The nation's federal and tribal lands hold
a record of thousands of years of human life. Historic
preservation laws require government agencies to survey for
sites eligible for the National
Register of Historic Places, which bestows some protection
against looting, vandalism, and other forces. As of 1997, however,
only about 11 percent of the acreage had been surveyed-as reported
by the Secretary of the
Interior's Report on the Federal Archeology Program-which
shows the enormity of the job.
Besides surveys, agencies conduct archeology in
advance of highway building, leasing land to loggers, and other
federally funded or licensed projects. Usually, excavation is
carried out only when such work will damage a significant site.
There are unanticipated discoveries too, such as a 500-year-old
fishing trap found by a college naturalist class hiking in Alaska's
Tongass National Forest.