Sunday, February 23, 2014

Don’t Scorn the Colander

You can’t always get what you want…
But if you try sometime, you just might find
That you get what you need.
                                The Rolling Stones

One of the most striking images I’ve seen from the barricades in Kiev was of a beefy middle-aged protester wearing a colander on his head.  Not much protection from an AK47 round, I thought, but it might deflect a mis-thrown rock or even a grenade.

I was reminded of the colander-armored man yesterday when I fell into Facebook conversations with two archaeologists employed by Indian tribes.  Both were distressed and depressed by the fact that Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act doesn’t afford absolute protection to historic places.  One of them was sadly misinformed about what Section 106 DOES afford – misled by the deeply irresponsible and flatly wrong book Practicing Archaeology by Neuman and Sanford – but both seemed to feel that since the law didn’t give them the absolute authority to stop projects that they or their tribes thought too damaging, there was simply no reason to invoke it or insist on compliance with its regulations.

So throw away your colander, rebel.  Go to the barricades buck-ass naked.  That makes a lot of sense.

There are good public-policy reasons that Section 106 doesn’t prohibit the destruction of historic places, but even if you think it should, it’s flat-out stupid to ignore it, or buy into lazy, mindless, self-interested interpretations like those in Practicing Archaeology, just because it doesn’t give you everything you want.

Section 106 prescribes a process of consultation, which at its best becomes one of negotiation, which ought to lead to responsible compromise solutions to development/preservation conflicts.  Participate in it knowledgeably and you just might find that you get – if not all you want, at least what you need.  Throw away your colander and you’re likely to get beaned by a flying brick before anyone even has the chance to shoot you.

Friday, February 21, 2014

In a Bookstore Near You

Consultation and Cultural Heritage: Let Us Reason Together -- the new book by Claudia Nissley and me on the nuts and bolts of consultation under laws like Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act -- has emerged from the printer and is available from major booksellers and especially from its publisher,  Left Coast Press -- See

Let Us Reason is built around the definition of "consultation" found in the Section 106 regulations of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, but it tries to generalize so as to be relevant to any consultation, anywhere in the world, under any environmental, historic preservation, cultural heritage, or planning law or no law at all.

All too often, "consultation" about cultural heritage and environmental impacts is reduced to pro-forma exercises like public hearings, comments on documents, and the like, in which maybe people excercise freedom of speech, but nobody's obligated to do anything about what they say.  Consultation ought to be a two-way street, a discussion, an argument, a reasoned discourse leading to some kind of conclusion that everyone feels was fairly reached.  That seems pretty simple and obvious, but it's remarkable how seldom consultation about government decision-making seems to work that way.

Our book doesn't offer any earth-shaking insights, but we hope it will remind people of some very basic principles that most of us learn as children but sadly seem to forget when we become adult bureaucrats and consultants.  We think it will be useful to professionals involved in cultural heritage work, environmental impact assessment, and land use planning, as well as to communities, landowners, indigenous groups, and organizations trying to affect plans for potentially damaging projects.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

A Matter of Attitude

Anyone curious as to how at least the more educated of those Europeans who colonized this continent viewed its natural environment and native inhabitants might want to take a look at William Robertson’s 1777 History of America.  For instance:

The labour and operations of man not only improve and embellish the earth, but render it more wholesome, and friendly to life.  When any region lies neglected and destitute of cultivation, the air stagnates in the woods, putrid exhalations arise from the waters; the surface of the earth, loaded with rank vegetation, feels not the purifying influence of the sun; the malignity of the distempers natural to the climate increases, and new maladies no less noxious are engendered.  Accordingly, all the provinces of America, when first discovered, were found to be remarkably unhealthy (Robertson 1777:Book IV:17).

The colonizers had their work cut out for them – get to work and embellish the continent, render it wholesome and friendly to life.  We can all agree, no doubt, that they were very effective, and we’ve all followed proudly in their footsteps.

Robertson, William

Saturday, February 01, 2014

"Looters or Lovers?"

Today I posted an ancient, unfinished paper on, and have been surprised at how much attention it's getting, in the U.S., the U.K., Peru, and elsewhere.  Here's the 2014 preface I stuck on it to explain:


2014 Preface

In 1989-90, I was engaged as a subcontractor to CEHP Inc., a Washington DC-based consulting firm specializing in environmental and historic preservation work, on a project for the Society for American Archaeology (SAA).  The SAA was engaged in an initiative aimed at gaining an improved understanding of “archaeological looting.”  With funding from the National Park Service (NPS), the SAA engaged CEHP to look into the definition of studies that might be funded to advance the purposes of this initiative.  CEHP asked me to summarize studies already performed and develop recommendations.  I produced a draft report, which I submitted to CEHP, and CEHP submitted to the SAA, in January 1991.
The report was apparently not what the SAA, or perhaps NPS, expected, and the project fizzled to a halt.  The manuscript has languished in my attic ever since, in the form of a single hard copy.  I recently engaged Ms. Kelly Merrifield to re-type it; I am grateful for Kelly’s skillful assistance. 

The report is incomplete, notably in that it lacks a bibliography.  Somewhere in my attic, I think I have a box containing the sources used in the report’s construction, but this has not yet come to light.  The report is also, of course, now almost a quarter-century out of date.  Still, though, I think it contains some useful data – notably summaries of some very obscure gray literature – and that some of its observations and never acted-upon recommendations still merit consideration, with allowance for subsequent developments.  So, for whatever interest it may have, I am taking this opportunity to share it.

If you're interested, here's the paper's URL: