US Army Corps of Engineers
Albuquerque District

Archaeology Plays Important Role for Corps

Public Affairs
Published July 1, 2011

Not confined to academic settings or Harrison Ford movies, archaeologists have an important role in deciphering history and preserving historic artifacts. The Albuquerque District has several archaeologists who also work to preserve the District’s history, as our employees work and build in support of the nation’s future.

The Corps’ long tradition of historic and cultural awareness traces back to the Lewis and Clark expedition. In the 1800s, the Corps of Topographical Engineers (which was eventually merged into the Army’s Corps of Engineers) came west exploring and surveying. The District began hiring archaeologists in the mid-1970s.

With close to 50 years of experience among them, archaeologists Jeremy Decker, Gregory Everhart and Jonathan Van Hoose work in the District’s Environmental Resources Section. 

Other archaeologists in the District include: Ron Kneebone, the District’s Tribal Liaison; Ariane Pinson, the District’s technical writer and editor; and Cochiti Park Ranger Tim Beauchene, who pursued his degree in archaeology to fulfill a childhood dream.

Congress passed the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) in 1966 to preserve historical and archaeological sites in the United States. The act requires federal agencies to evaluate the impact of all federally funded or permitted projects on historic properties through a process known as a Section 106 Review.

If a site is listed on, or eligible for listing on, the National Register of Historic Places, the Corps, as a federal agency, is mandated to “take into account” the effect any proposed projects may have on the site. Interested parties must have the opportunity to comment. Potential interested parties can include the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO), acequia associations, local governments, land owners and tribes. In the District, tribes and SHPO are always consulted.

Prior to NHPA, archaeological work was not mandated for federal projects. After the passage of NHPA, the Park Service was contracted to do archaeological work on the government’s behalf. The initial surveys at Cochiti and Trinidad lakes were contracted through the Park Service.

While a common image of an archaeologist working involves being out in the field digging up artifacts, Decker, Everhart and Van Hoose try to avoid it when it’s not necessary because it is resource  intensive. A lot of the work is done by assessing and surveying historic sites and conducting literature reviews. However, Decker, Everhart and Van Hoose said they all agree that excavation work is fun.

Because NHPA also covers projects permitted by the Corps, archaeologist Chris Parrish works with the permit applications in the District’s Regulatory Division. Parrish joined the Corps in April. 

Most permit applicants have private consultants review databases to see if there are known historic properties that could be impacted by the application’s actions. Part of Parrish’s job is to review the consultant’s findings. If a consultant hasn’t done a review, then Parrish does it.  Parrish is also a Regulatory Project Manager. Nationally, within the Corps, Parrish said that there are only around 10-12 Regulatory Archaeologists. 

Decker, Everhart, Van Hoose and Parrish stay busy.  

In April, John Martin Dam in southeastern Colorado experienced a wildfire, and dozens of archaeological sites burned.  However, nothing was severely damaged, but, according to Decker, “a number of previously undiscovered sites within the freshly burned area” were located; including the foundation of a structure from the mid-to-late 1800s.

Decker said that this summer, he, Everhart and Van Hoose will be heading south to White Sands Missile Range to “conduct a cultural resource survey” to find any cultural resources that might be present.

Also, many acres of easement land remain to be surveyed and assessed at Conchas Dam.

Because this dam was built before a review of historic properties was required, only a small fraction of the area has been surveyed. The other dams and reservoirs in the District also offer sites to study.

Another ongoing project that Decker, Everhart and Van Hoose find fascinating is the District’s Acequia Rehabilitation Program.   

Unique to the District, acequias are more than just ditches to move water; they have a cultural aspect involving community interaction. Associations are formed to govern water usage and were early representations of community government in Nueva Mexico since the 1600s.

Did You Know...

 Army lands contain some 90,000 archeological sites, including 64,000 known sites in maneuver areas. These sites range from those representing the rich and varied Native American past to early pioneer settlements to more contemporary sites related to the history of the Army itself.

The materials recovered from archeological inventories, evaluations and data recovery projects must be appropriately curated for the benefit of future scientists, educators and museum specialists. Therefore, an archeological project is not complete simply because the artifacts are out of the ground and a final report has been submitted.