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Archaeopolitics

Donald Forsyth Craib

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House Holds Oversight Hearing on Historic Preservation--On March 20, 1996, the House Resources Committee's Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Lands held an oversight hearing on historic preservation. The hearing also addressed two other issues: (1) the reauthorization of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation and (2) proposed changes to requirements for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places.

Donna Seifert (immediate past president, SHA, and current SAA Executive Board member) presented testimony before the committee on behalf of SAA and the Society for Historical Archaeology. Chairman James Hansen (R-Utah) requested that the testimony address three specific aspects of historic preservation: reauthorizing the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation and changing the role and function of the council; suggesting ways to streamline the Section 106 process; and addressing the process for listing properties in the National Register of Historic Places.

There were three panels of witnesses. The first panel included representatives from the Advisory Council, National Park Service, National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers, and two state historic preservation offices. The second panel was composed of a representative from the National Mining Association and a witness representing the Defenders of Property Rights. SAA and SHA were represented on the third panel along with individuals from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Keepers of the Treasures, and the American Cultural Resources Association. Below are excerpts from the SAA/SHA statement.

SAA and SHA began by pointing out to the subcommittee that the "Congress and American people have consistently provided strong bipartisan support for protecting and interpreting significant archaeological sites as an essential part of the nation's heritage" and "that historic preservation is important to the American people; that there is broad public support for the overall goals and procedures established by the National Historic Preservation Act; and that this support extends to archaeological sites as well as to the historic buildings and other properties that provide the tangible record of our history."

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Reauthorizing and Changing the Role of the Advisory Council--SAA and SHA stressed their strong support for the reauthorization of the Advisory Council and noted that the "council plays an essential role by promulgating regulations for Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act." They stressed that "Section 106 is a key part of the NHPA and one that has kept federally funded, permitted, or assisted projects relatively free of litigation over their effects on historic properties." And they concluded this part of her testimony by suggesting that the Advisory Council:

Streamlining the Section 106 review process--The two organizations noted that "the basic principles underlying the Section 106 process are sound, but we believe that the procedures for applying the process to archaeological resources need to be made more efficient and effective...Amendments to NHPA are not required; needed improvements can be made through changes in agency and SHPO practices and in regulations." Several of the recommendations made in the testimony were:

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Listing Properties in the National Register of Historic Places--A particular problem in archaeology is the difficulty of identifying sites eligible for National Register listing. They pointed out that "significant archaeological sites are often difficult to see because the artifacts, cultural features, dating evidence, and other materials they contain are buried or obscured by vegetation or later construction," further noting that "systematic survey and subsurface testing is usually required to locate archaeological sites before they can be evaluated for National Register eligibility." They stressed that "the National Register criteria are general and must be applied critically and intelligently to ensure that the properties determined eligible for the National Register are significant."

The following recommendations were made:

Seifert concluded by stating that SAA and SHA "are committed to addressing the difficult issues involved in streamlining applications of our historic preservation laws while ensuring appropriate management of our archaeological resources for the benefit of all Americans."

If you would like a copy of the testimony, please write to me, or you can locate a copy on the government affairs page on SAAweb. You can reach me at SAA headquarters, 900 Second St., N.E. #12, Washington, D.C. 20002-3557, (202) 789-8200, fax (202) 789c0284, email donald_craib@saa.org.

Donald Forsyth Craib is manager of government affairs and counsel of SAA.


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