Sea History 052 - Winter 1989-1990

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Managing Shipwrecks as Cultural Resources With the signing by the Pres ident on April 28, 1988 of the Abandoned Shipwreck Act(43 U.S.C. 2 101 ),shipwrecks in State waters formally became a part of the cultural resource management (CRM) system of the United States. Prior to this event, the States and various Federal agencies dealt with shipwrecks on an essentially ad hoc basis-that is, only when a given shipwreck site was clearly threatened. No consistent national policy existed and the legal mandates for controlling negative impacts to shipwrecks were generally subordinated to the law of salvage, the law of finds or other statutes not concerned with historic preservation. Just how are cultural resource managers going to handle their new responsibilities regarding shipwrecks? CRMonLand The basis for CRM in the United States rests on several statutes, the most important of which is the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) of 1966. NHPA established the National Register of Historic Places, composed of historic districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects significant in American history. NHPA al so provided for the development of State historic preservation programs to be coordinated by a designated State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO) who follows the Secretary of the Interior 's Guidelines for Archaeology and Historic Preservation. Also within NHPA, Section 106 directs that any Federal activity or Federally assisted, funded , licensed, or permitted endeavor must take into account the effect of that activity on any property that may be eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. This "Section 106 Process" as it is termed, is the driving force behind CRM activity. As stated in the Department of Interior 's criteria for listing on the National Register (36 CFR 60.4): The quality of significance in American history, architecture, archaeology, engineering and culture is present in districts, sites, buildings, structures and objects that possess integrity of location, design , setting, materials, workmanship , feeling and association and that (a) are associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of our history; or (b) that are associated with the lives of persons significant in our past; or (c) that embody the distinctive characteris-


by Christopher E. Hamilton, PhD tics of a type, period, or method of construction, or that possess high artistic values, or that represent a significant distinguishable entity whose components may lack individual distinction ; or (d) that have yielded or may be likely to yield information important in history or prehistory. The central concept in this simplified description of the NHPA is that both Federal and State agencies must comply with NHPA either by eliminating negative impacts on archaeological sites or mitigating those impacts through excavation or recording procedures using the Secretary of the Interior's guidelines. In general, CRM surveys are conducted by private firms or special insti -

What the Abandoned Shipwreck Act did not do was prohibit activity which might have a negative impact on shipwrecks, up to and including salvage. tutes under a University's purview. If the initial survey in the fie ld (Phase I) reveals one or more archaeological sites or cultural resources, then site significance must be assessed. Demonstrating that the site does or does not meet the eligibility criteria for the Register of Historic Places entails a Phase II operation, consisting of both an archaeological testing program and library research. Finally, if it is shown that the site is significant and eligible for inclusion on the National Register, and the project is still to proceed, Phase III or data recovery is initiated. It should be noted that neither State nor Federal review agencies automatically take permanent ownership of cultural resources. Only those resources which are on land owned by the State or Federal government or to which they otherwise hold direct title, may receive the benefit of permanent protection from destruction . For projects where only a Federal or State license or permit is involved, the owners of the property are free to do with this cultural reso urce and the artifacts recovered as they see fit. It is the singul ar issue of the ownership of shipwrecks, particularly historic shipwrecks and their artifacts which was meant to be resolved by the passage of the Abandoned Shipwreck Act.

CRM and the Abandoned Shipwreck Act The Abandoned Shipwreck Act of 1988 gave to each state the title to all abandoned shipwrecks in submerged lands belonging to the State. In doing this, the Federal government was responding to the growing reali zation by the public that shipwrecks are an important cultural resource which deserve full consideration within the CRM system. What the Abandoned Shipwreck Act did not do was prohibit activity which might have a negative impact on shipwrecks, up to and including salvage. The manner in which a given State will comply with the Abandoned Shipwreck Act is, to an important degree, dictated by the National Historic Preservation Act. Project activities such as channel widening, beach replenishment, wharf, bridge or tunnel construction, and salvage should now follow the current rules and regulations of the CRM system. What this means for shipwreck archaeology and marine history is that Phase I through Phase III surveys, or their procedural equivalents under different titles, will be required in advance to clear project areas. It is quite likely however, that many of the States will permit some private salvage of historic shipwrecks. This will undoubtedly be under tighter regulation than in the past. A private firm wishing to salvage an historic shipwreck may be required to allow a public agency, private firm or qualified individual to conduct some or all of the excavations, conservation, analysis, and reporting of the data before the artifacts are handed over for possible sale. A serious difficulty arises when the few archaeologists dedicated to shipwreck investigations will not excavate shipwrecks with a potential for the sale

Mr. Hamilton, at right, works with Maritime Explorations, In c.


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