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From the President: 1906: A Remarkable Year for Archaeology Volume 59 Number 1, January/February 2006
by Jane C. Waldbaum

Celebrating the anniversary of two important acts of Congress

[image]Hovenweep Castle was protected when President Warren G. Harding created Hovenweep National Monument in 1923. On the Utah-Colorado border, the monument has many ancestral Puebloan structures, most built between A.D. 1200 and 1300. (National Park Service Photo) [LARGER IMAGE]

This year marks the centennial of two significant acts in the history of American archaeology: in 1906 Congress passed the American Antiquities Act, the first major piece of legislation aimed at protecting and preserving archaeological sites and artifacts on federal lands; and two months later the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) was chartered by a special act of Congress. The charter defined the then 27-year-old AIA as "a body corporate and politic...for the purpose of promoting archaeological studies by investigation and research in the United States and foreign countries...." President Theodore Roosevelt, one of the greatest conservationist presidents in American history, signed both acts into law. They are intertwined in the early history of efforts to professionalize the practice of archaeology in the U.S. and to shift the focus of the discipline away from antiquarian collecting toward scientific excavation, promotion of knowledge gained from excavation, and responsible curation of finds, all for the benefit of the American public.

According to Francis P. McManamon, chief archaeologist of the National Park Service and consulting archaeologist with the Department of the Interior, the Antiquities Act made it U.S. policy that "archeological sites are most valuable for the information they contain or their commemorative associations, not as commercial resources like timber or minerals that have primarily monetary value."

From 1882, when the Antiquities Act was first proposed, until it finally became law 24 years later, a familiar debate between public and private interests played out. But it took a generation and a long fight championing the educational and scientific uses of archaeological sites against the commercial interests of developers and collectors before the bill was passed. In 1904, the AIA formed the Committee on the Preservation of the Ruins of American Antiquity with representatives from each of its then 17 local societies, and, working together with the newly founded American Anthropological Association and others, was active in drafting and promoting the bill that became the Antiquities Act. Ronald F. Lee, in his 1970 history of the creation of the act, notes that "by granting this (AIA) charter in 1906, Congress recognized the importance of citizen participation in archaeological programs."

The Antiquities Act has had a lasting impact on national policy, resulting in the preservation of many archaeological and historic sites such as Chaco Canyon and Fort Sumter National Monuments. It also served as the foundation for later antiquities laws such as the Archaeological and Historic Preservation Act (1974), Archaeological Resources Protection Act (1979), and National Historic Preservation Act (1966). And since 1906, the AIA, with help from readers like you, has continued and broadened its efforts to preserve and protect archaeological resources both in the U.S. and abroad and will continue to speak out on behalf of the world's archaeological heritage.

Jane C. Waldbaum is the president of the Archaeological Institute of America.

* See all letters from Jane C. Waldbaum and past president Nancy C. Wilkie.

More on the 1906 Antiquities Act
* An Act for the Preservation of American Antiquities (full text of act)
* "A Visionary Act," Online Feature, March 20, 2006
* "A Century of Debate," Book Review, March 16, 2006
* "Antiquities Act Centennial," Website Review, March 14, 2006

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© 2006 by the Archaeological Institute of America