In considering the preservation of archeological resources, it is important to understand the delicate, nonrenewable nature of archeological sites and associated materials. While some sites may reveal beautiful artifacts or fascinating ruins, the fundamental value of archeology lies in the information that sites and artifacts offer about the way humans have lived in the past. Once archeological material has been removed from the ground, whether through excavation or as a result of looting, development, erosion, or other processes, the site is destroyed forever. When investigations are conducted properly, the information from the site is preserved through collections, records, and reports that are used to analyze and interpret the past. When sites are excavated improperly, information is lost and the value of the archeological deposits is greatly diminished. Through education and providing experiences to understand these resources better, NYAC hopes to promote the responsible stewardship of archeological resources in order to help preserve these valuable but fragile pieces of human history.
Some of the hallmarks of responsible archeological stewardship include thorough research and and scientific methods, well-organized information collection and analysis, and public education and site interpretation. Professional archeologists are some of the most important stewards of New York ‘s archeological heritage; however, members of the general public can also be effective stewards. For example, landowners who have archeological sites on their properties are encouraged to preserve and protect them and to register the site with the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO).
Another way to be a good steward of archaeological sites is to be aware of potential threats to sites that you know – and to contact local planning boards and other agencies that may be reviewing the project. Under the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) lead agencies are mandated to take a “hard look” at the potential impacts of any project they review on environmental resources – inlcuding archaeological sites and other historic sites. However, if the lead agency is not made aware of the presence of a resource during the public comment period, they are not able to consider potential impacts. During the review process, a lead agency should be checking the State Archaeological Sensitivity Map (available at the SHPO website on the GIS for Archaeology and National Register Properties).