July 15–19, 2007

In the 1960s, the US Congress passed three landmark laws providing some level of protection for the country’s historic and prehistoric heritage. As the legislation took effect, the profession and practice of archaeology in the United States changed profoundly in a short period of time. Suddenly, archaeology became an integral part of land-use planning and federal agency decision making, and the profession engaged in serious debate and discussion about the goals of “cultural resource management” (CRM) and its relationship to archaeological excellence and good public policy.

By the mid-1970s, much of the archaeological profession was engaged in developing a vision and direction that would guide the practice of archaeology within the field of CRM for decades. More than 30 years later, however, it is past time for another discipline-wide debate over how best to do archaeology in the public arena and how best to deliver an appropriate level of public benefit.

The advanced seminar “Archaeology and Public Policy: A New Vision for the Future” convened 10 scholars in July to reflect on the way the congressional intent of preserving “this irreplaceable heritage” for “future generations of Americans” has too often been lost in a process that has become increasingly bureaucratic, legalistic, inflexible, and rote. By most estimates, fully 90 percent of the archaeology done in the United States each year is carried out under the requirements of federal CRM laws and regulations.

“This is public archaeology in the purest sense of the word—archaeology carried out using public funds and intended by law to provide public benefits,” wrote co-chairs Lynne Sebastian and William D. Lipe. “From our perspective, the policy is sound, but the implementation is flawed.” Proponents of the current prodevelopment, anti-regulatory political climate, with their emphasis on streamlining review processes and limiting environmental protections, are already pushing for changes, an effort that would benefit from the involvement of the archaeological profession. “Our question to ourselves was, What kinds of changes can we make that will improve the practice of CRM archaeology to make it both better archaeology and better public policy, delivering the public benefits envisioned by Congress?” said the co-chairs.

Seminar participants agreed on five general areas needing improvement and generated recommendations for implementation: Clear processes are needed for identifying, evaluating, and treating potentially affected sites, but they must lead to outcomes that benefit the public and not become ends in themselves. Practitioners of CRM must stay focused on the “big picture,” making their findings more widely available to the interested publics. Professional standards must continue to improve. The long tradition of engagement in policy formation must be invigorated by the increased involvement of younger professionals at all levels. And finally, responsibility for implementing these new visions for public archaeology must be shared by the individuals, firms, and agencies that make up the larger CRM profession.

“This seminar is the first step in getting ahead of the coming changes and bringing the debate over the appropriate conduct of public-sector archaeology back under the intellectual guidance of the archaeological profession,” wrote the co-chairs. A planned volume of seminar papers will be paired with the dissemination of seminar results through the profession’s information networks, meetings, and journals in order to instigate debate and discussion about how to do cultural resource management archaeology. 

William D. Lipe, Chair Professor Emeritus, Department of Anthropology, Washington State University What Resources Are We Managing and Why Are We Managing Them?
Lynne Sebastian, Chair Director, Historic Preservation Programs, SRI Institution Public Policy, Public Money, and CRM Archaeology
Pat Barker Research Associate, Department of Anthropology, Nevada State Museum The Process Made Me Do It: or Would a Reasonably Intelligent Person Agree that CRM is Reasonably Intelligent
Sarah T. Bridges Federal Preservation Officer/National Cultural Resources Specialist, Natural Resources Conservation Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture Archaeology and Ethics: Is There a Shared Vision for the Future?
Susan M. Chandler President, Alpine Archaeological Consultants, Inc. Fostering Innovative Approaches to Mitigation
David Colin Crass State Archaeologist, Historic Preservation Division, Georgia Department of Natural Resources The Crisis in Communication: Still With Us?
Hester A. Davis Professor and State Archeologist, Emeritus, Arkansas Archeological Survey and Department of Anthropology, University of Arkansas Archeologists Looked to the Future in the Past
T. J. Ferguson Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of Arizona Improving the Quality of Archaeology in the United States through Consultation and Collaboration with Native Americans and Descendent Communities
Julia A. King Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology, St. Mary’s College of Maryland The Challenges of Dissemination: Accessing Archaeological Data and Interpretations
Douglas P. Mackey Jr. Archaeologist, New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation Is the Same Old Thing Enough for 21st Century CRM? A Study of How CRM is Done, Why and How to Keep it Relevant in a New Millennia
Douglas W. Schwartz

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