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Historic Preservation

Introduction

Cultural resources are non-renewable parts of our environment. Once a site is destroyed, it is lost forever. The importance of cultural resources to preserving our national heritage has been recognized by all levels of government in the United States and around the world. The unprecedented destruction of these significant resources during periods of rapid development after World War II prompted national initiatives to preserve important prehistoric and historic sites and structures. Even archaeologists recognize that the act of excavation destroys a site. That is why specialized training in ways to conserve and protect artifacts, sites, and structures is an important part of the ethical training of all archaeologists. Adherence to standards and acceptance of ethics are ways archaeologists “police” themselves and

The unprecedented destruction of these significant resources during periods of rapid development after World War II prompted national initiatives to preserve important prehistoric and historic sites and structures. Even archaeologists recognize that the act of excavation destroys a site. That is why specialized training in ways to conserve and protect artifacts, sites, and structures is an important part of the ethical training of all archaeologists. Adherence to standards and acceptance of ethics are ways archaeologists “police” themselves and ensure that fragile cultural resources are not wastefully excavated or irresponsibly destroyed.1

Archaeological Method

Archaeology is one of the major disciplines associated with CRM investigations; history, architecture, geology, and Native American studies are some other common fields used in CRM. Archaeology is a social science and one of the four subdisciplines in anthropology. Archaeologists study artifacts and other evidence in (and on) the ground to identify sites and interpret human behavior covering hundreds and thousands of years. Archaeology uses a variety of methods to locate sites and to analyze cultural material. The results of these scientific studies yield clues about the past that cannot be gleaned from other sources, such as written histories. Archaeological sites are sometimes the only remaining traces of the earliest inhabitants of New York State.

The sites found in the Northeastern U.S. are not like those depicted in the movies. They do not involve massive temples and stone structures. Rather, most archaeological traces are invisible to the passerby, buried in fields, or hidden under asphalt. We know that the prehistoric and early historic peoples in New York State lived in structures that were relatively small; these dwellings were usually constructed of wood and bark, the types of materials that do not last long in our wet, acidic soils. For most of the prehistoric past, people lived in camps and they moved these camps as the seasons changed, leaving behind varying amounts of debris, broken tools, and features. With the start of farming in this region, around A.D. 800, people began to live year-round in the same general area. It was not until European settlers arrived that people began erecting stone and wood frame structures, many with outbuildings, such as barns. Construction of roads, canals, railroads, and clusters of houses offer more visible signs of past occupations. Archaeologists must be well trained in their field and use the best methods available to locate these traces of the past that are no longer standing.2

Eligibility

The following criteria are used to evaluate properties for listing on the New York State and National Registers of Historic Places.3

The quality of significance in American history, architecture, archeology, engineering, and culture is present in districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects that possess integrity of location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling, and association, and:

Historic-Preservation-Guide-830x1024 Historic Preservation Jeremy Dennis On This Site

Flowchart describing the steps taken to preserve an archaeological site.

 

  • that are associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of our history; or
  • that are associated with the lives of persons significant in our past; or
  • that embody the distinctive characteristics of a type, period, or method of construction, or that represent the work of a master, or that possess high artistic values, or that represent a significant distinguishable entity whose components may lack individual distinction; or
  • that have yielded, or may be likely to yield, information important in prehistory or history.

Cultural resources are the collective evidence of the past activities and accomplishments of people. They include buildings, objects, features, locations, and structures with scientific, historic, and cultural value.” (NYAC, Appendix D). Cultural resource management refers to the processes and procedures for the identification, evaluation, mitigation, and conservation of significant sites and structures. CRM is grounded in federal and state laws governing historic preservation. A corresponding set of federal and state regulations spell out the general process and procedures for managing cultural resources. 2

 

 

  1. The New York State Archaeological Council, Cultural Resource Standards Handbook, 2000 pp. 5
  2. The New York State Archaeological Council, Cultural Resource Standards Handbook, 2000 pp. 8
  3.  http://nysparks.com/shpo/national-register/
  4. The New York State Archaeological Council, Cultural Resource Standards Handbook, 2000 pp. 8

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