Edgar Lee Hewett and the Political Process

The Policy Implications

Hewett articulated several basic principles in the various papers he wrote on the need for legislation, especially the Memorandum he prepared for Richards and his "General View of the Archaeology of the Pueblo Region" (Hewett 1904c, 1905c). These documents help to explain his policy concerns, much as the record of congressional hearings today holds the key to the interpretation of modern legislation.

The most basic of these principles concerns the nature of archaeological evidence. Hewett (1904c: 3) pointed out at the very beginning of the Memorandum that every cliff dwelling, prehistoric tower, shrine, burial "is an object that can contribute something to the advancement of knowledge." He referred to the archaeological record of the Southwest as a "vast treasury of information" and frequently emphasized the value of artifacts in context (Hewett 1904b: 722, 727; 1904c: 4). Unlike Baum, who saw archaeological sites as a source of artifacts for museum collections (Rothman 1989: 40), Hewett saw every site and its contents as a repository of information about the past. Baum, of course, was only continuing an attitude that had its beginnings in antiquity, for archaeological sites had for centuries been plundered without regard for context in order to obtain exotic, curious, and artistically pleasing objects.

Hewett was a product of the late nineteenth century with its great advances in scientific method. His critics have insisted that his less-than-elegant field procedures demonstrate that he did not fully comprehend what that method was. In fact, his field methods were no better or worse than those of many of his contemporaries working in the Southwest, including those credentialed by eastern institutions. Whatever his level of understanding of the scientific method may have been, he strove to apply the ethics of that method to the study of the past. Hewett wanted to create Pajarito Park for the benefit of scientific research and he repeatedly referred to the scientific value of the ruins. Anthropology and archaeology, though still in their infancy, were recognized members of the scientific community. The conservationists and politicians of the Progressive Era were using the methods of science in their efforts to manage wisely the resources of the nation. The idea that ruins were treasuries of information, rather than rich repositories of loot ready for the taking, resonated well with both political trends and public opinion in the first decade of the twentieth century.

The term "nonrenewable" was not part of the vocabulary of that period, but Hewett demonstrated that he understood the concept by emphasizing each site's unique contribution to knowledge and by deploring the great loss to science caused by the destruction of the ruins (Hewett 1904c: 4). As McManamon (1996: 19) points out: "Enactment of the Antiquities Act recognized that archeological sites and artifacts recovered from them are most valuable as sources of historic and scientific information about the past."

Although all archaeological sites are sources of information about the past, Hewett was especially concerned about those on federal land and pointed out that "measures for the preservation of antiquities can not be intelligently framed without consideration of their situation with reference to ownership or jurisdiction" (Hewett 1905c: 595) The federal government controlled a great deal of the land in the Southwest, and Hewett (1905c: 590) often claimed that 90 percent of the ruins in the Southwest were on federal land. Looting of the ruins, mostly for commercial purposes, was a serious threat to the integrity of the archaeological record. It was essential for the government to accept responsibility for the archaeological resources on its lands, just as it had done for timber reserves. The temporary withdrawal policies of the General Land Office had established that principle. Fletcher and Stevenson (1889) had tried to "inaugurate the precedent of preserving archaeologic remains upon the Public Domain" when they began the campaign to establish a Pajarito Park. The New England conservationists who convinced the Congress to save Casa Grande also thought that they were helping to establish the principle that the government has a responsibility toward the ruins on the land it controls. Hewett saw the need for that principle to be embedded in more general legislation. The most fundamental principle underlying the Antiquities Act is the assertion of a public interest in the federal ruins and the congressional acceptance of the responsibility to protect the public's interest. This definition of statutory responsibility for the archaeological resources on federal lands is basic to all other national historic preservation policy.

Hewett (1904c: 4) was concerned not only about the destruction and loss of information caused by looting, but also by the use of the Homestead Act to obtain sites for commercial and private gain (Hewett 1905e). Although he and others frequently used the analogy of the federal forest reserves to bolster their case, they did not want the archaeological sites treated like timber and offered for sale. The information in the ruins dealt with a part of the nation's heritage and therefore belonged to all. This view was one expression of a concept that Alfred Runte (1979) has called "cultural nationalism."

If the ruins belonged to the public, then the government had a duty to protect them. The Antiquities Act forbade not only looting and destruction of the ruins, but also selling the artifacts found in them for commercial and private gain. Archaeological resources, like all other public resources, were to be managed according to the Progressive philosophy that Gifford Pinchot, the first chief of the Forest Service, succinctly described as "the greatest good to the greatest number for the longest time" (Pinchot 1910: 48). McManamon (1996: 19) states that the identification of "archeological resources as noncommercial is the most basic public policy established by the Antiquities Act."

Hewett clearly intended the Antiquities Act to identify archaeological resources as public property that the government had a duty to protect. Nevertheless, his indirect approach and turn-of-the-century language began to cause problems in prosecuting offenders as the nation's legal systems became more precise. Therefore, when the Archaeological Resources Protection Act was passed in 1979, very explicit language was included to reinforce the already accepted principle that the ruins and their contents belonged to the government, a principle that Hewett had worked so hard to establish (Collins and Michel 1985). McManamon (1996: 21) ably describes how Hewett's language led to the development of (1) professional and scientific standards not only in archaeological research on federal lands but in the whole discipline of archaeology, and (2) informative museum exhibits, popular publications, and other educational procedures that enable the public to benefit from the policies first promulgated in the Antiquities Act.

Because Hewett saw sites in terms of their research potential, he was able to express very early the idea that once a site had given up its information, it no longer needed to be preserved. His twofold classification of sites included places worthy of becoming national parks and others that should be protected until "all data of importance to science have been investigated and all artifacts in connection therewith removed to museums for permanent preservation" (Hewett 1904c: 4; 1905c: 591). Hewett was responding to the idea that not all sites are equal, that some sites are more significant than others. He promoted full data recovery but did not offer a way to determine levels of significance. Nevertheless, he articulated the basic principles behind what became salvage archaeology and ultimately cultural resource management, because he gave priority to the information in the site rather than to the site itself. This principle has been of inestimable value to archaeology ever since. It has enabled archaeologists to relate in a rational way to economic and political realities, because they do not have to insist on saving "everything." They can focus instead on recovering the information that makes the ruins valuable in the first place.

The most fundamental of the principles established by the passage of the Antiquities Act is a very simple one: the federal government has a statutory responsibility for the archaeological resources on the land it owns or controls. At first it seemed that all the government had to do to meet that responsibility was to protect the ruins from the depredations of others. Gradually, however, it became clear that the government's own land-modification activities also threatened the archaeological resources. Responsibility took on new meaning as archaeology was included in the economic development programs of the Great Depression (Fagette 1996). As in the case, of the Antiquities Act, the Executive agencies took the first action, with the Congress following up later with statutory support. After the Second World War, more indirect federal actions, such as permits, grants, tax incentives, and loan guarantees, have broadened the nature of the federal responsibility even more. Any exercise of federal power that threatens archaeological resources triggers responsible federal action.

Today, the United States of America has expanded upon the principles embedded by Hewett in the Antiquities Act of 1906 to create an effective though complex body of historic preservation law and policy supported by appropriate rules and regulations (Blumenthal and Brevett 1993; Cunningham 1999; Fowler 1974; Hutt, Jones, and McAllister 1992; King 1998; Loomis 1983; McGimsey 1972; Moratto 1977). It is often thought that those countries that base their legal systems on Roman common law, such as France and Mexico, have a more direct and less complex approach to historic preservation. However, no modern nation can adequately protect its archaeological resources in a simplistic manner. Mexico, France, and many other countries have laws, decrees, and regulations just as complex as those in this country (Litvak King, González, and González 1980; Phelan 1998; Rigambert 1996). This is not surprising because archaeology is a worldwide science with common international standards. Nowhere, however, has anyone articulated the basic principles and policies of archaeological preservation as well as did Edgar Lee Hewett during that brief period when he participated in that informal, ephemeral, but highly successful "antiquities bill alliance."