U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service
As discussed in the preceding chapters, efforts to identify archeological sites and other properties containing important information about the past are normal parts of comprehensive historic resources surveys. Some special discussion of archeology is necessary, however, because archeological surveys require special methods and more significantly, because they involve certain ways of looking at one's surroundings-and thinking about them-that may be relatively unfamiliar.
What is Archeology?
Archeology is a systematic, scientific attempt to reconstruct activities and social groups that have occurred or existed in the past, and to see how these have changed through time. The perspective of archeology is essentially that of history-that if we can account for the past, we can better understand the present and the future. Archeology, however, is strongly influenced by the social sciences, particularly anthropology. As a result, archeology's attempts to account for the past tend to be comparative and scientific: archeologists try to ask definite questions about the past, pose hypothetical answers, and test the validity of these answers by examining comparative data, often from many sites and areas.
Many archeological questions are of purely local or short-term interest. For example, archeology may be used to obtain information necessary for the accurate restoration of a building, to check the validity of a reported historic event, or to reconstruct the cultural history of a particular area. The questions asked in such studies, while they may be important in understanding the community's history, serve no large historical or social-scientific purpose, except to provide bodies of information that may eventually be combined with other data in large-scale anthropological or historical research. An increasingly large segment of modern archeological research is devoted to a search for answers to questions of major anthropological significance; for example, archeologists seek to understand the effects of environmental change and population pressure, the reasons for war, the bases for various forms of political organization, and the effects of change from one economic system to another. It is important to realize that these big questions often require many little answers from many little and big sites. Like any other science, archeology is less involved with spectacular discoveries than with testing modest hypotheses about rather humble phenomena. The accumulated results of such tests provide the basis for large scale research. Thus, no one should be surprised at the fact that archeologists often are more interested in small, simple, ordinary, and seemingly redundant properties than in big, impressive monuments.
On the other hand, not everything that an archeologist might possibly study is worth studying. Some research questions' that might be studied in a community may be trivial, and others may have already been effectively answered through other research, or be better studied using other resources, making it redundant to invest time and trouble in seeking to study them using the community's particular archeological resources. Since archeology can be expensive, communities should be careful in designing the archeological components of their surveys. The historic contexts to which archeological data may be relevant should be carefully defined, and decisions should be made about the research questions that are truly significant enough to pursue, before beginning fieldwork. The Secretary of the Interior's Standards and Guidelines for Archeological Documentation and Treatment of Archeological Resources, a publication of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (see Bibliography), provide guidance in how archeological resources may productively be approached.
Things that are of archeological importance may be very subtle, hard to see and record. Usually it is not artifacts themselves that are important but the locations of artifacts relative to one another. Deetz, Fagan, McHargue and Roberts, and Brace (see Bibliography) give good basic introductions to archeological field methods.
Many, perhaps most, archeologists in the United States specialize in prehistoric archeology, which in this country means the study of the archeological remains of American Indian societies as they existed before substantial contact with Europeans. The National Historic Preservation Act treats prehistory as a part of history for purposes of national policy, and it is treated as such in this publication-in other words, it is assumed that a comprehensive historic preservation program should be concerned with properties created during prehistoric time periods as well as with those created since literate observers arrived on the scene and history began in a technical sense.
At the same time, it is important not to consider archeology as only prehistory, and not to think that archeological data exist only under the ground. Archeologists are concerned not only with prehistory but also with even the most recent past. One group of archeologists, for example, has studied industrial water power systems form the 19th and 20th centuries in Troy, New York, and Paterson, New Jersey, while another group has concentrated on the very recent past by studying the garbage of modern Tucson, Arizona, to seek understanding of changing economic conditions and how people cope with them (Rathje 1977). Many archeologists specialize in historic archeology-that is, the archeology of sites and structures dating from time periods since significant contact between American Indians and Europeans, and some specialize in industrial archeology- the study of sites and structures reflecting changing industrial processes and practices.
The kinds of archeological expertise needed by a particular community in its survey effort should become apparent during the initial definition of historic contexts. If it appears that the community may have been the scene of substantial prehistoric American Indian activity, specialists in prehistory should be consulted. If early industrial developments may be important, a specialist in industrial archeology should be sought out. If the processes of growth and development in the community since the time of contact between
American Indians and Europeans may have left evidence in the ground or in buildings or structures that could be profitably studied by archeologists, a specialist in historical archeology should be contacted. The State Historic Preservation Officer and the National Park Service Regional Offices can be of assistance in defining the kinds of assistance needed, and such organizations as the Society for Historical Archeology, the Society for Industrial Archeology, and the Society of Professional Archeologists (see p. 19) may be helpful.
The Archeology of Buildings and Structures
To an archeologist, a building or structure is a complex artifact, created and used by people for activities that reflect their social, cultural, and economic needs and interests. The construction and organization of the building or structure, its modification through time, and the evidence of activities that occurred in it may all be important. For example, the way a house is constructed may reveal things about the builder's perceptions of how space should be organized. Modifications of the floor plan during the life of the house may reveal how occupants at different times wished to organize their life-space in response to changes in social conditions, population size, economic status, technology (e.g., the introduction of electricity), and so on. The things left in and around the house by its past occupants-furniture, papers, wallpaper, graffiti-may reveal facets of their daily lives, interests, preferences, and beliefs. Not only may the things themselves contain such information but their organization within the house may indicate things about the occupants' view of themselves and their world. The ways in which we organize and fill our living spaces can reveal a great deal about how we view ourselves and wish to be viewed by others. In industrial structures, such things as scars on the floors left by belt-drive, marks left by the mounting of machinery, and patterns of grease or other stains reflecting drippage from pieces of equipment may provide evidence of vanished machinery and abandoned industrial techniques.
The Archeology of Sites
A site is less obvious than a building because it does not protrude above the ground. It may, of course, contain elements (including buildings and structures) that do protrude above the ground. It is important to remember that most historic structures and buildings are surrounded and underlain by historic archeological sites-the debris remaining from the decay or demolition of outbuildings;, deposition of trash, and so on. These sites are often of value not only for general archeological research but for developing a detailed understanding of the buildings or structures that stand on them. Other sites, of course, are not associated with buildings or structures now standing. Their buildings or structures may have disappeared or been reduced to subsurface remnants (e.g., prehistoric village sites, many early historic structures), or they may never have been associated with buildings or structures (e.g., campsites trails, battlefields, hunting stations).
Sites are often very hard to recognize, especially for untrained persons. Prehistoric sites are sometimes the most difficult to notice, because they do not contain familiar manufactured items. A prehistoric campsite, for example, may have nothing on the surface of the ground but a few flakes of stone resulting from the manufacture of spear-points, and a few cracked rocks from cooking fires. On the other hand, sites representing more recent historic periods may be hard to recognize precisely because the debris they contain is so familiar; such a site may be represented on the surface only by a scatter of bottle fragments or pieces of porcelain or brick, indistinguishable by the untrained eye from modern trash.
Some sites may be entirely buried making it important to understand the geology and recent depositional and construction history of the area being surveyed in order to predict where such buried sites might occur. Historical data may indicate that a particular area experienced recurrent flooding in the past that may have buried archeological sites, including the remains of early structures, under silt, or that an area had been subjected to purposeful landfill. Archeologists in port cities like New York and San Francisco have found whole ship hulls preserved under such landfill. On the other hand, historical data on an area's construction history may reveal that the construction of buildings with deep basements has penetrated the levels at which archeological sites might be expected to be buried, leaving little likelihood that such sites remain undisturbed.
The Archeology of Districts
Definition of an archeological district implies not only that sites, buildings, structures, or objects of archeological value are present but that there is some plausible connection or relationship among them. Archeologists often define as a district the area that was probably used by a social group in its daily activities. For example, a watershed containing a prehistoric village site and a number of campsites may be regarded as a district on the basis of archeological and,/or ethnographic evidence that the whole area was used for hunting, gathering plant foods, or shifting agriculture, with the village and the campsites representing different types of activities engaged in by the same population. An area that was a recognizable ethnic neighborhood in the past-for example, a Chinatown or the location of a free Black community after the Civil War-may be defined as a district, as may an area of definable commercial or industrial activity such as a port area or a commercial street
The Archeology of Objects
Archeologists are unaccustomed to thinking of the subjects of their inquiry as objects; because the subjects are almost always stationary, they are thought of as sites instead. Objects, some still movable such as totem poles, may have archeological value in much the same way as do structures and buildings, in that they may contain evidence of the way life and activities were organized in the past. Prehistoric objects such as isolated rocks covered with petrogylphs (pecked or inscribed rock-art) or pictographs (painted art rock art) are of archeological value as indicators of religious or artistic activities and often as markers of trails, hunting areas, social boundaries, water holes, dangerous areas, and other aspects of the environment that must be studied to understand prehistoric relationships between social groups and the natural world, Such objects may also retain cultural and religious importance to groups of American Indian extraction in the community.
Selecting an Archeologist
Because of the subtlety, fragility, and complexity of the archeological record, it is vital that an archeological survey be professionally supervised and that surveyors be fully trained. In selecting an archeologist to supervise a survey it is important to recognize that not all professional archeologists are equal in their training or interests. For example, an archeologist who has specialized in studies of prehistory may be at a loss when confronted with the archeology of historic buildings, structures, or relatively recent sites. As noted above, the State Historic Preservation Officer, regional offices of the National Park Service, and relevant professional associations may be of aid in matching the community's needs with available archeological expertise. The community may also find it helpful to seek the advice of other communities that have obtained archeological services; the State Historic Preservation Officer and the National Alliance of Historic Preservation Commissions (see p. 19) should be able to identify such communities and provide information on contact people.
During the selection process, the supervisory archeologist should be made thoroughly familiar with the purposes of the survey and the historic contexts identified during survey planning to which archeological research may contribute.
Guidelines for the actual conduct of archeological surveys are included in Chapter II, and references to useful supplementary guidance are provided in the bibliography. The State Historic Preservation Officer should be consulted for guidelines specific to the State. Some States have State Archeologists, separate from the office of the State Historic Preservation Officer, who also should be contacted.
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