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Environmental Review Toolkit


White House Ruins at Canyon de Chelly, Arizona. Ruins of Indian villages built between AD 350 and 1300 can be found at the base of the sheer red cliffs and in canyon wall caves.
White House Ruins at Canyon de Chelly, Arizona. Ruins of
Indian villages built between AD 350 and 1300 can be found at the base of the sheer red cliffs and in canyon wall caves.

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) provides guidance and technical assistance to Federal, State, and local government staff regarding Federal laws, regulations, policy, and procedures on archeological topics.

To find contacts at the Office of Project Development and Environmental Review with knowledge of archeological and other historic preservation topics, visit the contacts page.

ACHP Section 106 Archeology Guidance

The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) has developed an interactive website that posts archeology guidance in the context of compliance with Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act. This website is presented in an interactive, Web-based format as a series of questions and answers. It is designed to be a dynamic document, with examples used to illustrate the points and perspectives made here.

Each question has a unique answer. However, the answers complement each other in such a way that, when considering a specific question or topic, the user is strongly encouraged to access links to other answers and their questions, as suggested. Also, links to pertinent federal law, regulation, standards, and guidance are provided. Accessing this additional information offers the user a more thorough explanation of the topics. Visit:

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minus sign Treatment of Human Remains

The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) has adopted a new "Policy Statement Regarding Treatment of Burial Sites, Human Remains, and Funerary Objects" as of February 23, 2007 that replaces the policy that was enacted in 1988.

The policy offers leadership in resolving how to treat burial sites, human remains, and funerary objects in a respectful and sensitive manner. It is designed to guide federal agencies in making decisions about these sites and objects encountered during the Section 106 process, in those instances where federal or state law does not prescribe a course of action. The policy does not recommend a specific treatment. Rather it encourages careful consideration about how to treat burial sites, human remains, and funerary objects in a respectful and sensitive manner while acknowledging the public interest in the past.

Where there is a discovery of human remains and those remains can be identified as Native American, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) applies. If the discovery is on Federal land, compliance with NAGPRA is the responsibility of the Federal land manager. If the discovery occurs on non-Federal land, and the State DOT acts in a way that defines them as a museum under NAGPRA (i.e., takes remains into their possession and makes decisions about disposition), the State DOT is subject to the provisions of NAGPRA. The Department of Interior's NAGPRA website contains more details on these matters. Also, a good overall description of the NAGPRA regulations is contained in the preamble to the Federal Register notice for 43 CFR 10.

plus sign Archeology, Heritage Tourism, and Education
minus sign Archeology, Heritage Tourism, and Education

The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) unanimously adopted a policy statement (policy is available at encouraging greater public understanding of and appropriate involvement with the nation's archeological heritage resources on August 15, 2008. This policy statement calls for the ACHP to "foster public understanding and appreciation of archeological resources through heritage education programs and, where appropriate, heritage tourism initiatives while encouraging their conservation for future generations in a spirit of stewardship."

The policy statement and its accompanying guidance set out the benefits of using archeological sites for educational purposes while considering their management and sustainability needs, including resource protection considerations, public access, current and long-term threats, and maintenance requirements. The policy encourages balancing educational and tourism goals and objectives with privacy and preservation concerns through consultation among all involved and concerned parties. The policy urges that decisions about appropriate use of archeological resources be made in consultation with persons, organizations, and entities that ascribe values and significance to them.

The policy and guidance are designed to assist ACHP staff, federal agency decision-makers, and other interested parties when, in the effort to foster a greater appreciation and understanding of the American past, they make decisions about incorporating archeology and archeological resources into heritage tourism projects and programs, as well as broader educational initiatives. The principles and guidance should also be useful to others involved in heritage development, including State Historic Preservation Officers, Tribal Historic Preservation Officers, state, tribal, and local governments, tourism interests, businesses, not-for-profit organizations, and private individuals dealing with archeological resources.

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The residues of the past, consisting of objects fashioned by humans (artifacts and construction materials) as well as remnants of past environments (samples of soils, pollen, food residues including animal bones), are collected by archeologists and analyzed for the purpose of answering questions about the organization of past human societies and how people adapted to their environments. Even though reports and publications are produced from these analyses, these materials are stored or curated because they are still useful in the future study through comparison and future analyses not yet developed. But holding on to an increasing volume of archeological materials has led to the filling of many of our nation's repositories such that increasing numbers cannot accommodate new collections.

The National Park Service (NPS) Archeology and Ethnography Program has recognized this challenge to storing and managing both existing collections and new collections that would result from archeological investigations in the future. To learn more about the challenges to collections management and to explore alternatives, please see the following articles:

  • "The Curation Crisis" - A NPS Archeology and Ethnography Program article, the Curation Crisis describes the problem of limited space for archeological finds. The article also offers a range of alternatives to the collection dilemma.
  • Managing Archeological Collections - Managing Archeological Collections provides information on how collections of artifacts can be processed, catalogued, and archived. The article discusses some Federal and State agency standards as well as guidance offered by local repositories.
  • The National Park Service, Midwest Archeological Center - This website includes a list of sources of archeological curation information. It also includes links to books, guides, handbooks, guidance, and newsletters about curating archeological objects.
  • A Possible Solution to the Curation Challenge in Arizona - The State of Arizona limited ability to curation archeological collections has reached a crisis. The response was the preparation of a report titled "THE ARCHEOLOGICAL CURATION CRISIS IN ARIZONA: ANALYSIS AND POSSIBILE SOLUTIONS." This 24 page report completed in November of 2006 touches on the scientific and ethical issues of curation, legal requirements, how the curation crisis developed, and recommendations for possible solutions.
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One relatively new tool being used in collections management is remote sensing. Remote sensing involves the acquisition of information about the Earth's surface from space. This technology, often used to improve natural resources and land use management, is increasingly being used to identify and evaluate archeological sites. By employing remote sensing, archeologists can avoid disturbing vulnerable areas.

The following sites offer descriptions of current projects, applications, and educational opportunities related to remote sensing in archeology.

  • I-Sites—The I-Sites website is home to Iowa's web-based Geographic Information System (GIS) and database for Iowa's archeological resources.
  • GIS Applications and Archaeology—The application of GIS to an archeological survey and analysis helps in the understanding of why archeological sites are situation on the landscape where they are, with regard to the location of natural resources. Several examples of this application are provided.
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minus sign Archeological Models

Archeological models are often created to predict where archeological sites may occur in a given area. Below is one example of a successful model.

  • Minnesota Archeological Predictive Model - The Mn/Model is a tool that helps indicate the probability of encountering an archeological site anywhere within a landscape. This tool provides Minnesota DOT a way to protect cultural resources while saving time and money.
  • NCDOT's GIS-based Archeological Predictive Models - The North Carolina Department of Transportation has developed a GIS-based Archeological predictive models for use during the planning of multi-lane highways in new locations. The models integrate available environmental and cultural variables in order to rank proposed highway corridors and alternatives for the likelihood of containing prehistoric and historic archeological resources. The 37,000 existing archeological site files for the state will be digitized, and an easy-to-use, web enabled graphical user interface (GUI) will be developed for use by NCDOT staff.
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  • Setting Up the Program - The value of having an archaeological predictive model was recognized by a NCDOT archaeologist who championed the modeling project. This individual prepared a scope of work for the project, which went through several internal reviews, including one by the State Transportation Board. The contract for developing the archaeological predictive model was awarded to a consortium of private sector consultants, beginning with a pilot program.

    NCDOT’s partners in conducting the pilot program included the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), the State Division of Cultural Resources (i.e., the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO)), the Office of the State Archaeologist (OSA), which is within the Division of Cultural Resources, and the project consultants. Other entities with experience in managing archaeological sites, such as Fort Bragg, also were involved in the program. NCDOT entered into a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the SHPO and OSA to establish a collaborative relationship between the agencies for this project.

    The project was divided into two tasks. Task 1 involved digitizing all existing archaeological site records for the seven-county study area. These records were housed at the OSA. These data were used to populate an archaeological site data layer within NCDOT’s existing GIS database. NCDOT also collected additional data on environmental variables for use in developing the predictive model. The second task involved building the model, testing its statistical validity, and evaluating the model’s use as a planning tool. Task 2 was completed by 2006.

    Funding for the modeling project came from State Planning and Research funds. Total project costs were approximately $900,000, which was used to pay the consultants and to purchase some equipment. Salaries for DOT personnel involved in the modeling project also came out of the same funding source.

    Program Elements - Historic Preservation in Early Project Development, Geographic Information Systems, Historic Property Database, Identifying and Mapping of Archaeological Sensitivity

    Challenges Encountered - NCDOT encountered technical problems in developing the model, and also had to educate some of its agency partners on the modeling process. There was no uniform learning curve among the DOT’s partners, so bringing them up to speed on the modeling project’s development process added time to developing and implementing the model.

    Program Maintenance - NCDOT now reviews 400-500 projects each year under a Programmatic Agreement among FHWA, the North Carolina SHPO and NCDOT. This has led to a broader emphasis on GIS mapping use that was in part spawned by the data created for the original predictive model. The program is maintained using State Planning and Research Funds. One of the current challenges affecting the modeling program is remote access to new historic property information, which is maintained by the SHPO. The SHPO has created an on-line product that currently only shows standing structures; however, plans are underway to add digitized archaeological site locations.

    Critical Factors for a Successful Program - The two top factors that have contributed to the success of the program are: sufficient funding for the project; and highly skilled staff to do the work. In retrospect, adding both GIS and geographic positioning system professionals to the archaeology staff at the start of the program would have helped with its development.
  • Texas Historic Overlay Project—Have you ever wanted to overlay a historic map of a location on top of a recent map in order to see whether historic buildings and features are still present, or where to look for traces of those old features? The Texas Department of Transportation has developed a GIS that does just that. It's called the Texas Historic Overlay Project and it incorporates over 3,000 maps, some dating back more than 300 years. Read more about this project by going to the March/April Issue of Right-of-way and clicking on "Historic Texas Overlay Project." 
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minus sign State DOT Archeological Programs

Many State DOTs have archeological programs, and the breadth of these programs is wide-ranging. For example, New Jersey DOT maintains a "Cultural Resource Commitments List," while Minnesota DOT and North Carolina DOT have developed predictive archeological GIS models.

Jasper artifacts uncovered at 11,500 year old Brook Run Paleo-Indian site as part of Virginia DOT's 1998 cultural resources survey. Photo courtesy of the Virginia DOT
  • Delaware DOT's archeology website, offers an email subscription service that allows the public to sign up in order to receive a notice for new postings on Archeology What's New. What's New is a listing of archeology/historic preservation reports, available in pdf format, that is updated each month. This website also includes a section called Introduction/Overview that introduces the public to basic information about archeology and historic preservation.
  • Illinois DOT has managed cultural resources on transportation project since the late 1950s through a cooperative joint intergovernmental agreement with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. This joint program is known as the Illinois Transportation Archeological Research Program or ITARP. Through ITARP, IDOT cooperatively assists the Illinois State Museum (ISM) and Illinois Historic Preservation Agency (IHPA) in the maintenance of both paper and digital site files and their distribution system; cooperatively with IHPA IDOT-ITARP is scanning all cultural resource reports in the state and creating a web based distribution system to make them available to professionals and government representatives; is developing a working relationship with the UIUC Extension Program to create and promote a regionally based web system to bring information on IDOT's archeology program to the public.
  • The Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) has an archeology program whose benefits and effects go beyond historic preservation. Many times, highway projects are disruptive to traffic, local businesses, and may alienate landowners due to the exercise of eminent domain. In Maryland, they have witnessed archaeological projects improve a community's and an individual's perception of the SHA after staff archaeologists work with the town to illuminate their history and produce outreach and mitigation materials for the community and the people of Maryland. Two examples include the Taneytown Streetscape project where the town loathed SHA's construction in their community to the point where someone in the town created and sold “I Hate Taneytown Streetscape Project” magnets and created a Facebook page with the same profile name. The cultural resources staff ended up reaching out to the community and city and worked with them to design interpretive panels and a brochure for their town. The city is extremely thankful and we have repaired our damaged relationship with that community through the archaeology mitigation.
  • SHA's War of 1812 Outreach projects at Bladensburg, the Bladensburg Battlefield, and the search for USS Scorpion are directly tied to enhancing heritage tourism in the State of Maryland during and after the War of 1812 Bicentennial. The results of the work will assist with the development of public interpretation along the Star Spangled Banner NHT and byway, and will provide seminal stops along the trail at the Battle of Bladensburg and the site of the wrecks of the Chesapeake Flotilla. SHA and the Maryland Historical Trust are also co-hosting the Society for Historical Archaeology Conference in Baltimore in January 2012, an event that will provide substantive economic benefits to the City of Baltimore, with an estimated 1,500 conference attendees.
  • The City of Bladensburg is a blighted community ribboned with highways. The town still holds onto is colonial port roots and continues to celebrate the survival and history of the Magruder House, Market Master's House, George Washington House, and Bostwick House. They are also excited about the War of 1812 bicentennial celebration. Through SHA's outreach research (read more) and excavations, they have helped the community reconnect with their past. It has also created positive working relationships between SHA and local businesses and community leaders and the city council. Mayor Walter James even came out and shook a screen with SHA archeologists on their excavations in the town. SHA now has a new highway project coming to the town and a positive and familiar working relationship has already been established. This positive relationship is crucial for the success of any highway project going into an area that has extremely challenging pedestrian issues and a diverse community. The SHA public outreach program is responsible for constructing the foundation of a positive working relationship with the Town of Bladensburg.
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minus sign Educational Outreach Programs

Some Federal and State government agencies, as well as non-profit organizations, have developed educational outreach programs in the fields of archeology and historic preservation. The following links provide examples of educational outreach opportunities for audiences extending from children to State transportation professionals.

  • Working collaboratively with many stakeholders, Michigan DOT developed a curriculum, Ancestors, Archaeology and the Anishinabek: Bridging the Past into the Future, to put Michigan archaeology and the State’s Native American history in context for grade school students. Two short curriculum units, one for third-graders and one for fifth-graders, were created and are available for use by teachers in public, tribal, private, parochial, or home school settings.
  • The Arizona Department of Transportation has prepared a 14 minute video about the data recovery investigations of Antler House Village, a large Indian village dating to around AD 600-700. See archeologists at work and the range of artifacts they recovered. Learn about how archeology is performed and how we learn about how people lived in the past.
  • Time Team America—This Public Broadcasting System (PBS) series on archeology has an informative website. Explore all seven episodes.
  • National Park Service "Archeology for Kids" website—For a great way to introduce kids to the world of archeology—who archeologists are, how they work, and the thrill of digging, visit this website.
  • Georgia FHWA Kids' Program—FHWA and Georgia DOT co-sponsor this program in cooperation with the Jimmy Carter National Historic Site to help students better understand history through hands on archeology.
  • Reed Farmstead Archeological Site—"Kids Dig Reed" is an educational website for children developed by the West Virginia Department of Transportation. The interactive site allows users to learn history, view films and artifacts, play games, and submit questions about archeological efforts on one farmstead in eastern West Virginia.
  • Texas' Reuben Hancock Site—Texas DOT has developed downloadable educational packets on archeology at the Reuben Hancock site, a once thriving community of freed African-American slaves.
  • National Park Service's "Public Benefits of Archeology" website—For an introduction of some of the public benefits of archeology visit this National Park Service website. It explores who benefits from archeology, including communities, ecologists, educators, historians, and museums through case studies.

photo of people digging with spades

Public outreach at Site VT-CH-201 in Colchester, VT