Why Archaeology is Important
Archaeological deposits are the physical remains of historical processes and people. Studying them teaches us about people and events from the Past. We gain insight from archaeological remains that could not be learnt from other sources such as historic documents, photographs or newspapers. Sometimes, the information from archaeological deposits even contradicts what we thought we knew. To excavate these features, touch these artifacts and learn from them also gives us a connection with the Past.
Federal legislation such as National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) and California laws such as the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) recognize the importance of learning from archaeological resources and preserving them for the future. Government agencies like Caltrans are required to implement Section 106 of the NHPA whenever they use federal funds or permits on projects. Under this law, agencies have to take into account the effects of the project on any archaeological sites that might be eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP). Archaeological sites are generally assessed as being important enough to be placed on the National Register because of the information or data they might contain.
Archaeologists commonly follow three stages in treating archaeological resources that might be eligible to the NRHP:
Identify the archaeological features within the project area (Identification Phase)
Evaluate whether they are eligible for entry on the National Register of Historic Places (Evaluation Phase)
If an archaeological feature is assessed as eligible, and is in danger of being destroyed, decide whether to excavate it to record the data it contains (a process also known as "data recovery").
tight construction timelines are an issue, Archaeologists may use a
collapsed approach to these three stages whereby the resource is assessed
for its NRHP eligibility in the field as soon as it is found (the identification
phase). A feature that is assessed as ineligible to NRHPis abandoned
after partial excavation. Those that are thought to be eligible are
excavated and their artifacts taken to the lab for further processing.