Federal Archeology on the Internet: Current Status and Future Directions
S. Terry Childs
The Internet provides a powerful and dynamic tool to inform a wide range of audiences about archeological projects, programs and interpretative results; provide scholars and students with interactive access to research databases and other materials; and provide cultural resources management staff with various management tools. Federal agencies increasingly use the Internet for some or all of these functions, but with considerable variability due to a number of factors. This paper examines current efforts to bring Federal archeological activities and resources to light on the Internet and explores future directions and possibilities.
Iwant to begin by clarifying what I mean by “Federal archeology”. It is the management, preservation and protection of archeological resources on and from Federal lands. This includes inventorying sites; conducting CRM-based and research-based archeological projects; preserving and protecting known sites in place; dealing with the curation of the collections, records and reports resulting from archeological projects; writing relevant laws and regulations; helping to implement those laws; and providing public education and outreach about archeology on Federal lands. It is important to understand that archeologists work for many different government agencies, each with different missions that relate to both archeology and education. Federal archeologists also work with many others at the state, tribal and local levels, as well as in academia.
As such, Federal archeology and related cultural resource programs definitely have made use of the Internet, although with significant variation across agencies. I begin by summarizing the primary uses and then point out some problems related to them. The second part of this paper examines some future directions for effective use of the Internet for Federal archeology, especially if some of the current bumps on the cyber-road can be overcome.
Federal Archeology on the Internet
The two primary parts of the Internet used by Federal archeologists are listservers and the World Wide Web. Listservers such as Arch-L, Histarch-L, AIA-L, Anthro- L and Museum-L have become important vehicles of communication that have encouraged Federal archeologists, often isolated in parks or forests, to participate in both theoretical and practical discussions of current issues, to circulate new initiatives and to ask for assistance from unknown colleagues. Some groups of Federal archeologists and related colleagues have initiated their own listservers, such as the one for the Federal Preservation Forum. These serve to promote communication about in-house cultural resource issues that cross-cut Federal agencies and disciplines, including historic preservation, cultural landscapes, American Indian consultation, deaccessioning archeological collections, and Sections 106 and 110 compliance.
The other major use of the Internet over the last several years is the Web. Today the Web serves a variety of functions for a variety of audiences. The most common materials provided by Federal agencies are for basic public outreach. These typically include descriptive information about a particular Federal archeology program or activity, such as the cultural resources programs of the Bureau of Reclamation1, the Fish and Wildlife Service2, or about Federal archeology in general.3 Sometimes a division or group in an agency uses the Web to advertise their expertise and technical capabilities, perhaps in hopes of some future partnership activities, such as the Army Corps of Engineers’ Construction Engineering Research Laboratory.4 Much of this type of information is reprocessed print material that focuses on “who we are” and “what we do”.
The Web also is used for access to existing documents about Federal archeological initiatives, cooperative agreements, guidelines, planning, law enforcement, and training. The US Army, for example, has a useful one-stop shopping compilation of its cultural resources documents5 that were once only available in print. Other materials that once took real time to order and receive, but are now readily available on the Web, are grant information and applications. Some good examples include the National Science Foundation,6 National Endowment for the Humanities,7 and the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act grants for museums and tribes.8
Federal archeologists and other cultural resources professionals often feel compelled to provide access to the many statutory requirements that justify and structure their work. The most extensive list is provided by the National Park Service.9 A real plus of the Web, however, is the ability to offer ready access to potentially significant draft legislation that used to be difficult to find. This service has been provided on the Web by the Advisory Council for Historic Preservation and the National Park Service on various occasions. Additionally, the Advisory Council recently began an interactive online forum on Federal historic preservation to gather comments on related Federal legislation and its effectiveness10 (Figure 1).
Federal staff also are taking advantage of the Web to distribute widely used, free magazines and publications, such as CRM11 (Figure 2) and the technical bulletins of the National Register of Historic Places,12 to a broader audience than has ever been possible. Not only are current issues of CRM posted on the Web as they come out in print and sent to a limited distribution, but twenty years of back issues now are available, indexed and searchable in a database.
Public outreach on the Web involves enhancing education about Federal archeology for students beginning as early as kindergarten and through college and beyond. This usually consists of pages on the excavations and interpretation of a site such as the Five Points site in New York City by the General Services Administration (GSA)13 or African-American households at Manassas National Battlefield (NPS).14 Whereas some of this type of material may be acquired from brochures and other printed material, the Web offers a relatively cheap way to provide additional color photos of the context, excavation and artifacts resulting from a project that is not possible in print.
Federal archeologists, curators and other CRM specialists are using the Web to provide information on educational and volunteer services, such as at the Bureau of Land Management’ s Anasazi Heritage Center15 and the US Forest Service’s Passport in Time in particular forests (i.e., Tahoe National Forest).16 Most states now designate one week or month each year to promote local and statewide understanding and participation in archeology and many have active Web sites on these programs. The National Park Service provides an invaluable compilation of all the states with archeology weeks or months, along with contact information and active links to the state Web sites. 17
While the Web is used to increase awareness of such programs, other Federal archeologists have begun to develop educational products targeted to particular audiences on the Web. These include “Ancient Architects of the Mississippi”,18 the “Teaching with Historic Places” lesson plans — some having to do with archeological sites19 — and virtual tours of archeological sites in a region or by state.20 Another type of education tool is a virtual museum exhibit around a particular theme. The exhibit on Civil War camp life at Gettysburg,21 for example, focuses on the daily lives of young men at war with poignant similarities between the objects of yesteryear and today (Figure 3).
Federal archeologists and cultural resource specialists also use the Web to provide unique services, such as interactive databases that allow researchers to search for and explore particular interests and topics. The Reports module of the National Archeological Database,22 for example, provides bibliographic information on archeological projects conducted across the United States, particularly from the gray or unpublished literature. Another important NPS database is the Native American Consultation Database23 that provides tribal contacts for a variety of issues, such as NAGPRA and unanticipated discoveries. The US Information Agency’ s International Cultural Property Protection program24 offers an image database of pillaged artifacts subject to import restrictions (Figure 4). As well, considerable value can be added to basic information found in other venues and media when organized and standardized in a searchable database, such as the Preservation Internet Resources database25 of the National Park Service’s National Center for Preservation Technology and Training. Some of these databases were first made accessible on the Internet via telnet or gopher, but have been converted to the more user-friendly formats permitted on the Web.
Geographic Information System maps are another means to summarize, analyze and present complex information in graphic form on the Web, usually for professionals. The Multiple Attribute Presentation System module of the National Archeological Database,26 for example, offers a useful set of national level GIS maps. Of particular interest is the capability to create a unique data layer on a specific archeological phenomenon in order to study its regional or national distribution, such as the national distribution of Paleoindian projectile points.27 The results of extensive local research using GIS can be communicated effectively by taking advantage of the color graphics capabilities of the Web, such as identifying and assessing the earthworks at battlefield parks.28
While Internet-based materials have considerably expanded the public’s exposure and access to the work and products of Federal archeologists, there are a few problems and issues that must be acknowledged before we look to the future of Federal archeology on the Internet.
The first is audience. It is difficult to design and create materials for both the general public who pays their taxes and are interested in archeology yet often access the Web via modem, and professional colleagues who want very different materials and often have direct connections to the Web. A second factor is frequency of visits — the casual browser who unexpectedly finds interesting or useful information on a Federal archeology site versus the repeat user. As a consequence, many Federal Web sites on archeology are a hodgepodge of materials for different audiences. The users, in the end, really need to know what they want at a Federal Web site and where to go before they begin.
Finally, a related problem is accessibility to desired information. It is sometimes difficult to find the materials on archeology at many Federal Web sites because the overall site lacks a good organizational structure that recognizes archeology or even cultural resources. A few Federal Web sites lack a search engine or index. Furthermore, individual Web pages may lack good metadata (documentation about the content) to enhance quick retrieval by search engines.
Long-term Web site development and maintenance is another issue. Many Federal archeology Web pages have dated content or bad links. The bottom line is that most Federal agencies with archeology programs do not have a formal Web design and development infrastructure for cultural resources, let alone archeology. What is on the Web, therefore, often is the product of one or two interested and hard- working archeologists who do the best they can when they have time. Regular maintenance is difficult and new product development without extra help and money is even more difficult. It is easier to reuse relatively static, printed materials for wider distribution on the Web rather than create new materials for this challenging medium. For interactive databases, there is the serious issue of regular updates and maintenance.
Finally, Federal managers have been relatively slow to understand the powerful, far-reaching benefits of the Web for communication and education about their resources, products and programs. Therefore, they have not invested in creating a long-term infrastructure to develop and maintain their Web sites since this involves both money and staff that are scarce valuable commodities. This is slowly changing and with it is some increased understanding of basic Federal responsibilities to their users. These responsibilities include access for handicapped users, copyright, photo release permissions and standardized metadata to document the sources and content of Web materials for long-term use. The latter will become particularly critical as collections of materials, such as archeological reports, archival documents and archeological collections are digitized and GIS data layers are created and posted on the Web.
Where Federal Archeology Might Go on the Internet
The National Park Service’s Cultural Resources Web site, “Links to the Past,”29 now handles about 9,000 users per day at an average of 15 minutes per session (Figure 5). Given these numbers, NPS managers are beginning to invest some money and staff expertise in the Web to utilize its unique capabilities and begin to take it in new directions.
If Federal managers do invest further in the medium, there are a number of new ways that Federal archeology can take advantage of the Internet in general. However, given limited resources and constant changes to information technology, it is becoming imperative to work in partnership with other Federal agencies or non-Federal organizations on a particular project to take advantage of their in-house expertise. This is already happening. For example, the National Park Service’ s Archeology & Ethnography Program works with the Center for Advanced Spatial Technologies at the University of Arkansas on database and GIS development and the Bureau of Reclamation is working with the Archeological Research Institute at Arizona State University as Peter McCartney discusses in this volume.
My discussion on new directions revolves around a key factor mentioned above — audience. Which audience warrants investment — the interested public or fellow professionals and their students? the frequent user or the casual browser who discovers a useful site? I suspect that some agencies will pursue the public outreach and education route, others will pursue the professional route and a few will attempt to cater to all.
For the general public effective interpretation must involve highlighting the history and prehistory of the sites preserved and protected on Federal lands and showing the relevance of those sites to today’s life. One direction may be to construct meaningful connections to the past through links to Web sites that deal with modern life issues, businesses and recreation. For example, Federal archeologists who study ancient and historic period ironworking and create Web pages about that research might contact the Web managers of modern steel company sites. They can argue that it is good for public relations to set the development of steel making in its historical context and perhaps work to develop a joint project. Similar arguments can be made about the connections between large-scale corn farming and the rise of corn-based agriculture in the Americas or the connections between major weather storms, lighthouses and shipwrecks.
Another direction relates to the economic value of archeology, which is of great interest to community leaders, tourist bureaus, newspaper reporters and television producers. In particular, the growing heritage tourism industry can be connected intimately to archeology through the prehistoric sites, historic buildings and museums to be visited. The Web provides ways to expose the public to such relationships, to set the historical context of the sites to be visited and to develop significant partnerships with state and local groups through thematic travel itineraries and features. Dynamic maps allow a Web user to visualize a region and its road networks, click on a series of recommended sites and receive useful information (written and/or audio), photographs and videos about them. The National Register of Historic Places has constructed a series of itineraries on cities, like Chicago and Seattle, and on themes, such as the Underground Railroad and women’s history. Similar efforts may begin to focus on archeology themes, such as early efforts on “Ancient Architects of the Mississippi”30 and the archeology in the “Golden Crescent” of the southeast.31
Another focus is to highlight the process of discovery during an archeological excavation for the general public. The Web now offers the possibility to document an excavation in almost real time using on- site digital cameras, as well as written descriptions of daily progress. Although this sort of educational endeavor costs substantial money for equipment and staff expertise, it has proven a successful and lively way to engage the public in archeology. Not only does discovery excite the public due to the unknown possibilities, but a daily account of an excavation can teach about archeological techniques, decision making and interpretation. A first attempt has been made by the Southeast Archeological Center of the National Park Service at Cumberland Island National Seashore.32 Federal archeologists do develop research endeavors, such as the National Historic Landmark Underground Railroad Archeological Initiative. Perhaps Federal archeologists will budget for or seek outside funding for such Web efforts during early project planning.
There are a number of new directions that Federal archeology can follow for its professional audience, including academic, CRM and amateur archeologists, as well as other CRM specialists. These can be lumped into three main categories: professional education, CRM responsibilities and research.
In terms of professional education, a primary new direction for Web-based Federal archeology may involve distance learning modules. This is not just putting up a syllabus, some links to Web sites related to the subject matter and a bibliography. It is developing short training modules or a full course on a topic that is not standard to graduate archeology programs, yet is fundamental to the work of Federal archeologists. These might include the legislative history of Federal archeology, archeological ethics, archeological curation, object conservation and project management. An excellent example of such an endeavor that is used by hundreds of individuals per week is the NPS educational module for preservationists called “Electronic Rehab”33 (Figure 6). Note that these online courses will probably never develop into interactive, credited courses unless developed in partnership with a university that can monitor and evaluate performance and give course credit. The modular format, however, can be readily incorporated into university teaching.
Another category of future Web development relates to providing a national perspective on basic CRM responsibilities occurring at the Federal, state, tribal and local levels. Many Federal, state and tribal archeologists create, work with or have access to large amounts of data generated through compliance with Federal laws and regulations. These include archeological site records, nominations to the National Register of Historic Places, archeological project reports, inadvertent discoveries related to NAGPRA and Federal collections and associated documents. I expect that most new efforts to deal with and provide access to information will be in the form of searchable databases including digitized images, GIS mapping and combinations of the two.
Not only do these data cover activities from large tracts of land, but they often come from multiple sources. While databases provide a mechanism to gather large quantities of standardized data for a variety of uses and the Internet facilitates access to that data, the data contents often need to be validated and kept up-to-date. I believe a new direction for Federal archeology and CRM work is developing online data entry capabilities to handle these needs. For example, the Reports module of the National Archeological Database is now several years out of date since the National Park Service infrastructure to handle data updates crumbled upon staff reorganization. In response, an online data entry system is being explored to allow CRM contractors to enter the citation information about their reports into the system. Technically, this is relatively easy to do these days. The hard part is staffing for data entry and validation. Therefore, a validation system is being developed where the State Historic Preservation Offices, who currently supply bibliographic data to NADB-Reports, can be periodically notified about newly created records. Designated SHPO staff would review the records with full editing capabilities, submit each record to the master database for immediate upload and then have the option to download that same record to their local database. Given that this process involves SHPO offices in over 50 states and territories with their own staffing and priorities, there are numerous organizational hoops to overcome. Careful analysis of workload issues and hardware and software compatibility must accompany efforts to implement an online data entry system at the national or even regional levels.
Another type of potential information system for Federal archeology on the Web involves using GIS to access and analyze specialized information in map formats.Forexample,thereisincreasingneedtoassist CRM professionals, as well as local law enforcement, in locating appropriate tribal contacts for NAGPRA related issues or inadvertent discoveries of historic and prehistoric burials. A GIS interface to the Native American Consultation Database34 using data layers such as state, county, rivers and tribal reservation boundaries, at a minimum, would facilitate the discovery of appropriate tribal contacts in times of immediate need. Because GIS can provide precise locational information, Federal archeologists must be careful to consider the requirements of laws, such as the Archeological Resources Protection Act and the Electronic Freedom of Information Act, when preparing GIS maps for online use.
Also related to GIS on the Internet is developing the ability to build maps online from a collection of public domain data layers related to archeological site density, the environment, historic census records and other relevant information. Armed with choices from a large number of data layers, perhaps broken down by state or ecosystem, users could facilitate decision-making on archeological resource management, predictive models and research. This capability is being developed at the state level in Arkansas35 and could be applied on a national basis, including at particular national parks or national forests.
The final category related to possible future developments on the Internet deals with research, as well as CRM responsibilities. Here we focus on a source of archeological data that is often underused, primarily due to accessibility problems — collections, records and reports. We have discussed the attempt to make “gray literature” reports more widely known through the Internet, but what about the huge number of archeological artifacts and documents owned by the Federal government — well over one billion? There is one effort by the National Park Service to put online summary information of museum collections housed in all their national parks and regional centers.36 This information, however, is not detailed enough to determine the nature of particular collections in a repository in order to facilitate the development of a research project.
Two sources of pressure to make collections more accessible and accountable may stimulate Federal repositories and the non-Federal repositories that care for Federal collections to develop online searchable databases of their collections. One source is the White House and other government groups, who initiated Save America’s Treasures37 to provide needed care for significant Federally-owned collections, among other cultural resources, and to educate the American public about these hidden treasures. The other source is professional archeologists who are interested in access to collections information for research purposes. Search fields in repository databases might include the source project name, source project location, the range of materials in a collection, cultural affiliation and condition to facilitate research project planning for professionals.
Another aspect of archeological collection research that might receive some attention in the future is the use of three-dimensional imaging and photogrammetry. Although it is unlikely that Federal archeologists will be heavily involved in the further development of this technology in general, they can certainly benefit from supporting the development of its use on the Web. If researchers can examine a whole object in three dimensions from home or office, do basic measurements and examine decorative style and basic technological features, then they do not necessarily have to visit the museum in which the objects are housed. This frees repository staff to pursue activities other than supervising researchers.
There is a considerable amount of material related to Federal archeology now on the Internet, but it is primarily descriptive and is not widely known. It also does not help that this information often is difficult to find and poorly planned and organized. But Federal managers are beginning to better understand the strengths of the Internet for communication, education, the relative ease of data sharing and accountability to a vast public and are improving Federal Web sites. It may take some time before many of the future directions I described are fully invested in and implemented, but some new footsteps are being taken on the Internet cyber-road.
2. refuges.fws.gov/NWRSFiles/ CulturalResources/CulturalResources.html
14. www.nps.gov/rap/exhibit/mana/text/ rhouse00.htm
16. sv0505.r5.fs.fed.us:80/tahoe/ tnf_vol_pit.html
27. www.cast.uark.edu/other/nps/maplib/ USfluteddens.html
28. www2.cr.nps.gov/gis/reports/fishhook/ intro.htm
36. www.cr.nps.gov/csd/collections/ parkprof.html
37. www.whitehouse.gov/WH/EOP/ First_Lady/html/treasures/index3.html