The SRI Foundation joins in celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the National Historic Preservation Act!
On October 15, 1966, President Lyndon Johnson signed the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) into law and formally recognized historic preservation as an important policy of the United States. Enacted after the destruction of numerous buildings and sites during the years after World War II, the NHPA provides a framework for identifying and preserving Americas cultural and historic heritage. Envisioned as a partnership among federal agencies, states, Indian tribes, communities, and individuals, the law has been a powerful tool for preserving the historic and cultural fabric of the United States.
In 2016 communities and organizations across the United States will be coming together to celebrate 50 years of preservation of historic places as a result of the passage of the NHPA and to develop a vision for the next 50 years of historic preservation in this country. One of the nationwide initiatives to celebrate the anniversary is The Making Archaeology Public Project. The MAP Project is a cooperative, grassroots effort on the part of professional archaeologists to produce a series of short, engaging videos to showcase for the public some of the fascinating and exciting things that we have learned about life in the past as a result of archaeological work mandated by the NHPA. These videos will be available to the public, educators, and archaeology organizations on a dedicated website beginning in January 2016. A link will be provided here as soon as site construction is completed.
As part of our contribution to the celebration, the SRI Foundation will be assisting the working group currently developing the New Mexico MAP Project video outlined below. In addition to providing volunteer staff time, materials, and other services, SRIF will be accepting donations to help defray the cost of producing the New Mexico video. The Foundation is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, so all donations are tax deductible! If you would like to contribute to this fun and educational project, please donate below.
Making Archaeology Public: The New Mexico MAP Video
The New Mexico MAP video is currently a work in progress. Below are a brief abstract and a summary of "the message" that the working group has developed to guide script creation and identification of visual and sound elements.
Working Title: Patterns in Time: Big Data as a Window into the Past
Abstract: Although archaeological research had been conducted in New Mexico for nearly 100 years prior to NHPA, we had relatively little data and what we had was narrowly focused. The huge amount of work carried out in compliance with NHPA over the past 50 years has given us Big Data, and by using GIS we can display this wealth of data in any way and at any scale that we wish. This enables us to easily identify patterns in the material remains left by people and cultures that are long gone, patterns that are the main tool used by archaeologists to learn about life in the past.
The great value of NHPA has not just been the big archaeological projects required for reservoirs, highways, or pipelines, although we've learned a lot of cool stuff from those. Ultimately great value also lies in all the thousands of tiny projects, each of which has contributed a tiny fragment to our understanding of New Mexico's prehistory. In this video we are going to show you two examples of what we've learned from big patterns in New Mexico's NHPA-generated Big Data. These are only two of the nearly infinite number of patterns that we could have chosen, each of which would open its own fascinating window into the past.
Before the NHPA was passed, archaeologists in New Mexico pretty much limited their research to the Ice Age hunters called "Paleoindians" and to the prehistoric Pueblo people who built the amazing stone villages and towns that we see in national parks and monuments today.
When the requirements of NHPA caused us to look at all parts of the state and all kinds of sites instead of just those glitzy Paleoindians and Pueblos, we began collecting huge amounts of data about all of the cultures and people who lived in New Mexico before European contact, not just the ones who hunted mammoths or made pretty pottery or built amazing stone buildings.
By using modern computer technology, and the great wealth of individual bits of data generated by thousands of NHPA-driven investigations, archaeologist have been able to identify and investigate all kinds of patterns in the data, and those patterns are the tools we use to understand how all kinds of people lived in the past.
For example, almost 5500 years of time separated those Paleoindians from the Pueblo peoples and prior to NHPA we knew almost nothing about all those people who lived during all this great span of time that we call the Archaic Period!
These people were very skilled and successful hunters and gathers. By studying patterns in where they collected the stone that they used to make tools, we've been able to see just how big a territory a band of these Archaic people would have occupied. And by excavating their campsites and determining what plants and animals they gathered and hunted, we can even begin to map out where within their territory these Archaic people could have been found during particular seasons and how they solved the problems of having enough food to get them through the winter.
But this great accumulation of tiny bits data that we have collected as a result of NHPA projects hasn't just illuminated the previously unexamined places and people and time in New Mexico's past. This wealth of data and the patterns that it reveals, have also moved us much closer to answering questions that have intrigued people since we first started examining the archaeology of the Southwest:
For example: what happened in the late 13th century that caused the Pueblo people of the Four Corners region to leave behind the canyons and mesas, the homes and fields where they had lived for generations? We had known for decades that this great depopulation occurred, and the oral traditions of the Pueblo people speak of the great migrations that brought them to their current homes. But the data contributed by NHPA have enabled us to understand the scale of this great shift in population - in one case, 15,000 people moving out of a small area in less than 20 years. And they have revealed that this great migration was likely a result of social collapse and not, as had long been thought, simply a result of some environmental disaster.
Perhaps the greatest value of NHPA for archaeology and for our understanding of life in the past has resulted not from huge excavation projects and Big Discoveries that make the news. The greatest value may well be myriad small bits of data, the dots on the map, that enable us to see the endless variety of patterns in the material remains left by all the people who have occupied this fascinating landscape before us.
Example graphics for the Pueblo "big pattern"
Distribution of Pueblo sites 1000-1300 AD
Distribution of Pueblo sites 1400-1600 AD