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Introduction to The Antiquities Act of 1906,
2001 Electronic Edition

Bruce Babbitt
Secretary of the Interior
January, 2001

It is with great pleasure that I introduce readers to this revised, reprinted history of the Antiquities Act of 1906, a major part of the legal foundation for archeological, historic, and natural conservation and preservation in the United States. In 1970, Ron Lee produced an engaging and informative story of the quarter-century effort to create the authorities and mandates established by this statute. Lee was a dedicated public servant, a National Park Service official who made many important contributions to the interpretation, preservation and protection of America's archeological and historic resources. His history has been long out of print and difficult to come by. This electronic version remedies that unfortunate situation.

The Antiquities Act is nearly 95 years old, yet it still serves as an anchor for our national cultural and natural conservation and preservation policies, as demonstrated in part by President Clinton's recent establishment of National Monuments in Arizona, California, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, and Washington.

These new conservation and preservation initiatives by President Clinton, as well as the reprinting of Lee's history, affirm the preservation and protection policies established by this important, but little known statute. In doing so, we should emphasize the basis for the original act, the preservation and protection of archeological sites, and recognize the longstanding Federal commitment to protect, preserve, and interpret America's archeological resources for all the public.

Surely in the story of the Antiquities Act, the conservation and preservation policies it established, the presidents who have used it, and the scientific, historic, and cultural values of the resources it protected, there is a positive and important message of appropriate government action to protect resources for all of the American people. A message that a modern President and a modern Secretary of the Interior have been associated with and embrace.

The Antiquities Act is a statute of historical importance for natural resource conservation and for archeological and historic preservation in the United States. The Antiquities Act established basic public policy about archeological and historic resources in the United States. The policy has three aspects. First, that these archeological, historic, scenic, and scientific sites and structures are most valuable for the archeological, historical, and scientific information they contain, and for their commemorative, scenic, or inspirational associations. This makes them different from commercial resources that have primarily monetary value.

Second, archeological sites and historic structures, and by extension, other kinds of cultural resources, have a public value. That is, like clean water and air, the preservation of these kinds of resources contribute to the public good. The ways in which they are treated is of public concern. The level of this concern and the extent of public involvement in determining treatment varies according to ownership of specific resources. For example, publicly owned archeological sites are protected strongly and their treatment a matter of direct public responsibility. Artifacts and records from excavations on public lands are cared for in public museums and interpreted for the public.

The final aspect of policy established by the Antiquities Act is that the investigation and removal of archeological resources must be conducted by appropriately qualified and trained experts using the best contemporary methods and techniques. Professional and scientific approaches in the examination and treatment of other kinds of cultural resources, including historic structures, museum objects, and cultural landscapes, are accepted and valued. The Antiquities Act established such approaches as a basic aspect of public policy.

I have noted in reading Lee's legislative and political history of the Antiquities Act that its substance was first raised as an issue in the U.S. Senate by Senator Hoar of Massachusetts in 1882. Debates between those who favored conservation or preservation and those who favored commercial uses of public lands swirled around the legislation from the beginning of its consideration. Interestingly, objections to conservation and preservation did not include arguments that such efforts were unnecessary. It was acknowledged that looting and vandalism of archeological sites were occurring. As has been heard regularly since, detractors of the effort to provide protection and preservation first argued that the government couldn't possibly protect all of these resources. Others, already alarmed by the creation of forest reserves, objected to creation of another means by which the President could set aside large areas of the public domain for conservation or preservation.

Eventually, the public sentiment to remedy the increasing destruction of archeological sites in the Southwest and the wholesale removal of artifacts that was occurring, overcame these objections. In his conclusion about the long range importance of the statute, Lee notes:

A whole generation of dedicated effort by scholars, citizens, and members of Congress, which had begun in 1879, culminated in 1906...This generation, through its explorations, publications, exhibits, and other activities, awakened the American people to a lasting consciousness of the value of American antiquities, prehistoric and historic. This public understanding, achieved only after persistent effort in the face of much ignorance, vandalism, and indifference, was a necessary foundation for many subsequent conservation achievements.

Among the subsequent achievements referred to by Lee are the creation of the National Park system and the National Park Service to preserve, protect, and interpret the resources it encompasses. After almost 25 years of effort, those who promoted conservation prevailed and the act was passed and signed by President Theodore Roosevelt. Teddy Roosevelt himself, between 1906 and 1909, proclaimed nearly a score of National Monuments, including: El Morro, Montezuma's Castle, Chaco Canyon, Gila Cliff Dwellings, Tonto, Tumacacori, Devil's Tower, Petrified Forest, Lassen Peak, Cinder Cone, Muir Woods, Grand Canyon, Pinnacles, Jewel Cave, Natural Bridges, Lewis and Clark, and Olympic. Since then, Presidents Taft, Wilson, Harding, Coolidge, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Carter, and, of course, most recently, President Clinton have established National Monuments by executive proclamation.

I hope that readers will appreciate Lee's detailed examination of the efforts leading up to passage of the Act. Reflecting upon the activities of its promoters and the debates about the need for such a law, I am struck at the recurrence of these issues in American life. Some of the discussions could have been lifted from yesterday's or today's newspaper columns.

Contents | Foreword 2001 Electronic Version | Introduction 2001 Electronic Version | Foreword

 

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