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A FHWA National Perspective on Risky Archaeological Practices
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A FHWA National Perspective on Risky Archaeological Practices

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Owen Lindauer, PhD, RPA, Federal Highway Association

Owen Lindauer, PhD, RPA, Federal Highway Association

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  • Presented at the 2012 Summer Meeting of the TRB ADC50, committee on archeology and historic preservation in transportation, Tuesday July 17, 2012.
  • Poor treatment of the archeological record should not be an issue for professional archeologists, but it occurs through acts of omission or commission. Protection and securing of an ongoing excavation needs to be in a treatment plan. Inadequate funding or poor planning is no excuse. With climate change, severe weather events are no longer so rare. A worst practices is one that is unprepared for powerful rains, wind, or even a surprise snowfall. Doing a poor job of inventory survey or site testing poorly treats the archeological record by (a) missing sites and (b) important features, that when appear as discoveries leave comparatively little time for proper research-oriented data recovery/sampling. They also can ultimately be responsible for cancelling a highway project.
  • You poorly treat the archeological record when you take it for granted and not tailor a strategy specifically for your site and project. The archeological record is remnant of the past whose value is in the important information it yields. Focusing on excavation as a technique in itself while ignoring or not thinking hard about how to recover important information is a worst practice. CRM that produces ordered excavations, artifact bags, and overly descriptive results is a poor treatment of the archeological record by missing the point of doing excavation. In reviewing survey results consider both how the survey was performed and the nature of the resources it was done to identify. Missing sites is a poor treatment of the archeological record. All of excavation involves choices and sampling. There will always be features and artifacts remaining at a site once the CRM work is done. The worst practice is leaving features that could stop the proposed project. Worst practice is not carefully considering the selection of samples for C14 dating, at $500 a pop, you want to identify samples with the best associations/least contaminations.
  • A poor treatment of the archeological record is not having a problem to orient your research. Research opportunities are missed when your archeological staff [or contractor] is unfamiliar with area culture history, current research issues, and analytical techniques. Unimaginative research that results in long (and redundant) descriptions of features or artifacts is a poor treatment of the archeological record. Research should push the boundaries of knowledge and understanding.
  • An important consideration for people who care about archeological sites is to ask if they might have concerns rather than assuming they would have none. Archeology has triggered opposing concerns from people opposed and those favoring scientific investigations. While decisions to move forward are not always compatible, proper treatment includes sensitive and appropriate consideration of concerns. Conflicts that are reduced to clashing positions ignore real and legitimate concerns that deserve respect and the courtesy to consider.
  • Know your audience or counterpart because if you don’t understand how they communicate, you might easily offend. Especially true for Indian tribes. When your project has just impacted a resource of importance to a particular group is not the best time to initiate communication with that group. Don’t use email to communicate when some of your counterparts don’t have access to a computer. Email in particular, may be easily misunderstood.
  • The way archeology is performed in academia differs significantly from CRM, although archeologists in both arenas conduct research. Schedule delay and excessive costs due to lack of understanding of environmental compliance is a worst practice. Many archeologists have a limited (or no) understanding of the highway project development process. This worst practice leads to missed opportunities to work with designers to avoid or minimize project impacts, an inability to convey constraints or what is important, and occasionally, missed adverse impacts or unnecessary data recovery.
  • It’s always a worst practices not to properly plan your project (be it archeological or otherwise). You never want a surprise discovery since delay and added costs are the result. It is a worst practice not to involve the SHPO/THPO in your planning for archeological resources (inventory, eligibility, resolving adverse effect). That way, there’s less of a possibility of getting surprised when they don’t concur (leading to delay). CRM folks should be familiar with the suite of programmatic approaches and streamlined Section 106 procedures. Otherwise you run the risk of poorly treating your clients by missing opportunities to reduce delay and project costs.
  • Transcript

    • 1. Owen Lindauer, Ph.D, RPAOffice of Project Development and Environmental Review Federal Highway Administration
    • 2. Risky Actions that:Poorly Treat the Archeological Record Through unnecessary damage Through poorly thought out strategies Through missed research opportunitiesPoorly Treat People Who Care about the Archeological Record Through ignoring their concerns Through poor or inadequate communicationPoorly Treat People Who Care about the Project Through ignoring their concerns Through inadequate planning
    • 3. Poor Treatment of the ArcheologicalRecord: Through unnecessary damageThrough inadequate consideration of potential lootingThrough inadequate consideration of site erosion and damage through natural processesThrough inadequate inventory surveys that lead to preventable “discoveries.”
    • 4. Poor Treatment of the Archeological Record: Through poorly thought out strategiesFirst, the worst practice is not to have a strategyPerforming excavation is not the same as recovering important information through data recoveryCarefully consider choices for survey strategies in evaluating adequacy of resultsCarefully consider choice for excavation strategies in evaluating adequacy of results
    • 5. Poor Treatment of the Archeological Record: through missed research opportunitiesFirst, the worst practice is not having a problem oriented research designA worst practice is having an inadequate or poorly matched research teamCRM research needs to focus on recovering important information, not pedantic description
    • 6. Poor Treatment of People Who Care about the Archeological Record: through ignoring their concernsA worst practice is to make a blanket assumption that a group will not have concerns or interestPeople may have differing concerns or preferences in handling archeology that are incompatibleA worst practice is not showing the proper courtesy and respect
    • 7. Poor Treatment of People Who Care aboutthe Archeological Record: through poor orinadequate communicationA worst practice is to ignore the context in which you converse with peopleA worst practice is to leave important contacts or notifications to the last minuteThere are many modes of communication, worst practices fail to make the connection or distort the message
    • 8. Poor Treatment of People Who Care about the Project: through ignoring their concernsA worst practice is for archeologists to fail to understand the NEPA context in which they workA worst practice is to ignore the context in which you converse with people
    • 9. Poor Treatment of People Who Careabout the Project: through inadequateplanningBy surprise discoveriesBy surprises from the SHPO/THPOBy failure to utilize programmatic approaches or streamlined procedures