World Archaeology

Coastal (Geo)Archaeology on my Mind

Human occupation and coastlines have a long, but not very well-understood history. Global sea level has fallen and subsequently risen by over 120m during the last glacial cycle (~132,000 years), driven by fluctuations of the masses of ice sheets. These changing coastal landscapes have produced, or take away, opportunities for humans to exploit the resources they offer. In early prehistory, the use of coastal resources has been argued to have facilitated the dispersal of hominins out of Africa and across the globe and/or aided the development of fully modern human brains and behaviours, as well as providing resources to support specialised, marine-focussed ways of life in later prehistory. Coastal archaeology is therefore at the forefront of some of archaeology’s ‘Big Questions’. Yet it’s not just about understanding the past – studies of past sea level change, and the location and survey of ‘benchmarks’ left by these sea levels, helps us to better predict how, in a world of rising seas, the hundreds of millions of people who live along coastlines will be impacted in the coming decades.

The Greek Islands. Someone has to work there… Photo: R. Inglis.

My month has been decidedly more coastal than usual in theme, and not just because I’m pining after my recent holiday in Western Australia. Working backwards from today, this week I have been analysing sediments from excavations at a Neanderthal cave site on one of the Ionian Islands, Greece. During periods of low sea level, the area around the island would have been very different, with lagoons and wetlands and all the marine resources they would have contained in the area now covered by sea. Investigations on land and underwater are being carried out in order to understand more about how the landscape changed over time, and how this affected the humans and Neanderthals who left archaeology within it.

After a week making thin sections of some of the sediments (#TBT my 2016 DoA post on how and why to make thin sections), I’ve been running particle size analysis on the sediments from the cave in order to learn more about how these sediments got to where they did, and how these site formation processes impacted the archaeology within them. Of course, things are never straightforward, and getting the stony clay samples sieved and prepared for analysis was about as pleasant as excavating through them had been, involving wet sieving, muck, and ovens – I may even have to change tack and restart the whole thing. So to be honest, I’m not in the mood to talk more about them just yet…thank goodness it’s Friday!

Sediments on their way to becoming the worst brownies ever baked – in the oven overnight at 110ºC. Photo: R. Inglis.

The Mastersizer in motion! The particle size distribution curve, showing the number of particles in each size class can be see on the graph on the screen. Photo: R. Inglis.

Also in the batch were more straightforward sandy samples (though obviously not THAT straightforward, this is applied science…) from southwest Saudi Arabia, the study area for my current project, SURFACE. With these sediments, taken from a fossil beach and dune complex that formed during a period of higher sea level (Dhahaban Quarry – learn more here), I was using Particle Size Analysis (PSA) to distinguish between shallow marine sediments and the windblown dune sediments – the transition from one to the other would mark the highest point of past sea level, thus providing a sea level ‘benchmark’. It worked after a fashion – the aeolian sediments appear to be ‘well-sorted’ e.g. all one size class, what you’d expect from a dune, and the muddy lagoonal sediments were, well, a muddy mix of all particle sizes. Still more work to be done, but it’s encouraging!

Shallow marine sediments at Dhahaban Quarry, now approximately 5m above sea level. The holes are for samples taken for optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) dating. Photo: R. Inglis.

Away from the lab, and the muck, and the clay (which actually maybe predominantly fine silt – who knew!), coasts still dominate my to-do list. I’m wrestling with reviewer revisions on a book chapter presenting the field survey of the coral and marine terraces that are along the coastline of the volcanic Harrat Al Birk, SW Saudi Arabia, including the Dhahaban Quarry site, which we undertook in December 2014. Through this detailed survey of the marine terraces, and future dating of the corals that are found within them, we will learn more about the position of the past coastline that created them. This has geological implications for understanding the opening of the Red Sea Rift, (which is pushing its western and eastern coastlines up and out), helps us to place the archaeology we find on land in its relationship to the sea and potential use of coastal resources, and is another data point to underpin future sea level predictions.

The final piece of coastal news this week is the publication, after a looong process, of a paper by the MEDFLOOD community, which takes a long-term view of sea level change and human occupation and use of coastal regions in the Mediterranean (the last 132,000 years). It’s chock-full of methodological data on measuring sea level, evidence for the use of coastal resources by Neanderthals and humans up to the historic period, and areas in which new research, both underwater and on land, needs to be undertaken. A superb effort to bring together this diverse group of researchers with different approaches.

MEDFLOOD meetings are always held in challenging locations, such as the Northern Adriatic, close to Venice. Photo: R. Inglis.

So there you have it. From very challenging lab work to writing to that sweet feeling of seeing a paper finally published, almost the full cycle of coastal research. I’ll wind up this post by wishing you a happy Day of Archaeology 2017, and leave you with this thought from Coastal Archaeologist extraordinaire Prof. Geoff Bailey (tweeted to the world by MEDFLOOD’s Dr Alessio Rovere):


Finding Fantastically Fancy Things in Urban Christchurch, New Zealand.

Here in Christchurch, we have the rare opportunity of being able to uncover a large proportion of the archaeology that lies beneath our city over a very short period of time. The devastating earthquakes that occurred in 2010 and 2011 caused structural damage to many properties in the Christchurch Central City and surrounds, and Underground Overground Archaeology has been on the front lines recording our city’s heritage since the occurrence of these tragic events. Christchurch has been inhabited by European settlers since 1850 and long before this time by Maori (the indigenous inhabitants of New Zealand), and we are constantly finding archaeological evidence pertaining to the daily lives of our Maori and European colonial ancestors during the repair and reconstruction of our buildings and infrastructure.


On previous Days Of Archaeology, we’ve offered a glimpse into our individual daily archaeological tasks and the best and brightest of our archaeological escapades can be found on our company blog and Facebook page. But for today’s celebrations, we thought we’d do something a little different and go for a more in-depth look at one of our central city construction sites, particularly the journey of how a single artefact is processed – from initial onsite discovery through to storage.


In the shadow of our city’s landmark (Christchurch Cathedral – which is currently looking worse for wear), the Christchurch Convention Centre construction project will soon erect a shiny new hub of activity in the central city. The site on which the center is being built was once the location of not one, but two consecutively occupied fancy goods stores, which carried luxury commodities imported from the European continent.


At the Convention Centre site, Angel (one of our archaeologists), monitors the excavation of a 19th century well, as it’s carefully uncovered by a mechanical excavator. Christchurch Cathedral is visible in the background. Photo: Hamish Williams.


Very carefully uncovered! Photo: Angel Trendafilov.


These things are often a two-man job! Photo: Hamish Williams.


The site of these luxury goods stores offers an exceptional chance to get a taste of how the upper-crust of Christchurch can been seen through their material culture. Disastrously for the proprietors (but opportunistic for us), the second store (Messrs. A. Dallas And Co. Auctioneers), suffered extensive stock loss during a fire in 1885. Much of their fire and water damaged stock was sold cheaply, the remainder was thrown out (probably on site), and the building was subsequently torn down. This kind of onsite refuse disposal was common in 19th century Christchurch, despite implementation of first council rubbish collection service in the 1860s! Go figure! An advertisement in a local newspaper describes some of the stock that was sold at auction, the most amusing, albeit confusing, of which is listed as “handsome walnut whatnots”. In any case, there seems to have been many a bargain to be had on auction day.

The auction listing from an 1885 issue of the Press newspaper. Image: Press 1885.


Fancy some fancy finds? Photo: Angel Trendafilov.


One particularly exciting find was this glass vase which you can see Angel uncovering in a rubbish pit.


Glass vase being carefully excavated in the foreground. Archaeologist sold separately. Photo: Hamish Williams.


Up close and personal: Photo: Angel Trendafilov.


Having carefully removed the many fragments of this vessel from the in situ rubbish deposit, Angel transported the material from the site in bags labelled with the location and stratigraphic layer details (provenance), describing where it was found on the site. On arrival to the Underground Overground Archaeology laboratory, dirt was carefully removed with a brush, as to not unwittingly eliminate any of the fine gilt decoration on the body of the vase.


Bringing back the lustre of the dirty artefact. Photo: Jessie Garland.


Now for the fun part of every artefact analyst’s day! This artefact came back from site in over a hundred fragments – so, to determine what shape and form it originally took, we had to piece it back together, a bit like a three-dimensional historical jigsaw puzzle. Check out how we did it… Note – reconstruction took a lot longer in real life. If only it were this easy!


Piece by glorious piece!


Having pieced this unusual beauty back together, our artefact expert determined that it was a decorative pedestal vase, like the one featured below. Figuring out exactly what it was took a combination of guesswork, random Google searches, flipping through all of the books of the shelf, a lucky break and a tiny bit of actual expertise… It’s not as easy as you might think to figure out the specific name for something when you only know what it looks like – on top of which, as it turns out, people didn’t use the same names for things in the 19th century as they do now (not that we’re complaining – that moment when you do actually find the thing you’re looking for is one of the best parts of the job!).


Our research determined that these lustre vases were primarily used as mantle and table decorations, and had hanging cut glass prisms which would have sparkled in the sunshine. Those with one row of prisms were more common, while the double hung prisms were rarer and usually costlier (meaning, that ours was fancy enough for a fancy goods store, but maybe not so fancy) As far as we know, no example of a vase like this has ever been found at an 19th century archaeological site in Christchurch, so this ‘handsome’ piece would definitely have fancied-up any Victorian reception room! The smoking gun in the identification of this vessel type was the tiny drilled holes in the glass and the associated copper hooks from which these prisms would have hung.


A fragment of the vase showing copper hooks. Photo: Chelsea Dickson


Lusters are believed to have first been produced in the British Isles and New England, and many varieties of colour and design existed in this artefact form. Red glass is thought to have been the most popular shade, making our clear glass example slightly rarer. The aesthetically pleasing nature and the variation in this artefact form makes them popular among collectors, and it has been said that it was considered the height of elegant living to own at least one pair of lusters during the Victorian era.


Left: our fragmented, but reconstructed vase. Right: a complete example of a similar style pedestal vase, otherwise known as a mantle lustre. Photo: Jessie Garland.


Having identified the artefact, one of our analysts, Jessie, catalogued and photographed the vessel, then stored it safely in acid-free tissue paper to protect the delicate gilt decoration. We often find gilt decorated ceramic vessels in our 19th century artefact assemblages, but it is less commonly seen on glassware, as the gilt doesn’t preserve as well on the smoother glass surfaces.


Jessie doing her artefact analysis thing! Note: our desks are messy because we are SO busy! Photo: Chelsea Dickson.


Lastly, storage! Our artefacts are boxed up, labelled and stored, until our associated archaeological reports are accepted by the governing heritage body in New Zealand (Heritage New Zealand). When we are given the go ahead, we can then find a new home for the artefacts, be that with the landowner, in a museum or research facility. Our clients also receive a copy of our archaeological reports so they can better understand the fantastic history of their sections of land, and these reports can also be made available to the public upon request to Heritage New Zealand.


Just some of the many, MANY, artefact boxes!


These boxes contain a couple more interesting Convention Centre artefacts that might tickle your fancy! Photo: Jessie Garland.


We hope you’ve enjoyed our fancy, fun-filled archaeology day as much as we have! Until next year!


The End #worldinterview #21

I hope you all enjoyed following this global interview about archaeology. There’s a lot to talk about! Find me on @James__Dixon to discuss anything arising, or use the comment space at the bottom here.

A few acknowledgements to end.

Firstly, thank you to everyone who answered and/or asked questions. I hope you have good conversations on the back of this project.

Thank you to Anni Cook, Mark Horton, Alasdair Brooks, Nigel Hetherington, Emily Glass, Esther Breithoff, Cornelius Holtorf, Paul Montgomery, Odlanyer Hernández de Lara, Nevila Molla and Ágústa Edwald Maxwell for giving their time to help find interviewees, whether ultimately successful or not!

Thank you to Eduardo Escalante, Artur Henrique Franco Barcelos, Sally MacLennan and Arbër Kadia who stepped in at short notice to fill gaps left by others who were no longer able to take part.

Thank you to Lorna Richardson and the Day of Archaeology crew for letting me do this. It feels a bit like hijacking Day of Archaeology, but hopefully it won’t look it among the hundreds of other posts.

Thank you for reading!

James Dixon, London, UK


Neanderthals on Naxos, Greece?

Hi there, thanks for tuning in!

What a cool event and initiative this is – it’s always fascinating to engage with the field of archaeology and see what kinds of great research is being done all around the globe. That being said, we should introduce ourselves.

Our 2016 Team

We’re the Stélida Naxos Archaeological Project (aka SNAP), a team digging away on the beautiful island of Naxos, Greece. Not the worst place to dig in the world, that’s for sure… We dig on a hill called Stélida on the West side of the island:

And although we’ve just very recently finished our 5th working season (our 3rd excavation season after 2 years of surveying), we definitely didn’t want to miss out on Day of Archaeology 2017!

Our 2017 Team

So, what are we about?

SNAP is a geo-archaeological excavation of a chert source (chert is a type of rock). We say geo-archaeological because we borrow methods from the Earth Sciences (like geology) in order to help solve archaeological problems.

This site is associated with early prehistoric stone tool workshops—places where what we call lithics were created. So it’s quite different from the traditional archaeology we see in this area of Greece, which usually include things like figurines and ceramics. Stélida was first used as far back as 260,000 years ago, with some of its early visitors likely including Neanderthals. Awesome, right?

But wait for it: what’s more awesome is that, if we’re right about Neanderthals having been on this island more than 200,000 years ago, it means that it very much predates the popular idea that the region was only colonized by early farmers arriving about 9,000 years ago.

Would it mean that Neanderthals could have gotten here on boats?

This is an exciting time to be working on the earliest history of human activity in the Aegean. We hope to conduct a detailed survey and excavation of Stélida because it has the potential to teach us a lot about the earlier prehistoric Cyclades, specifically how early humans and Neanderthals moved around this region.


A Day On the Dig

Digging on a beautiful Greek island is nothing short of fantastic.

The sights and sounds from the moment you wake up are vibrant and lively. We also owe it to the wonderful village of Vivlos for giving us a place to call home when we’re not digging up on Stélida. Instead of writing about it here, we’ve got a cool video on what an average day on the dig looks like, starting from the 5am wake-ups:

And then the rest of it captured in this cool Instagram story:


Ask Us Anything

In an effort to make our work more dialogical, we decided to open up the floor for questions from our followers and viewers from all over the world.

This season, we answered all of the brilliant questions on an average day on the site:


Carter’s Corner

SNAP is directed by Dr. Tristan Carter of McMaster University. (Some call him Stringy.)

And since Dr. Carter’s a fantastic lecturer, we couldn’t hesitate to get him his own vlogging show, Carter’s Corner, where he answers viewer questions from various locations. For the first series of 5 videos, we have him sitting in Trench 28 up on the hill of Stélida.

In keeping with the spirit of our “Ask Us Anything”, we continue to take questions from our followers from all over the world and Dr. Carter responds directly to them in a lighthearted vlog-style series. Here is our official release of our first 5 episodes—we hope you enjoy!

Excavation Blogs

If you’re more of a reader, we also wrote weekly blog posts this season for our 6 weeks on Naxos, here on Medium, documenting our week-to-week lives on the dig:


Next Steps

The next couple of years for SNAP looks exciting, but without all of the dirt and thorny bushes.

Specifically, next summer, we’ll be having a study season, which means that we won’t be doing any digging, but instead really getting down and looking at everything we’ve found over the past 4–5 years and all the data we’ve collected.

Over the next two years we’re also looking forward to more public engagement and local cultural heritage activities, such as creating a teaching pack for local elementary schools as well as an eventual public exhibition at the Naxos Museum (which is currently being renovated). Super exciting!


Keep in Touch

If you’ve liked our work and want to stay in touch, we’d absolutely love that too.

We have a bunch of social media that is also open for questions and comments:
Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Reddit

Our official website has official information about the project:

And lastly, if you have any direct questions, please feel free to email us at—we’d love to hear from you!

Thanks for checking out our work at SNAP!

Mainland USA > Hawaii, USA #worldinterview #20

Mainland USA > Hawaii, USA

Interviewee: Regina Hilo

What is the United States strategy to look after and cope with a large number of archaeological sites and respond to the demands of international protocols regarding the conservation of world heritage sites?

Strategies to inventory, manage, and maintain any number of archaeological sites in the United States is largely dependent on the jurisdiction of federal and state agencies, as well as private landowners, and their resources (funding, trained personnel, equipment). These strategies vary from location to location, specifically from state to state, and are directly dependent on the agency exercising authority or having jurisdiction over land parcels.

With most, if not all, agencies struggling to secure financial resources and/or retain professional staff to develop meaningful proposals addressing an agency’s core mission, I feel that community partnerships are increasingly necessary as both a management and maintenance strategy.

Responding to the demands of international protocols in the conservation of world heritage sites is not at the forefront of our Hawaii SHPD mission, as we are constantly working towards compliance with our state’s Revised Statutes and Administrative Rules.

How does the United States build capacity for minority groups to get involved in archaeology and museums?

Advanced degree programs in museum studies are available in the United States and internationally. The University of Hawaii at Manoa has always had a traditional M.A. in Anthropology, and has added the M.A. in Applied Archaeology. The University of Hawaii at Hilo has a M.A. in Heritage Management. Both programs are two years in duration.

Building capacity for minority groups to get involved in archaeology and museum studies varies from state to state, from tribal group to tribal group, and from organization to organization. Ultimately, programs will target specific goals an organization or tribe wants to strengthen. There are competitive federal grants for Native American and Native Hawaiian non-profits. Competitive scholarships for Native American and Native Hawaiian students at all levels of post-high school education are awarded annually through professional organizations like the Society for American Archaeology. I have been very fortunate to receive two scholarships from the SAA’s which enabled me to embark on my graduate school education while also working full-time at the Hawaii SHPD. Without those scholarships, the financial burden of school would have been far too daunting for me to consider graduate school at all.

How are traditional cultural practices, such as foodways, dance, language, etc., addressed through local, state, or federal laws and regulations?

Federal laws (NAGPRA, NHPA) require consultation with Native Hawaiian Organizations (NHOs). State laws also necessitate consultation under certain conditions. The Constitution of the state of Hawaii, in article 12.7, provides the following language:

“The State reaffirms and shall protect all rights, customarily and traditionally exercised for subsistence, cultural and religious purposes and possessed by ahupua`a tenants who are descendants of native Hawaiians who inhabited the Hawaiian Islands prior to 1778, subject to the right of the State to regulate such rights.” (

Hawaiian language revitalization and Hawaiian language immersion education has significantly increased the number of Hawaiian language speakers across the state. Though there are differences in linguistic systems and more than one ‘standard’, the Hawaii State Department of Education contributes to Hawaiian language revitalization by providing for K-12 Hawaiian language education. These kulakaiapuni “deliver instruction exclusively through the medium of Hawaiian language until grade 5, whereupon English is formally introduced.” (

Also, please see `Aha Punana Leo’s chronology of Hawaiian language usage, Hawaiian history, and events leading to the decline and eventual revitalization of Hawaiian language at their website, below:

 Hula, mele, and oli are often composed to commemorate specific events, places, or individuals. These may be considered artforms by some, but to most Native Hawaiians, hula, mele, and oli are traditional cultural practices. We compose mele to remember historical events, to protest acts of injustice to the Kingdom, to unite the masses, to honor our ali`i, and to tell stories of our deities.

With regard to human skeletal remains, Hawaii Revised Statutes Chapter 6E and Hawaii Administrative Rules 13-300 govern my day-to-day decisions at the SHPD. I’ve often said the statutes and rules protecting human skeletal remains in Hawaii are the strongest in the United States, perhaps even internationally. For more information, please visit our SHPD website:

To learn more about the History and Culture branch, please visit our page:

As Indian tribes and Native Hawaiian organizations have gained more political and financial power, what changes have you seen in the practice of cultural resources management, particularly in regards to consultation?

NHOs are more familiar with NHPA Section 106 consultation, its purpose and NHOs expectations of consultation. There are also more and more Native Hawaiians with professional qualifications in traditionally western fields like archaeology, environmental engineering, landscape architecture. And, there are skilled cultural liaisons, most of whom are Native Hawaiian, serving as intermediaries between the project proponents and community. These liaisons convene and facilitate meetings on behalf of the project proponents, and present their project proponent’s updates at meetings mandated by the state.

About Regina:

Regina Keʻalapuaonālaniwikimekeānuenu e Hilo (Kamehameha Schools graduate, BA, UHM) is currently an Applied Archaeology MA student in UHM Anthropology.  Born and raised in Kapāhulu, she is a Native Hawaiian archaeologist, Hawaiian language researcher and speaker, and the current President of the Society for Hawaiian Archaeology (SHA). Regina works as a Burial Sites Specialist in the History and Culture Branch of the State Historic Preservation Division (SHPD) to mitigate potential effects to human skeletal remains under SHPD jurisdiction. Regina is one of two newly appointed Student Representatives for People of Color on the Society for American Archaeology’s Government Affairs Committee, an advisory board to the SAA’s Board of Directors which advises the SAA on policy positions and governmental affairs. Regina is humbled and honored to be a recipient of the 2017 Native American Graduate Scholarship in Archaeology.

She is an an avid supporter of Science Technology Engineering Arts and Math (STEAM) in public education, including computer programming, coding, Geographic Information Systems (GIS), and wearable technology incorporating both function and fashion.

Questions from Kevin Bartoy on the US mainland.

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Mexico > mainland USA #worldinterview #19

Mexico > mainland USA

Interviewee: Kevin Bartoy

What is the United States strategy to look after and cope with a large number of archaeological sites and respond to the demands of international protocols regarding the conservation of world heritage sites?

The short answer would be I don’t think there is a strategy. The laws and regulations of the federal government in the United States only afford protection to archaeological sites if they are on federal lands or if the projects that may affect them have a federal nexus. That is, funded or permitted through a federal agency. Some states, including my own, have laws and regulations in place offering protection to archaeological sites. It is actually a misdemeanour in the State of Washington to knowingly disturb an archaeological site regardless of where it is or who is doing the disturbance. Any disturbance requires a permit through a state agency. It is a felony to knowingly disturb a burial site.

Overall, I do not think that listing as a world heritage site or international protocols have any real effect on the day-to-day work that we do. Applicable federal, state, or local law is complied with, but I have never had an instance in my 25 years as a cultural resources professional to have complied with international protocols. In the US, I believe much more effective action in regards to archaeological sites would happen at the state or local level.

It is my impression that world heritage sites and international protocols are much more things of a political or academic realm. I seldom see their effect on the actual resources that we deal with on a daily basis.

How does the United States build capacity for minority groups to get involved in archaeology and museums?

This is a difficult question for me to answer as I have not been directly involved in diversity issues within a museum or academic setting in terms of hiring and promotion. I can speak for my agency however within the State of Washington. “Inclusion” is one of three agency emphasis areas for the Washington State Department of Transportation. As an agency, we believe that we want our workforce to look like the communities that we serve. We try to do this through outreach to historically underserved and underrepresented communities, including communities of color and tribal governments. We promote and expand participation of disadvantaged business enterprises in our contracting. We also continue to expand our efforts in community engagement and environmental justice to better involve and reflect the needs of the diverse communities we serve.

What are the roles of federal and non-federal recognized tribes in federal, state, county and city projects?

This would depend on how the project was funded or permitted. If there is a federal nexus, applicable federal laws and regulations apply. Those laws require consultation with federally recognized tribes. We often will consult with non-federally recognized tribes as “consulting parties” not as tribal governments. The difficulty is that this consultation often makes the federally recognized tribes upset. It is a fine line and we point out that such consultation is not “government to government” in those cases. If there is no federal nexus, then the rules would fall to the states or local governments. Living in a relatively progressive state, we have laws and regulations in place that require us to consult with tribal governments at the state level. There is no distinction made for federally recognized tribes at the state level.

The tribes are given an opportunity to comment on projects and oftentimes the state agency who regulates cultural resources compliance is a strong advocate for the tribes. So much so that projects will not be approved unless the concerns of the tribes are addressed. This happens on state or federal projects. In the State of Washington, many of the federally recognized tribes are politically and economically powerful, so they have quite a voice and their concerns must usually be addressed for a project to move forward. I do not think that this is the case in many other places within the US however.

In Washington State, we are also unique in the treaties that were signed by tribal governments and the United States during the territorial period. These treaties included reserved rights for “usual and accustomed” fishing, hunting, and gathering places. As with many native cultures, the tribes in Washington State do not make a distinction between natural and cultural resources. However, the treaties, which are the “law of the land,” afford the tribes a much stronger legal position and much greater power in relation to natural resources, so this is often the focus of our consultation. Since the fisheries in Washington State afford a great deal of economic benefit to the tribes, natural resources often take greater consideration over cultural resources. Yet, both are critically important to the tribes and all tribes in the Salish Sea have both natural and cultural resources staff who participate in consultation.

Again, I would say in my experience, having worked in several states over the past 25 years, Washington State and its relation to the tribes is unique.

What is CRM (cultural resources management) and which laws and agencies help protect cultural resources?

Cultural Resources Management is a poorly named field that seeks compliance with a gamut of cultural, archaeological, and historical laws and regulations. It is a large industry as practiced in the United States and is part and parcel of the environmental permitting and approval process that projects must go through to move forward. The term is poor because it includes this compliance type work as well as work in museums or parks. Some work is done for industry, some for government, some for private citizens, some for non-profits. The field includes archaeologists, cultural anthropologists, biological anthropologists, historians, and architectural historians. Seldom are cultural resources “managed.” They are usually identified, classified, and then mitigated if they would be affected by a project.

There are a number of laws on the federal level, most notably the National Historic Preservation Act (Section 106). There is also the Archaeological Resources Protection Act, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, Section 4(f) of the United States Department of Transportation Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act. There are also a number of state and local laws and regulations that vary throughout the country.Resources as disparate as traditional cultural places, archaeological sites, and historic buildings are grouped together in this legal framework.

The primary law is the National Historic Preservation Act, which, despite its name, does not “preserve” anything. The act was put in place in 1966 as a reaction against widespread development in the United States that was actively demolishing historic structures. This development was primarily related to highway construction. The act simply asks federal agencies to consider the effects of their projects on historic properties and to mitigate those effects where they are adverse. The results of the law are seldom preservation, but often result in other forms of mitigation.

The one law that does have some teeth in terms of preservation is one that you seldom hear about unless you work in transportation. Section 4(f) of the United States Department of Transportation Act requires agencies of the United States Department of Transportation to avoid 4(f) resources, which include historic properties as well as parks, trails, wildlife preserves, etc. This law will often result in preservation although it seldom does for archaeological sites, which do not have to be “preserved in place” unless their value is determined to be more than the data they contain.

About Kevin:

Environmental Program Manager, Washington State Ferries.

Washington State Ferries is the largest ferry system in the United States. As Environmental Program Manager, I ensure compliance with a multitude of laws and regulations (federal, state, and local) necessary for the design, construction, and maintenance of our facilities throughout the Salish Sea. I am a trained archaeologist and am the lead for cultural resources compliance in my current position, but also oversee compliance for natural resources, planning, sustainability, etc.

I have published several papers and articles related to the work that I do for Washington State Ferries, and previously in other positions at the Washington State Department of Transportation.

Prior to joining the Washington State Department of Transportation, I had previously worked in academia, the private sector, and a non-profit museum as an archaeologist and cultural resources professional. I have published several articles and an edited volume as part of that work.

Questions from Eduardo Escalante in Mexico.

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Cuba > Mexico #worldinterview #18

Cuba > Mexico

Interviewee: Eduardo Escalante

What is Mexico’s strategy to look after and cope with a large number of archaeological sites and respond to the demands of international protocols regarding the conservation of world heritage sites?

The responsibility for the research, protection, conservation, dissemination and management of the archaeological heritage is given by federal law to the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH), created in 1939. The INAH has a permanent programme for the recording and registration of archaeological sites in the country, being helped by the regional INAH offices on every state (one representation of INAH in every state). Each INAH office is responsible for the national activities of the Institute on the regional level, bearing more attention to the archaeological sites officially opened to the public. Among these sites opened to the public, World Heritage Sites are among the most visited and the ones with more attention. Since 1985 when Mexico rectified the World Heritage Convention, the responsibilities as a State Party are among the responsibilities of INAH for the conservation and management of World Heritage Sites, especially archaeological sites and historic centres.  According the Mexican legislation, every rectified convention is considered part of the federal framework policy.

It is important to notice that within INAH there is a specialized department for World Heritage. This department is the responsible for the nomination and monitoring processes. It is the representation of INAH with the World Heritage Centre of UNESCO. This department works alongside CONANP (National Commission for Protected Natural Areas), which is responsible for the Natural World Heritage sites.

How does Mexico build capacity for minority groups to get involved in archaeology and museums?

Recently, INAH has been developing Community Museums on communities with high cultural heritage values. It is important for INAH since its creation to work alongside the minority groups in order to protect cultural heritage and archaeological sites. Every research project on the countryside bears in mind the involvement of communities in order to build a community project.

What is the role of Mexican indigenous communities in the process of institutional decisions regarding tourism on archaeological heritage?

The direct participation of indigenous communities within archaeological sites in Mexico has to be with the ownership of the land. Several archaeological sites opened to the public still are on community owned land, for what indigenous communities can have a direct positive impact for the visitation working together with government policies regarding tourism. Although this aspect of the management of archaeological sites in Mexico still is a delicate issue, being more evident around World Heritage sites.

How does Mexico deal with the planning and development of cities and country areas, considering the occurrence of potential of archaeological sites?

INAH is composed by several departments, such as the Rescue Archaeology Department (commercial archaeology, savage archaeology). This department is the responsible of the follow up processes on development projects. By law, every development project has to have the INAH verification and approval for the construction. If there is archaeological evidence, is the organisation or company of the development project the one responsible for providing the necessary resources in order to execute a proper rescue archaeological project. This rescue archaeology process goes along with the permanent programme of record and registration of archaeological heritage, for what a Geographical Information Database is integrated in order to have a clear idea of the existence of archaeological evidence in the Mexican territory.

About Eduardo:

BA in Archaeology, Autonomous University of Yucatan; MA in Managing of Archaeological Sites, UCL; Head of the Technical Unit for the Management of Archaeological Sites, Sites Operation Department, National Coordination of Archaeology, National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH)

Questions from Odlanyer Hernández de Lara in Cuba.

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If it’s Friday it must be Construction!

Construction and renovations are today’s theme here at the SFU Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology and have been for several weeks now!  Staff and volunteers have been busy packing and moving exhibits and artifacts.  It’s been a lot of work and inconvenience for everyone here, but we’ve managed.

And despite the Museum being closed, we continue to be active online.  This week we updated the Museum’s website, adding a new virtual exhibit “Beyond the Masks”, about wooden masks from different parts of Africa which are part of the Museum’s collection.  It was curated by two student volunteers.



Colombia > Cuba #worldinterview #17

Colombia > Cuba

Interviewee: Odlanyer Hernández de Lara

Historical and urban archaeology can be seen on every street in Cuba and arguably every city in the country, it can be said, for example, all Old Havana is an architectural archaeology site. What is Cuba’s strategy to look after and cope with a large number of archaeological sites and respond to the demands of international protocols regarding the conservation of world heritage sites?

There is no Cuban national strategy for Archaeology. Since authorities do not look at each historical building as an archaeological site, it seems like it is not necessary to establish protocols to monitor or prevent archaeological impacts. This is one of the difficulties of the preservation of the Cuban archaeological heritage. Cuba does not manage historical heritage like other countries (i.e. United States, Argentina) who establish a temporality (50 or 100-year-old) to consider a site or building as historical. Cuban Heritage is established by declaration; if the site has not been declared as a historical site/building, then there is no official recognition. However, all provinces have a Heritage Office, which defines historical districts, although it does not necessarily involve a protection system, they monitorarchitectural structures. But there are certain local strategies from institutions and research groups that provide some insight to cope with the archaeological sites. The cities declared as World Heritage sites have archaeological research groups with local strategies. Old Havana is the best example. The Oficina del Historiador de La Habana (Havana Historian Office) has an Archaeological Section (Gabinete de Arqueología) with several research groups to work just in Old Havana, although they run parallel projects outside Old Havana. Since all construction work done in Old Havana has to be run by the companies that belong to the same institution, and there exists an urban plan for the city’s restoration and preservation, every single building needs to be investigated by an archaeologist before development. However, this strategy focuses on the architectonical restoration, and archaeology is seen as a complement. Gabinete de Arqueología has a preventive program that also focuses on those critical archaeological sites that need priority, and some research projects follow this strategy. In some (several) restored buildings, the archaeological investigations led to important features or evidence exhibited as part of the new uses of the spaces, many times related to the historical use of the building.

A similar, but not similarly supported strategy exists in cities like Camaguey, Santiago de Cuba, Trinidad, Sancti Spiritus, Holguin, and Cienfuegos. Research groups and institutions work together to provide a better understanding of our past. However, these politics work only for World Heritage sites, with a few exceptions. A very different perspective is used in other cities, where the possibilities are not the same, with scarce to no resources to protect the archaeological heritage. Even worse, some places have no inventory of what they have, which makes it even more complicated to protect it. Even when there are two laws to protect heritage in general, the implementation is not as we expect, many times because of the lack of resources to do it. A new law is in the works that will address and try to resolve some of these problems.

However, maybe one of the biggest problems we have regarding these issues is the lack of educational formation. Since there are no specific university programs for archaeology or anthropology, the results are evident in practice. Some researchers have had the opportunity to do postgraduate studies outside Cuba, but this is not enough because the learning process is not continuous, and the new generations have no orientation, incentive or interest. This view may seem pessimistic, but there are a few people trying to change the actual situation with local strategies, and trying to extend positive results to other cities, reinforced through courses, coursework, and teamwork. Some results have been accomplished, but there is still much work to do.

What are the main challenges of archaeological practice in Cuba today and which ones, considering the unique political and cultural history of the Cuban Revolution?

The main challenges of archaeology in Cuba for the next decades can be separated in, at least, three points: 1) university career development, 2) theoretical diversification, and 3) dealing with the preservation of the archaeological heritage.

Probably the main challenge of Cuban archaeology is the lack of a university education and career development, aforementioned. Even when Science, in general, received a strong support after the Cuban Revolution with the creation of several institutions and economic support to run research projects and publications, it was not possible to generate a university program in archaeology or anthropology. The consequences can be seen in the results and contributions of archaeological research, suggesting is not a priority to the society. Archaeological institutions do not play a significant role on the political agenda.

Moreover, the lack of a university education and specialization has a significant impact on the theoretical background. Since the Cuban government decided in 1961 to follow a Marxist approach, there is no discussion about the theoretical background in archaeology. Even worst, that provided the basis to a general ignorance of what was happening in the rest of the World, or sometimes full rejection because it came from a Capitalist country or model. Without discussion, Cuban archaeology was attached to an orthodox Marxism, but in practice, archaeology was more similar to a Culture-Historical approach, following the 1950’s influence. In the last years, some lights are changing the panorama, but there are still some proposals for a unique theoretical vision. That is why an opening for a diverse theoretical agenda is needed. Gradually, although it is not explicit, some changes have taken place.

Interconnected are the new changes in the political scenario, where potential construction developments can worsen the current status of archaeological heritage. Today, the main archeological institutions do not have enough support to provide an effective protection of the known archaeological heritage. Since there are no strategies to involve archaeologists in environmental impact studies, the archaeological heritage is in a critical status. Several archaeological sites have been impacted by development related with the tourism industry, sometimes irreversibly. If we do not prepare for a potentially worse scenario, the impact will be devastating. Nevertheless, even when this situation changes, we will return to the first problem: there are not enough archaeologist to cope with the actual development in the tourism industry, so what can we do if the situation changes with a potentially bigger investment in infrastructure? That’s where the university career gets in action, not just creating more professional archaeologist, but establishing a professional status for archaeology with a strong theoretical background that provides the needed tools to deal with the new scenarios. In 2010, 65 archaeologists were on the National List of Professional Archaeologist. This year the List had a decrease to 59 archaeologists. Since several of those archaeologists do not run archaeological projects, the situation worsens.

Does the public have a different appreciation of the importance pre-Columbian and colonial archaeological sites?

This question has different answers, mostly depending on the locations. Some areas, like Holguin province, has a strong pre-Columbian sense of awareness, with a general society identification with the pre-Columbian heritage. There, the colonial archaeological sites are not as recognized as the pre-Columbian sites. However, Old Havana can be seen as the opposite, where colonial heritage presence is so strong, and archaeological investigations are a focus on that heritage. However, I could risk the generalization that pre-Columbian archaeological heritage is more recognizable than colonial archaeological heritage, but this should be proven statistically, with a representative sample, that presently does not exist. For example, on museum collection, curators inventory pre-Columbian archaeological evidence within the archaeological collection, whereas, historical archaeological evidence is housed within historical collections, along with documents and other objects. It can be said that there is a predominant lack of interest for more ephemeral, local archaeological sites, with interest focused only on monumental and sensational sites discovered elsewhere. That is a view that can be found in the newspapers, with more presence of outside archaeological events than local news. Almost ten years ago, a project began to revoke and alleviate this situation, and positively promote Cuban and Caribbean archaeology. The Website Cuba Arqueológica ( has changed the way Cuban archaeology was and is seen, providing free access to inaccessible publications, and current developments in all field of archaeology in Cuba and the rest of the Caribbean.

How does Cuba build capacity for minority groups to get involved in archaeology and museums?

There are several strategies to involve society, in general, both in archaeology and museum research-preservation. I do not refer to minority groups because Cuba does not have an established policy to discriminate social groups, and that does not happen in practice. As I mentioned before, the strategies come from research groups and institutions in a local perspective. Cuba has at least one museum per municipios (county or municipalities), and every museum develops several activities that involve schools, inviting them to participate in activities or creating activities for them. Also, the museum goes to the schools to talk about different topics related to the museum collections, local histories, and beyond. Those activities are also open to the public, especially for neighbors. One strategy is what is called Círculos de Interés (Interests Groups), that provide specific areas of knowledge to students, led by professionals. That is not just for Museums, but for different institutions. Archaeology has been one of these interest groups. Those Interest groups are proposed to the school, for an appropriate age range, and the students are invited to participate. Those interested, join a team that starts working on practical classes, site visits, etc. Interest Groups also work as a future career motivation, where students know what is done in a specific profession. Some institutions also open their doors for school visits, to learn the professions from the professionals. Of course, there are also summer courses, and summer activities like Rutas y Andares (Routes and Walks), offered by the Havana Historian Office: a tour lead by a professional to discover sites with exhibits or where they have worked. Those tours have been a real success, where people get involved with their local heritage. Archaeology is part of those tours, with an archaeologist guiding visits to archaeological sites, sometimes with work in progress, archaeological exhibits in restored historical buildings, and several histories resulting from the archaeological investigations. Those tours have been done in other cities, with a similar success.

About Odlanyer:

I’m creator and Editor for bothCuba ArqueológicaJournaland Web Site (, which is a long term project to diffuse the archaeological knowledge from Cuba and the Caribbean.I’m currently working in South Florida archaeology, with a CRM company, and at the same time, running some projects in Cuba. One of my projects is related with the Spanish-Cuban-American War (1898), in the scenario of the first battle. A second project is related with the colonial fortress Castillo de San Severino, including archaeological excavations, but also working to get better the museum exhibits and engaging the community in the cultural heritage preservation (,

Questions from Jimena Lobo Guerrero Arenas in Colombia.

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