Papers in Applied Archaeology




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Center for Archaeological Research, The University of Texas at San Antonio


Whether or not archaeology has an applied aspect is something of a conversation stopper. Some archaeologists hold that it has no apparent practical value, and that it in fact justifies its existence out of human interest in the past. Some of this interest centers around scholarly activity. Closer to the public sector, recognition that heritage and recreation are closely associated has recently resulted in some major reorganization of U.S. government bureaucracies (see Briggs, this volume). In other parts of the world, such as France and Mexico, providing archaeological entertainment for the public has long been the staple of certain government service organizations. To the extent that the public interest and conscience are served, it is legitimate to think of archaeology as a practical undertaking. The papers presented in this volume are concerned not only with the public interest aspect of archaeology but also with alternative and direct practical benefits. The thinking presented was occasioned by a massive increase in public expenditure for archaeological investigation. The papers certainly do not exhaust the topic, but we feel they do provide a fairly well rounded view of practical archaeology in the state of Texas. Fritz (1973) has provided the literature with a well founded discussion of the relevance of archaeology. We realize that conditions and orientations elsewhere differ, and a more broadly based symposium is being organized for the 1978 American Anthropological Association meeting. The papers printed herein were originally presented at the annual Cibola Anthropological Association Conference in Austin on March 11,1978. Five papers were read. The first two, by William J. Mayer-Oakes and E. Mott Davis, are concerned with the public foundations and future of archaeology. The last three papers are more concerned with the efficient and beneficial application of public funds to archaeological problems. They were presented by Joel Gunn, Les Davis and Alton Briggs. The session was chaired by Joel Gunn. W. J. Mayer-Oakes' paper points out that archaeology has no obvious applied tradition such as that attributed to physical anthropologists who design seats for aircraft, or cultural anthropologists who work with international development projects. Even so, public policy, most of which archaeologists had little say in designing, has called for a tremendous effort on the part of the profession to preserve the nation's prehistoric and historic heritage. In order to cope with the problem, archaeologists must radically rethink their position in the scientific community and their modes of operation. Of special importance is the need to insure that public monies designated for archaeological work are managed in a businesslike manner and that they serve public archaeological purposes rather than the purposes of individuals. Without immediate conscious effort, neither end will be realized. As Mott Davis indicates, archaeology is very high on the public's list of topics of general interest. It is suggested that this interest stems from five sources. The first two, romantic notions and esthetics, are a mixed blessing from the point of view of archaeology since they often foster destructive acts toward the archaeological record. The last three, interest in human variety, concern for social roots and interest in archaeology as a technical avocation encourage responsible attitudes toward monuments of the past and therefore should be actively supported by professionals. Joel Gunn's presentation suggests that applications of archaeological knowledge l1e mostly 1n the realm of basic research and knowledge about human origins. Recent circumstances, however, indicate that archaeologists can playa direct role in the research and development phases of economic planning in modern societies. Apparent drastic climatic changes are placing the public in dire need of knowledge concerning projected climatic trends and alternative solutions to coping with abnormal conditions. The long term paleoclimatic and cultural data sets controlled by archaeologists provide as clear a potential solution to the problem as any available. The author is conducting research on south Texas climate and cultural adaptations to that end. Les Davis observes that the archaeologist who acts in the roles of both scientist and engineer is being wasteful. The growing archaeological industry should seriously consider developing archaeological engineers by offering degree pro-grams in the subject. Archaeologists should develop a "Handbook of Applied Archaeological Techniques" containing recommended practices for shoring excavations, wiring sites for electricity, etc. Such a handbook would add to the safety and efficiency of archaeology. Alton Briggs' presentation points out that archaeology as a discipline is responsible for the management of a perpetually and irreversibly dwindling resource, the archaeological record. The strategy at present is to balance the loss by preserving as full a range of archaeological sites as possible. In fact, there is a wave of public interest in preserving evidence of the past, and private individuals have more than once expressed criticism of professional archaeologists· inability to discover and preserve sites. Briggs suggests that, in addition to public law, a conservation ethic is needed to guide resource management objectives. Persons invited to the symposium were drawn from a wide range of archaeological involvements. William J. Mayer-Oakes is head of the Cultural Resources Institute at Texas Tech University, Lubbock, Texas. He has been involved for some time in promoting awareness of imminent changes in the future of archaeology, political action favorable to archaeological purposes and public awareness of archaeological problems. Mott Davis has an enduring interest in public awareness of archaeology, stemming from many years' involvement in archaeological film making. He is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Texas at Austin. Joel Gunn was led to an interest in practical applications of archaeology when paleoclimatic research required the analysis of several modern weather and climate data sets. He is at The University of Texas at San Antonio. Les Davis is the president-elect of the Texas Archeological Society and is a lifelong amateur archaeologist. He is employed as an engineer by the U.S. government, testing missiles. Alton Briggs is the Director of Cultural Resource Management with the Texas Historical Commission. He is active in developing a program to direct the future use and preservation of cultural resources in the state for public and professional benefit.


The papers printed herein were originally presented at the annual Cibola Anthropological Association Conference in Austin on March 11,1978.


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