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Archaeology - FAQ's
Current Questions
Why is the protection of archaeological resources important?
 
Archaeological resources are locations that contain evidence of previous human presence or activity—they can include, but are not limited to, areas or structures used for living, working, ceremonies, trade, transportation, conflict and recreation. Oregon’s human history spans 13,000 years, only the last 200 years of which possesses a written history—thus, Archaeology represents our only link to understanding 99% of the State’s cultural history. For instance, relying only on written histories in Oregon would emphasize the European explorer or settler, while native cultures maintaining oral histories would be unrepresented. In addition, archaeological resources are finite and fragile resources; once a site is destroyed, the information it held is lost.
 
Why is ODOT involved with archaeological resources?
 
Seven federal laws and three Oregon State Laws regulate the protection of archaeological resources. Of these laws, the three Oregon statutes and the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Department of Transportation Act (sec. 4f) are the primary legal mandates, and detail specific regulatory requirements which ODOT must satisfy. The responsibility for ensuring that significant archaeological sites are considered during transportation project development rests with the archaeological staff of ODOT’s Environmental Services Section. In most cases, the regulations primarily consider a site’s research potential—that is, a site’s potential to inform us about the past. However, there are nine federally recognized Native American Tribes in Oregon; in many cases, Oregon’s archaeological sites possess a cultural significance for the Tribes that transcends the information value they contain. ODOT bears a responsibility as a steward of these sites. Therefore, ODOT’s archaeological procedures not only follow the letter of the law, but the spirit of the law as well.
 
What does the ODOT archaeology staff do?
 
The ODOT archaeological staff reviews all transportation projects for archaeological and cultural concerns. When sites will be affected by a proposed project, the staff coordinates with project teams to evaluate possible alternatives that would avoid or minimize effects to the site(s). In many cases, adverse effects to cultural resources can be avoided by simple project design changes, work zone restrictions, or other cost-effective measures. Finally, findings and recommendations are submitted to the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) and any affected Tribal organizations for review, compliance and concurrence. Preservation (i.e., avoidance) is always a primary goal, and one that is generally most satisfying for interested Tribes and cultural historians, and frequently most desirable in terms of cost. However, preservation must always be weighed with traffic efficiency and safety, and is not always possible. If an archaeological site is threatened by a highway project, the department is obliged to ensure that any information the site contains is recorded and preserved, even if it is not possible to save the site itself.
 
What types of projects involve archaeological resources?
 
Any project that has the potential to affect archaeological resources through ground disturbing activities requires coordination by archaeological staff. Effects may occur through a range of diverse project plans, from installing/flaring guardrail, installation of highway signs, staging equipment, or even placement of capping fill as protection, to larger scale projects such as widening pavement, bridge replacement, highway realignments and other modernizations. All of these activities would require a minimum of preliminary work to ensure that cultural resources are not disturbed by project activity, and depending on the options and resources involved, could include limited excavation to large-scale data recovery if avoidance is not feasible.

ODOT ARCHAEOLOGY: PROCESS AND PROCEDURES
 
There are three levels of effort involved in assessing impacts to archaeological and cultural sites:
 
Phase I: Projects that have a potential to affect archaeological resources initiate Phase I, which can consist of one or more of the following: a search of archaeological site records and historic documents; a field survey; and exploratory subsurface probing if appropriate. If no impacts will occur, or no sites are present in the area, a short report documenting findings is submitted and the process ends.

Phase II: If sites will be impacted, sub-surface testing is conducted to determine boundaries, content, integrity and significance under National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) criteria. If sites are determined ‘not significant’, no further investigations are needed. If a site is determined to be significant, a Determination of Eligibility (DOE) is submitted to the National Register of Historic Places and is reviewed by the appropriate Indian Tribe, the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO), and the Federal Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP). In addition, a Finding of Effect is submitted, which evaluates the project’s impact on the resource. If a project is determined to have an effect upon the resource, then mitigation strategies must be identified.

Phase III: If the site is determined significant, and avoidance is not a feasible option, data recovery (excavation) is conducted to record and preserve the information from the site. When data recovery is necessary, a data recovery plan is submitted to outline: 1) current archaeological research relating to the site proposed for recovery, 2) how the site in question will contribute to current research, and 3) the level of recovery that is appropriate to address the questions identified. Oversight of this process rests most heavily on the SHPO, which must determine if the proposed research design is appropriate, and if the level of research effort is sufficient to comply with federal law and Memoranda of Agreement (MOA) with the Tribes. In addition, the ACHP also provides final oversight, reviews the appropriateness of the SHPO determinations, and must also concur on the sufficiency of the data recovery proposal. The ACHP also ensures that proper consultation with the affected Tribes has taken place, and that the Tribes are supportive of the proposed data recovery design.
  • The amount of time and cost varies depending on the resources and options involved, but can be generalized as follows:
  • Phase I takes approximately one month to complete, and is of minimal financial cost (ca. $4000.00).
  • Phase II, from site identification to the completion of a final report, generally takes from 3 to 6 months to complete and costs an average of 30k per site. However, this figure is significantly lower in situations where numerous sites are to be evaluated within a single project, due to reduced start-up and mobilization costs.
    Phase III can be time-consuming and costly; the generation of a data recovery plan can take months to prepare, and the review process can similarly take up to six months. Additionally, fieldwork and analysis is labor and time intensive. Data recovery is rarely less than 100k, and depending on the number of sites impacted, can exceed 1000k.
  • Preservation (i.e., avoidance) is always a primary goal, and one that is generally most satisfying for interested Tribes and cultural historians, and frequently most desirable in terms of cost. However, preservation must always be weighed with traffic efficiency and safety, and is not always possible. If an archaeological site is threatened by a highway project, the department is obliged to ensure that any information the site contains is recorded and preserved, even if it is not possible to save the site itself.

Further information can be obtained by contacting Carolyn McAleer, Archaeology Program Coordinator, via the email address below.

carolyn.p.mcaleer@odot.state.or.us