As we welcome the Obama administration into its first period, everyone at Sb is eager to see it restore science to its rightful place in US policy making and political culture. Now, from an archaeologist’s point of view, there is one area of US law where science is sorely lacking. And in this case, it’s not the second Bush administration’s fault. Actually, this is an area where US law has lagged behind that of the rest of the developed world for as long as there has been a developed world.
What is science’s rightful place in US cultural heritage management law? It should be everywhere, while at present it is only really there on federally owned land.
The US constitution emphasises the rights and freedoms of the individual and of each state in the Union. Unfortunately, this means that in the US, the fate of an archaeological site threatened by land development depends, quite haphazardly, on who owns the land it’s sitting on and in which state that land is located.
What the US needs, from the perspective of the science of archaeology, is a set of simple federal blanket laws to the effect that if someone wants to develop a piece of land with the slightest potential for an archaeological site on it, then the developer must pay for archaeological evaluation and possibly a rescue dig. This is how it works in most of Europe. Surely the mightiest country in the world can have no problem in attaining a similar level of protection for its cultural heritage.