The National Park Service's National Historic Landmarks (NHL) Program plays a major role in preserving America's nationally significant cultural resources. National Historic Landmark designation increases public awareness of archeology by highlighting the importance of our most significant prehistoric and historic archeological resources. By disseminating information on threats to archeological NHLs, the Program draws attention to the worse problems confronting our finest sites. By sponsoring study of nationally significant archeological resources, the NHL Program helps us to better understand our past. And by increasing the number of archeological NHLs, the Program publicizes the benefits and limitations of current laws and statutes meant to protect our archeological heritage.
Following the introduction, this publication explains what the NHL Program is; describes the process by which NHLs are identified, nominated, and designated; defines the major issues involving NHL prehistoric and historic archeological resources, and shows how the NHL Program can help to meet the challenge confronting our national archeological heritage.
Support Office contact information was updated September 1999.
What Are Archeological Resources?
Archeological resources are the material remains of human life or activities that are capable of providing scientific or humanistic understandings of past human behavior, cultural adaptation, and related topics. Archeologists apply scientific or scholarly techniques such as controlled observation, contextual measurement, controlled collection, analysis, interpretation, and explanation to collect and analyze those resources. Material remains of particular interest to archeologists include physical evidence of human habitation, occupation, use, or activity within sites, locations, or contexts.
Because of their nature, archeological resources are particularly vulnerable to three types of destruction. They are: (1) severe physical deterioration in the form of erosion and other natural processes, (2) inappropriate construction, alteration, or demolition caused by project designs that do not fully consider impacts upon archeological resources, and (3) looting and vandalism.
The Special Characteristics of Archeological Resources
Archeological monuments, ruins, and objects were among the first cultural resources to be recognized and protected under Federal law. Public concern about threats to prehistoric ruins on Federal land in the Southwest rallied political support for the protective Antiquities Act of 1906. Indeed, it has generally been relatively easy to identify, evaluate, and designate such spectacular sites as the pueblo ruins in New Mexico's Chaco Culture National Historical Park and the mound complexes at Cahokia, Illinois, or Moundville, Alabama.
Most archeological resources, however, are far less conspicuous. Many deposits are deeply buried. Others are little more than stained soil or a scattering of broken rock. Once found, it is frequently difficult to determine the original form or function of an archeological resource.
Archeological resources are not only elusive, they are also among our nation's most numerous class of cultural resources. Two basic facts account for this situation. First, people have been living in North America for at least 12,000 years. During that time they have left numerous remains. Second, most things built by the earliest European settlers (and many built by their descendants), have left little more than archeological evidence of their existence.
Tens of thousands of sites have been found since Europeans first came to American shores. Many hundreds have been scientifically studied since Thomas Jefferson conducted the first modern systematic excavation of an Indian mound in Virginia in 1792. Untold thousands of sites, known and unknown, have been destroyed. Most archeologists agree, however, that other thousands await discovery and scientific study.
Once found, archeological deposits must be carefully examined and meticulously recorded. As already mentioned, their form, content, and function may be difficult to interpret. Precise determinations of site boundaries, artifact type and style, feature function, and site condition almost always require extensive testing and verification. Historic archeological resources, such as building foundations or associated features of standing structures such as cisterns, mill races, or garden paths, moreover, are not always recognized or adequately treated. Methods used by archeologists to collect and analyze data further contribute to the special status of archeological resources. In order to accurately analyze archeological data, archeologists must carefully record the positions of all artifacts and deposits encountered during excavations. This physical relationship between excavated materials and their exact location is called "archeological context." Artifacts and other deposits located within their archeological context are said to have "integrity." Integrity is lost when archeological resources are disturbed or removed without careful context documentation.
Excavation is the primary method archeologists use to recover information. Although some excavations only uncover, sample, and re-bury archeological deposits, all excavations permanently alter the context of archeological resources to some degree. This places archeologists in a unique position-the excavations necessary to recover archeological resources always affect the data they collect.
Archeologists have responded to this paradox by working to preserve archeological resources in place whenever possible. When excavation is necessary, extraordinarily rigorous methods are used to recover, record, and analyze data within the context of their discovery. In order to preserve as much of the context as possible, archeologists generally strive to collect relatively small samples from sites that can be preserved. Total recovery of archeological resources from a locale usually occurs only when all other alternatives for preservation are exhausted.
Such practices preserve the all-important contextual record and permit future study. This is important because archeological resources are significant not just for what they have already revealed, but for what they can tell us about past lifeways at some later date when more sophisticated techniques and analytic methods are available. By preserving archeological resources in place and keeping careful records of what has been recovered, archeologists work to assure that our past indeed has a future.
This combination of factors presents a considerable challenge to those identifying and designating nationally significant archeological resources as NHLs. They also explain why archeological resources are susceptible to many threats. Through its use as a planning tool, through identification of potential NHLs, and by evaluating threats to existing ones, the NHL Program can provide an extra degree of protection to nationally significant archeological resources. NHL designation heightens awareness of archeology nationwide through attracting publicity to sites. In these ways, the NHL Program can help meet the challenge faced by America's threatened archeological resources (36 CFR 65.2).
THE NATIONAL HISTORIC
National Historic Landmarks are historic and archeological properties found to be nationally significant and designated as Landmarks by the Secretary of the Interior. They are acknowledged as our Nation's most important historic and archeological resources. They consist of buildings, structures, districts, objects, and sites commemorating historical events and cultural patterns that changed the course of history. They illustrate architectural, artistic, humanistic, social, political, educational, and cultural achievements. They include primary sites associated with Native American and ethnographic history.
Role and Function of the NHL Program
What the Program
What It Does:
There are several other parts of the NHL Program managed by the National Park Service besides designation of properties as NHLs. For example, the condition of threatened and endangered NHLs is monitored through periodic inspections, and an annual report to Congress is compiled by the Preservation Assistance Division. The division encourages protection of endangered NHLs through improving public awareness about the threats. "Landmarks at Risk" bulletins detail the threats to specific NHLs as well as precisely what can be done to remedy those conditions.
The National Historic Landmarks Survey
Identification and evaluation of potential NHL properties are coordinated through the National Historic Landmarks Survey. The History Division administers the NHL Survey. Several methods may be used to determine NHL candidacy. History Division historians ordinarily identify potential NHLs in theme studies based upon the NHL outline of U.S. history and archeology. Individual site studies can be undertaken by other bureau professionals, professionals in other Federal agencies, State Historic Preservation Officers, and others. Whatever their source, all studies must be reviewed in the History Division for technical accuracy. Nominations successfully passing this review are then considered for presentation to the National Park System Advisory Board.
NHL Designation--the Process
Preparing the Nomination:
Prospective preparers should contact the nearest NPS Regional Office at the earliest stage of work in order to receive guidance and technical assistance in preparing the draft nomination. Requests for technical assistance should be addressed to the NHL Coordinator, National Park Service, in the appropriate region. These are:
Initial drafts of NHL nomination studies should be submitted no later than 120 days prior to National Park System Advisory Board meetings at which they are to be considered. Following consultation with the appropriate NHL Coordinator in the NPS Regional Office, preparers will be advised about additional consultation with NHL Survey staff in the NPS Washington Office before beginning work on a nomination. NHL Survey staff members will examine the survey record to determine if the site in question has already been studied and reviewed by the Advisory Board. Survey staff may also provide technical assistance to those preparing nominations.
Criteria of Significance:
Preparation of NHL nominations largely follows procedures set forth in National Register Bulletin 16, Guidelines for Completing National Register of Historic Places Forms. NHL nominations, however, must address more rigorous criteria for the designation (36 CFR Part 65A). Unlike the National Register, which uses four criteria of significance, potential NHL properties are evaluated according to six criteria of national significance. Properties eligible for NHL status are those:
The specific criterion addressed should be cited in the statement of significance
on the nomination form. Unlike other NHL nominations, archeological candidates must always address Criterion 6 in addition to others cited.
Application of Criterion 6 is at once the most critical and the most challenging component of an archeological NHL nomination. Nominations made under Criterion 6 must address two questions:
Answers to both questions must be well documented and logically organized. In order to establish the national significance of an archeological resource, preparers must show how the data make a major contribution to the existing corpus of information. This standard requires that potentially recoverable data are likely to revolutionize or substantially modify a major prehistoric or historic concept, resolve a substantial historical or anthropological debate, or close a serious gap in a major theme of United States prehistory or history.
Both the National Register and the NHL Survey require site integrity. NHL candidates, however, must possess a substantially higher degree of integrity than that required for National Register designation. This higher measure of integrity may include, but is not limited to, unusually intact or undisturbed deposits or features and archeological resources exhibiting a demonstrably high degree of preservation.
The extent of the differences in this standard of integrity is illustrated in Exception (3) of the NHL criteria. A property may be eligible for designation if, according to Exception (3), there are archeological resources related to "a building or structure no longer standing [and] the person or event associated with it is of transcendent importance in the nation's history and the associations consequential" (36 CFR Part 65.4[b]).
Themes, Subthemes, and Facets:
NHL nominations must cite relevant themes, subthemes, and facets. The NHL Survey utilizes a thematic framework to classify cultural resources. This framework classifies the nation's history and prehistory into 34 themes. Each of these, in turn, is divided into subthemes and facets expressing more precise topical and chronological Categories. The "Cultural Developments: Indigenous American Populations" theme, for example, consists of the following subthemes:
Each subtheme is divided into a number of facets. Those
associated with "The Earliest Inhabitants" subtheme, for example, include
"Early Peopling of the New World," "Archaic Adaptations of the Caribbean,"
and "Domestication of the Dog." A listing of these may be found in the
publication, History and Prehistory in the National Park System and
the National Historic Landmarks Program (for sale by the Superintendent
of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402:
Order Number 024-0050121-1, $3.75).
The National Park System Advisory Board ordinarily reviews NHL nominations and makes recommendations for designation to the Secretary of the Interior. Nominations are presented by NPS twice a year to the Advisory Board. In accordance with law and NHL regulations, public notice of Advisory Board review of NHL nomination studies must be made at least 60 days prior to each Board meeting. National Park Service administrative requirements make it necessary for nominations to be complete in all respects no later than 90 days before the Advisory Board meets.
At its meetings, the Advisory Board weighs the advice of the NPS and considers the findings of the ad hoc panel. Following this, the Advisory Board makes its recommendation to the Secretary of the Interior. Properties are designated as NHLs when approved by the Secretary. If not already listed, newly designated NHLs are also automatically placed in the National Register.
MAJOR ISSUES INVOLVING NATIONAL HISTORIC LANDMARK ARCHEOLOGICAL RESOURCES
The Need to Reach Representative Levels In the Overall Number of Archeological NHLs
Only about 180, approximately ten percent of all NHLs nationwide, have been recognized based upon their archeological significance. Archeologists agree that there are large numbers of presently unrecognized nationally significant archeological resources worthy of NHL designation. If we are to bring the number of archeological NHLs up to representative levels, we must intensively examine those kinds of properties as well as identify new ones. The extent of this need can be seen in a recent study conducted by the ten NPS regional offices of cultural resources in the National Park System. Approximately 36,700 archeological sites were identified in a 20 percent sample of NPS park lands. Of these, 38 percent, or 13,946 sites, have been identified as possessing potential national significance or being likely to contribute to the national significance of areas or districts in which they are located (NPS 1987b).
The Need to Recognize the Full Range of Nationally Significant Archeological Resources Associated With or Located Within the Boundaries of Existing NHL Properties
Archeological resources are associated with virtually every NHL. As noted above, the presence of many of these resources is not easily recognized. Standing structures designated as NHLs frequently have not had their archeological components identified or evaluated. Many subthemes and facets in the NHL thematic framework (see above), moreover, are entirely absent or seriously underrepresented. In order to more fully understand and preserve our archeological heritage, these gaps must be filled by identifying unrepresented and underrepresented archeological themes and designating properties associated with them.
Existing NHL procedures should more effectively be used to identify and evaluate larger numbers of archeological resources of all types associated with or located within the boundaries of existing NHLs.
Destroyed or irrevocably altered buildings considered for NHL de-designation pose a special challenge. Special NHL criteria considerations outlined above are used to assess archeological remains of destroyed buildings or associated archeological features. This is done because the definition of their integrity must differ from that used for intact buildings. These criteria for archeological resources should be evaluated when the NHL designation of standing structures judged to have lost their integrity is considered for removal. Loss of integrity of above-ground resources might not affect the integrity of significant archeological resources. Although this varies from case to case, loss of structural integrity of above-ground resources can result in increased emphasis on the significance of remaining archeological resources by providing new information in the form of undiscovered features or deposits.
NHL PROGRAM AND ARCHEOLOGICAL PRESERVATION: FACING THE CHALLENGE
It was noted above that only 10 percent of the more than 1,840 NHLs are recognized for their archeological significance. Many more must be identified, evaluated, and designated if we are to preserve our nation's most significant prehistoric and historic archeological resources.
NHL surveys, studies, nominations, and boundary and condition assessments are powerful preservation tools for archeological resources. Planning is the necessary first step in this process. Comprehensive planning in the NHL Program is centered around the thematic framework organizing information about cultural resources by theme, subtheme, and facet. Once established, thematic contexts provide the framework of site significance which is the basis for the systematic identification, evaluation, registration, and preservation of prehistoric and historic archeological resources. Together, these planning processes help identify preservation goals and objectives, set preservation priorities, and guide all other decisions involving the effective management of our nation's most significant archeological resources.
The magnitude of the threat confronting our nation's most significant archeological resources is reflected in the latest report on threatened and damaged NHLs. Although archeological NHLs make up only 10 percent of all NHL properties, nearly 33 percent of the 79 most endangered NHLs are primarily recognized for their archeological resources. Thus, archeological resources are not only underrepresented in NHL listings, they are also among the most threatened of NHL resources.
NHL designation provides nationally significant archeological resources with preservation protections in accordance with Section 106 and Section 110(f) of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, Section 8 of the National Park System General Authorities Act of 1970, and Section 9 of the Mining in the National Parks Act of 1976.
Archeological NHLs on Federal lands are further protected by the Archaeological Resource Protection Act of 1979.
Registration, legislative remedies, and legal protections alone cannot preserve our nation's threatened archeological heritage. Public awareness is an important part of protection. Public involvement can be increased by education programs, publicity and promotion campaigns, and other outreach activities. Public awareness can discourage the looting and vandalism of archeological sites, increase support for stronger protective legislation, and encourage provision of greater amounts of public and private funding. Preserving archeological properties through the NHL Program in these comprehensive ways insures they will continue to exist for the "inspiration and benefit of the people of the United States."
Advisory Council on Historic Preservation.
History Division, National Park Service.
1987b Catalog of National Historic Landmarks. Washington, DC.
National Park Service
1983b "Archeology and Historic Preservation: Secretary of the Interior's Standards and Guidelines." Federal Register: Notices, 48(190):44716-44740.
1986 "Guidelines for Completing National Register of Historic Places Forms." National Register Bulletin 16. Interagency Resources Division, Washington, DC.
1987a Section 8 Report on Threatened and Damaged National Historic Landmarks. Preservation Assistance Division, Washington, DC.
1987b Systemwide Cultural Resources Summary and Action Program (RSAP). Interagency Resources Division, Washington, DC.
1988 "Guidelines for Federal Agency Responsibilities, Under Section 110 of the National Historic Preservation Act." Federal Register: Notices, 53(31):4727-4746.
Waldbauer, Richard C.
Weber, Sandra S.
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