Archaeology on a Shoe-String in the District of Columbia: An Introduction to the DC Historic Preservation Office

The District of Columbia is a strange political entity and our unique status has unexpected effects on local archaeology. But that makes it a perfect place to focus on the upcoming 50th anniversary of the National Historical Preservation Act (NHPA) of 1966 and the 100th anniversary of the creation of the National Park Service (NPS) in 1916, to be commemorated at the #SHA2016 conference. Why? Because Washington is a “special” federal enclave rather than a state and many District affairs are subject to federal laws. The District has a State Historic Preservation Office, or SHPO, that was established by, and is annually funded as a result of the NHPA regulations. The federal government owns 21.6% of the land in the District, so one-fifth of our land mass is directly subject to Section 106 of the NHPA. And 17% of District land is managed by NPS, making them a major partner in many archaeological projects.

Washington, D.C. is also a residential city with numerous historic districts and its own preservation laws, and procedures. The SHPO also serves as the “local” Historic Preservation Office (DC HPO). The District has a rich cultural history that began long before it was chosen for the nation’s capital which includes both prehistoric and colonial resources. In recent years we’ve seen an explosion of development that has led to dozens of city-funded archaeological surveys in addition to the ones conducted for federal projects. The bulk of these local projects were on city park and school properties, which comprise some of our largest non-federal open spaces. Among the sites identified are significant prehistoric camps and quarries, Civil War-era military and contraband camps, antebellum estates and tenant farms, former cemeteries, and urban row houses and alley dwellings. Archaeology offers a unique perspective – and sometimes the only material evidence — on events that were often ignored or overlooked in documentary sources. As the city’s Archaeology Team, we operate at both the federal and city levels, consulting with agencies on project concepts to ensure locations that merit survey are identified early on in the planning process, reviewing survey work plans, and commenting on draft technical reports. We are also responsible for maintaining and managing the archaeological collections, all paper and digital records, the site files, our Geographic Information System (GIS), and the archaeological survey report library. Any outreach, and education we get to conduct is pure “gravy!” Our efforts are somewhatconstrained because Chardé Reid, the assistant archaeologist, is a limited-term contract. Despite the challenges, we have forged a public outreach program on a shoestring! We have developed strategic partnerships with a variety of groups, and rely on the contributions of our graduate student interns and volunteers. Stipends are sometimes available for our interns, but the real payoff for them is the experience in a SHPO, and mentoring as they enter the job market.

Archaeology has quite a bit of community support in the District and Washingtonians turn out at our events, tune in to radio shows, and email us all the time! Mitchell Park is a great example of this. The park is located on the site of a large farm-house built by Anthony Holmead in 1795, and is a National Register-listed property. When a neighborhood group, Friends of Mitchell Park, raised funds to renovate and improve the park, they also funded an archaeological investigation of the Holmead House site. Community members now serve as site guardians and vigilantly protect the resource, which remains buried beneath their feet. Community support for archaeology may be tied to other concerns, as when groups attempt to use site preservation as a tactic to impede development even before any investigations occur. This is a tricky line for us to walk, since we promote an archaeological preservation ethic, but we also need to be sensitive to public benefits of development. We can’t short-circuit the review process to appease one constituent, because there are many competing needs and perspectives.

We do as much public outreach as possible given all our other responsibilities and limited staff. As the city grows and our demographics change, it becomes increasingly important for residents (especially young people) to understand the city’s history, diversity, and unique neighborhoods. We talk to schools, clubs, community history and heritage groups, and at neighborhood libraries, and we bring along displays and artifacts from our collections. Student interns are a big part of these outreach events and often plan and program them. We have gained the most ground by partnering with local non-profits, such as Archaeology in the Community. They have the capacity to organize annual events like Archaeology Day (in October) and Day of Archaeology (in July). Even NPS has gotten involved at the local level by starting a summer Urban Archaeology Corps program comprising District high school through college-age youth, who learn about local history, archaeology, and NPS careers. While few UAC participants plan to study archaeology, their feedback indicates they like learning about their neighborhood history and regret not getting more of it in school.

The lens of archaeology is our tool for providing alternative perspectives on the District’s long and diverse history. We have the ability to look at groups often overlooked by more traditional history. The lens, while powerful, requires that some remnants of the past remain in the ground. Therefore, continued protection and management of archaeological resources are needed. But our efforts also need support from an educated and empowered public, who embrace and advocate for archaeology because they believe it enriches historical narratives. Identification and preservation of archaeological resources is best done by concerted efforts of preservation partners at every level, including Federal, District, and neighborhood entities. We look forward to engaging more groups as we increase our outreach capacity and visibility through our limited – but successful — “shoestring” efforts.

Chardé Reid, Assistant City Archaeologist, DC Historic Preservation Office

Lois Berkowitz, volunteer at the DC Historic Preservation Office

Ruth Trocolli, City Archaeologist, DC Historic Preservation Office

Photo cred: Jason Hornick.

 


Recommended Links

http://planning.dc.gov/historicpreservation

http://planning.dc.gov/page/archaeology-district-columbia

http://planning.dc.gov/publication/2016-district-columbia-historic-preservation-plan

http://tiny.cc/ArchyTour

http://www.nps.gov/rap/

http://www.nps.gov/rap/archeology/spotlight_ROCR.htmhttp://www.mitchellparkdc.org/history.html

http://www.archaeologyincommunity.com/

http://groundworkdc.org/programs/urban-archeology-corps/

http://ncptt.nps.gov/blog/nps-archeology-program-urban-archeology-corps/

http://www.maacmidatlanticarchaeology.org/

An invitation to participate in Military Archaeological Resources Stewardship

Whenever I meet someone for the first time, inevitably the question of what I do for a living comes up. When I tell them that I work for the U.S. Army as a Federal Archaeologist I am usually asked the question “why would the U.S. Army need an archaeologist?” My mischievous side usually comes out at this point and I respond with an outlandish tale about how the government is embarking upon a daring new counterinsurgency program where they are trying to acquire the lost Ark of the Covenant before our enemies find it and use it against us. After a puzzled look, the eventual recognition of the reworked plot line and, finally, the overwhelming realization that I’m being facetious, I explain to them what section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act is and that the Department of Defense (DoD) has a very robust cultural resources program, managing over 111,000 archaeological sites on 25 million acres. While it’s not as romantic or adventurous as the Indiana Jonesesque tale, most find what I do interesting and can tell that I absolutely love my job.

The DoD cultural resources program seems to be one of those well kept secrets that the CIA could take a lesson from, as I am often surprised to find that there are archaeologists that do not know that we exist. Archaeology students and professors, alike, are often times shocked to discover that many military installations have artifact curation facilities, with collections representing sites from numerous types of contexts ranging from Paleo-Indian to 20th century historic occupations. And they are even more surprised to find that installation archaeologists are more than willing to open those collections to other archaeologists for study and, on some occasions, provide funding to help facilitate the research. If you just so happen to be a student looking for a topic for your master’s thesis or doctoral dissertation, contacting the cultural resources manager at your nearest military installation may be worth considering.

My job can be multifaceted and I am even surprised by the range of opportunities that I have available to me. For instance, the U.S. Army provided me the opportunity to attend the Leicester meeting in January, along with my colleague, Chris McDaid (Cultural Resources Manager with joint base Langley/Fort Eustis, VA) to conduct a workshop entitled “An Introduction to Cultural Property Protection of Historical and Post-Medieval Archaeological Sites during Military Operations” highlighting the U.S. Military’s own heritage management programs, the international framework for cultural property protection, how archaeologists can communicate information to military planners effectively, and reviews of several case studies involving military operations and cultural property protection. This is a topic that has become near and dear to me. The issue began long before I entered employment with the U.S. Army and encompasses much more than the section 106 process.

During the first year of the Iraq War it became apparent that the U.S. Military was unaware of the archaeological sensitivity of the environment in which they were operating. After several set backs on the military’s part, many concerned DoD archaeologists stepped up, led by my colleague here at Fort Drum, Dr. Laurie Rush, to provide guidance on protecting cultural property while conducting military operations overseas. The turning point came in March of 2009 when the United States Government deposited the instruments of ratification for the 1954 Hague Convention on the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict with the U.N. beginning a new chapter in the Department of Defense’s cultural heritage protection. This new mandate, however, has yet to be fully implemented since the military hierarchy is still trying to determine the best way to proceed. Unfortunately, the wheels of government turn slowly. Regardless, there has been a small grass root like effort, on the part of those same concerned DoD archaeologists, to organize a group to take the lead on issues and initiatives that will, in the long run, assist in implementing the Convention. This group is known as the Combatant Command Cultural Heritage Action Group (CCHAG), of which I am a proud participant. To find more information on the CCHAG please visit the website at www.cchag.org.

The protection of cultural property during military operations presents a particular challenge. Unlike the Department of Defense’s domestic cultural resources management program, the military cannot survey every place overseas where such operations take place. There simply is neither enough time nor resources to do so. For example, when the earth quake struck Haiti on January 12, 2010, the U.S. military deployed units in the humanitarian effort that followed. The response was quick and effective. While there was no damage to Haitian cultural property by U.S. Military forces, the fact remains there was no time for a section 106 like process to proceed before humanitarian relief efforts, debris removal, and reconstruction could begin. So what is to be done to prevent inadvertent damage from occurring in the future?

There is a solution. First, our fighting men and women need to be made aware of this issue. Training at every level is needed. Currently, several training modules are being introduced at the Training and Doctrination Command (TRADOC) to teach enlisted soldiers about cultural property. However, the upper echelon needs to be indoctrinated into these concerns as well. Currently, curricula for Commanding General Staff College and the War College have been developed and implementation will begin soon. However, Cultural Property Protection during military operations, like all legal and ethical obligations, should be inculcated in our military leadership from the very beginning of their careers. For this we need YOUR help.

You read this correctly, I am asking for your help. The CCHAG is calling for experts with research experience from all over the world to teach ROTC cadets and midshipmen about the importance of Cultural Property Protection (CPP) in conflict areas and during disaster response missions. The goal of the course is to incorporate CPP into university-based ROTC programs, demonstrating its intrinsic value and its relevance in a military context. We are asking archaeologists and related professionals to volunteer their time for students in a local ROTC program, to present a pre-packaged lecture supplemented by personal expertise, experiences, and anecdotes. You may request this material by sending me an email at Duane.Quates@us.army.mil and you will receive, via mail, a flash drive with the lecture materials stored on it.

The second part of the solution involves getting site location information into the hands of military planners. The CCHAG has been working on this problem and are aware of the challenges. However, the solution calls for subject matter experts (SME) willing to share their knowledge with us. This became abundantly clear just prior to the U.S. led NATO air strikes in Libya in early 2011. When it became apparent that these strikes were to take place, the U.S. Committee on the Blue Shield contacted specialists in Libyan archaeology concerned with the potential destruction of archaeological sites. Within 36 hours of President Obama’s announcement of U.S. involvement, the Defense Intelligence Agency had a list of archaeologically sensitive locations, which was then shared with U.S. and NATO targeteers as a “No Strike” list. These locations were spared during the NATO bombardment that followed. This success would not have been possible without the help of the various committees on the Blue Shield, the U.S. State Department, and most importantly, academic archaeologist willing to share this information. Please see http://blueshield.de/libya2-media.html

The CCHAG recognizes that this is a successful model that can be duplicated in the future. However this requires that we coordinate with SMEs. The CCHAG believes the best way to identify these individuals is through the various professional archaeological societies. Therefore, we have approached the Archaeological Institute of America and they have responded by forming the Cultural Heritage by AIA Military Panel or CHAMP, which is dedicated to improving awareness among deploying military personnel regarding the culture and history of local communities in host countries and war zones. Furthermore, the Society for American Archaeology has responded with the formation of the Military Archaeological Resources Stewardship interest group or MARS, of which I now serve as the chairperson. This group’s goals are simple: to create and facilitate a dialogue between DoD archaeologists and the academy. Being an historic archaeologist I felt that it was natural for this group to reach out to the Society for Historical Archaeology. My goal is for MARS to sponsor symposia, forums, field trips and workshops with the SAA and I hope to do the same with the SHA.

I invite you to participate in this important endeavor. Contact me! Or at the very least, look for me, MARS, and the CCHAG at the next SHA meeting in Quebec. Hopefully, Chris McDaid and I will be there conducting a similar workshop and, perhaps, a sponsored symposia with a few of our colleagues. If you see me, stop me and ask; I would love to talk with you … archaeologist to archaeologist.