THE INTER-AGENCY ARCHEOLOGICAL SALVAGE PROGRAM
The construction of dams and reservoirs, the stabilizing of river banks, and a host of additional water control and hydroelectric projects are bringing great changes to many of our major river systems. Valleys have been transformed into lakes and meandering streams into controlled channels. The river valleys hold a key to electric power, and the periodic floods that have inundated so many of our cities and towns must be prevented at all costs. Unfortunately, it is precisely along our rivers that much of the record of our Indian forerunners and of our own historic past is to be found.
The Inter-Agency Archeological Salvage Program was organized to preserve and to interpret the paleontological, archeological, and historic remains threatened with destruction by Federal water control and hydroelectric projects. The program is administered by the National Park Service with the advice and active field participation of the Smithsonian Institution. Federal funds provide support for much of the work, but state, local, and even private contributions have been used.
The excavation and recording of historic and prehistoric sites is but one aspect of the program. The material objects recovered, artifacts, such as arrow points, pottery, military insignia, and the like are preserved in the National Museum, in specialized museums of the National Park Service, or in the repositories of the participating states. Here, they are reminders of the pastpublic property, equally available to all.
There is still another consideration, and, in the long run, a more important one. Artifacts are not gathered for their own sake. It is true that many of them, even the most commonplace things of a century past, are interesting in themselves, but the archeologist and the historian see them in a very different light. Artifacts are tools, tools that can be used to amplify the written history of books and recordstools that can be used to write history where no written history exists. This is the ultimate purpose of the program, to extend man's knowledge of himselfto interpret the past, making it meaningful for today.
The Inter-Agency Archeological Salvage Program operates over the entire United States. Its basic stimulus is provided by the Committee for the Recovery of Archaeological Remains, an independent group of private citizens composed of representatives of the Society for American Archaeology, the American Anthropological Association, and the American Council of Learned Societies. The committee was formed in response to the threatened destruction of important paleontological, archeological, and historic sites by public construction projects within the United States. The National Park Service, in conjunction with the Smithsonian Institution, agreed to administer the program on a national scale. Actual field investigations are carried out by units of the Smithsonian Institution and by a large group of state and private agencies. The Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation have provided support from the beginning. Without their recognition of the peculiar archeological and historical problems involved, the salvage effort would have been impossible.
Despite setbacks and temporary retrenchments, the program has been highly successful. Paleontological, archeological, and historic sites have been destroyed by the construction of dams and the flooding of reservoirs, but this has not been a total disaster. Archeological research in particular has received an important stimulus. The construction programs have made possible a comprehensive, integrated program of archeological work, which would not have been practical under ordinary circumstances. No single institution or foundation could have borne the burden alone.
Although irreparable losses have occurred, this has been inevitable since even under ideal conditions it would never have been possible to excavate every site of importance. An effort has been made, however, to secure a sample from the remains represented in each endangered area. This has resulted in the accumulation of a vast amount of information helping to clarify the story of the aboriginal peoples of North America. The salvage program has been a particularly successful effort aimed at the reconstruction of important parts of the American past.
National Park Service
COOPERATING FEDERAL AGENCIES
COOPERATING STATE AND LOCAL AGENCIES
Last Updated: 08-Sep-2008