Response by Lawrence G. Desmond
to the James J. Hester article:

 "Cultural Resources Management: What, Why and for Whom?"


Bibliographic reference

Lawrence G. Desmond, Ph.D.  Published in, High Plains Applied Anthropologist,
Vol. 16, No. 1, pp. 69-75, Spring 1996.

 Professor Hester, in his review of the Federal Archaeology Program, makes the important point that Federal Archaeology has become "the triumph of the Federal bean counters."  And he continues, "this goal has been surmounted by the goal of ‘managing' those resources for the benefit of the Federal agencies" (Hester 1996:75).   These are serious charges by a senior scholar involved with cultural resource archaeology for more than 40 years, and they deserve a systematic investigation.  A review of the Federal Program should not be carried out by the Department of Interior or other Federal agency, but by a committee drawn from the international community of scholars and organized by the President's Advisory Council on Historic Preservation.

 In fairness, there are plenty of Federal archaeologists who carry out outstanding archaeological field projects, manage cultural resources, and do research in the face of impossible conditions presented by a large bureaucracy.  Those archaeologists are highly trained, motivated,  and too often kept from doing archaeology by the day-to-day meetings, staff reports and other requirements of the system.  They are expected to carry out field projects or manage resources while holding down many ancillary responsibilities.  Something is lost in this process, and as Professor Hester points out, it is our heritage that is being lost.

 A gap in Professor Hester's paper concerns the world of Contract Archaeology, and the protection of cultural resources by state law where Section 106 is not applicable.   In the current literature, there is virtually no critique of how well state laws perform to support the protection and recovery of threatened archaeological resources.  Below are a few observations concerning the protection of cultural resources which have come under the jurisdiction of California state law.

 In California, the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) was enacted to protect cultural resources on private and public land.  Once fieldwork is carried out, reports are voluntarily sent (not required or reviewed) to the regional information centers and filed, they are provided to the client as part of the contractual agreement, and occasionally sent to other interested archaeologists.  The problem of lack of CEQA report review should be addressed, but at this time the more pressing problems, it seems, are the restraints placed on archaeologists attempting to carry out adequate field investigations.

 For those in the archaeological consulting business it is no revelation that every effort is made by land owners, developers and public entities (even city governments) to prevent rigorous fieldwork from being done.  In a recent project, a well funded developer planned to build a lake to enhance a development.  The planned lake, dug to about 20 feet below surface, would destroy a registered Native American village site. The Native American assigned to the project by the Heritage Commission attempted to stop the building of the lake by appealing to the city, but was overruled by the Planning Commission.  The archaeologist in charge suggested the location of the lake be changed, but the developer refused.  The archaeologist, faced with an antagonistic developer, gained as much knowledge about the site as possible through intensive monitoring during construction, and by  excavation.  In the end, twenty-three burials were located and recovered as quickly as feasible by very experienced field technicians, the development project schedule was met, but no post-excavation analysis of the burials was allowed.  In addition to the burials, two features were located and excavated--one hearth hand excavated, and a filled-in deep historic well which was excavated using heavy construction excavation equipment.  Had the archaeological consulting company not employed very experienced archaeologists who were well acquainted with the archaeology of the area, and the speed-up tactics of land owners, features and even burials might have been missed during construction excavation monitoring.  In this individual case, the fieldwork was considered satisfactory; but other companies, faced with a client who is only interested in cutting costs might be tempted to hire less experienced personnel at lower wages who might easily miss burials and important features.

  Also, the archaeologist in-charge was very well trained and had 25 years experience, but had the archaeologist less experience in recovery techniques and management of construction crew and developer tactics, the results might have been a disaster.  Ironically, the decision to eliminate analysis of the human remains from the project requirements may have encouraged this developer, and others, to view archaeology as no more than an exercise in burial removal, and to eliminate, even faster, Native American sites or historic sites from their property, and reduce their budgets further.

 Had the archaeologist demanded from the beginning a more thorough study of the site, i.e. more time consuming and expensive, a lower bidder would probably have been selected.  Under CEQA, there are generally agreed upon standards of archaeological performance, but circumstances can often force adjustments to the work with results seriously at variance to those standards.  Archaeologists have been removed from a project by a client, and another archaeologist employed if an archaeologist attempts to expand the scope of work to include excavation and analysis of additional features located during a project.   The usual excuse is that the client is seeking, "a better team player who would be more willing to work within time and budget constraints."

 It seems clear that CEQA, well intentioned as it might be, is very weak and provides little support for the protection of archaeological sites or the collection of archaeological data.  Construction projects such as the one mentioned above have one focus, to be completed with as little expenditure of money as possible--a standard business goal.  The problem is that, in-spite-of the current law, cultural resources are still regarded as an unnecessary expenditure of funds, and so profits are increased by reducing expenditures for cultural resources by any means possible.  The preservation of our heritage requires the support of laws that will obligate developers to accept realistic budgets for the recovery of archaeological data based on agreed upon professional standards.  The enactment of those laws should be our first priority.

Author's biographical sketch

Desmond has taught Anthropology at the University of Minnesota, and Heritage Preservation at San Francisco State University, is a Research Associate with the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, Research Fellow with the Mesoamerican Archive and Research Project at Princeton University, a Research Fellow with the Institute for Minnesota Archaeology and registered with the Society of Professional Archaeologists.   He has on-going archaeological and preservation projects in Mexico, Venice, Italy, and England; and a number of years experience in CRM with governmental and private sector archaeological consulting organizations.