The Antiquities Act: A Century of American Archaeology, Historic Preservation, and Nature Conservation. David Harmon, Francis P. McManamon, and Dwight T. Pitcaithley, eds. Tucson: The University of Arizona Press, 2006. 364 pp.
Reviewed by Linda S. Cordell
June 8, 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt signed into law an “Act for
the Preservation of American Antiquities.” This legislation is
fundamental to American historic and natural resource preservation and
is of singular importance to American archaeology and museum
anthropology. The Antiquities Act of 1906 makes it illegal to damage
and loot archaeological sites on federal land, mandating penalties for
those convicted of such activities. The act requires that institutions
engaged in examining ruins and excavating archaeological sites on
federal land be reputable museums, universities, and other recognized
scientific institutions and that they obtain permits for their work.
The act specifies that these studies and “gatherings” of antiquities be
undertaken for the purpose of increasing knowledge rather than for sale
or exhibition of objects. The act states that objects obtained through
authorized scientific studies be preserved permanently in public
museums. Finally, the Antiquities Act gives the president the power to
designate as national monuments, historic landmarks, historic and
prehistoric structures, and other places of historic or scientific
interest on lands owned by the federal government.
The Antiquities Act, A Century of American Archaeology, Historic Preservation, and Nature Conservation,
edited by David Harmon, Francis P. McManamon, and Dwight T.
Pitcaithley, marks the centennial anniversary of the Antiquities Act of
1906. Harmon is executive director of the George Wright Society, an
organization of resource managers. McManamon is chief archaeologist for
the National Park Service, and Pitcaithley recently retired as chief
historian for the National Park Service. Seventeen additional
contributors include Cecil D. Andrus, former secretary of the
Department of Interior; Dennis Curtis, manager of Grand
Canyon-Parashant National Monument; Darla Sidles, superintendent of
Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument; Elena Daly, director of the
Bureau of Land Management’s National Landscape Conservation System;
Mark Squillace, director of the Natural Resources Law Center at the
University of Colorado, and historians Char Miller and Hal Rothman who
have particular expertise in the history of environmental conservation
and national parks. The editors and contributors offer personal and
professional insights into specific historic milestones, decisions and
controversies that underlie the current status of our system of federal
land management and heritage conservation.
book opens with an introduction by the editors and contains 16 brief
chapters organized in five parts. Part 1 describes the history of the
Antiquities Act and includes the useful chapter by Ronald F. Lee, first
published in 1970, reprinted in 2000, and now available electronically,
on the origins of the Act.
Part 2 consists of four chapters about expanded, innovative, and
controversial, presidential use of the Act such as the dispute over
Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and President Jimmy Carter’s Alaskan monuments.
The final chapter in Part 2, by James R. Rasband, is a philosophical
plea for obtaining local community involvement proactively prior to
monument designation. Chapters in Part 3 reflect on the influence of
the Act on the culture of historic and environmental preservation in
the U.S. In Part 4, chapters focus on creative implementation and
expansion of the Act. For example, they discuss monuments that
are co-managed by two federal agencies and monuments that consist of
ocean environments. The editors provide a retrospective assessment as
the single chapter in Part 5. A useful appendix of “essential facts and
figures” about national monuments, a bibliography, notes about the
contributors and index complete the book.
of this journal are likely to be anthropologists, archaeologists, and
museum professionals for whom the provisions of the Antiquities Act
entail special concerns and responsibilities. In our professional
lives, we are stewards of our national legacy and must guard that
legacy despite competing demands on our time, inadequate funding, and
other threats. As anthropologists we are sensitive to and respect the
concerns and wishes of descendant peoples for whom there is
appreciation of landscapes, archaeological sites, and objects of
antiquity for spiritual and cultural values not reflected in their
having been designated as national monuments or objects of scientific
interest. In this book, archaeology and museum anthropology are
represented by Raymond Harris Thompson, Mesoamerican archaeologist and
former Director of the Arizona State Museum. Thompson provides a
well-researched and thoughtful discussion of Edgar Lee Hewett’s role in
drafting the Antiquities Act and the politics involved in shepherding
its passage. Useful though it is, Thompson’s historical chapter does
not give us his perspective about museum-related issues such as the
challenges posed by providing repositories for antiquities in
perpetuity or adequately curating the vast archaeological collections
that are legacies of the Act.
this volume, in addition to McMananon, archaeology is represented by
Joe E. Watkins. Watkins writes thoughtfully about the historical
anthropological context within which the Antiquities Act was drafted,
the era of “salvage ethnology” when American Indian culture was assumed
to be disappearing. Watkins examines the consequences of treating
American Indians as objects of scientific study and of transferring the
American Indian past to the domain of the American public without
consulting American Indians themselves. Watkins ends on an optimistic
note, largely by moving his discussion forward to include more recent
legislation requiring consultation with American Indian tribes.
As this review is being written, The Antiquities Act, A Century of American Archaeology, Historic Preservation, and Nature Conservation
is the only available book-length treatment on the centennial of the
Act. The volume therefore serves an important function as a resource
for those who want to learn about the Antiquities Act, how it came
about, how it has been used, and what it means in our world today. For
archaeologists and museum anthropologists, the history of the Act and
subsequent legislation will be relatively familiar. I suspect the same
archaeologists and museum anthropologists will find that, with the
exception of Watkins’s chapter, there is somewhat less than they would
like in this volume that offers insight or guidance into the current
challenges we face in caring for, studying, learning from, conserving,
and respecting the irreplaceable resources of the past.
1. See The Antiquities Act of 1906.
Ronald F. Lee, National Park Service, Office of History and Historic
Architecture, Eastern Service Center, 1970, “The Antiquities Act
of 1906,” Ronald F. Lee, Journal of the Southwest, 2000, 42(2):198-269 and The Story of the Antiquities Act of 1906, Electronic document, www.cr.nps.gov/aad/PUBS/LEE/index.htm, accessed April 18, 2007.
S. Cordell is currently a Senior Scholar at the School of Advanced
Research in Santa Fe, N.M. after serving 13 years as Director of the
University of Colorado Museum of Natural History. Her interests focus
on the archaeology of Pueblo peoples of the United States Southwest and
archaeological method and theory. Her long-term field research has
centered on agriculture and settlement strategies of ancestral Pueblo
peoples of New Mexico during the 13th and 14th centuries.