Thursday, February 2, 2012

Historical Preservation

Lately there have been a lot of stories and articles about historical sites around the world that are being built over to make way for new building or other structures. The biggest one that I've come across (Thanks to Confessions of a Pagan Soccer Mom) is the Aphrodite Temple in Greece. This temple is set to be entombed to make way for an apartment building. This Temple is from the 6th century, is full of so much history and culture and yet the government is covering it up. As an anthropologist this is sickening.

In the United States we have legislation that is set down to prevent these types of things from happening. The main one is the Historic Preservation Act of 1966 which subsection b(2) reads: "The historical and cultural foundations of the Nation should be preserved as a living part of our community life and development in order to give a sense of orientation to the American people."

This then prevents anybody from building something over a historical site. The problem with this is then deciding where there is a historical site. That is why in the United States whenever anyone builds anything (buildings, roads, etc) they have to have an archaeological survey done on the land. Back in 2009 I worked for an archaeology lab who did just this. We would go out to sites where a road was being built or a new office building was going to be built and we would conduct a survey.

We would start with a Phase I survey which would entail doing research on the area to see what the history is behind it and going out to the property and mapping out any potential areas. If there were potential areas then we would mark them on the map and move onto a Phase II survey. During the Phase II survey we would dig Shovel Test Pits (STPs) every 30 meters or so depending on the area and see if we could dig up any artifacts. Then if we found anything that would be indicative of a historic site or historic significance we would move on to a full excavation (Phase III and Phase IV). From there the proper paperwork would be filed to make sure that it was a historic site and that no one could build over it in the future.

Of course there are some flaws to this system like every other system and some sites are covered up or sometimes destroyed. Still nothing compared to the seemingly non-existent laws in some of these other countries such as Greece. Now not to get all preachy and everything but I think there's something that needs to be done about this. This is culture and history that is being covered up and destroyed. Just think, do you want our present to be preserved in the future? Or do you want an apartment building built over it. That's why I believe that legislation like the Historic Preservation Act should be put forth in other countries around the world.

Works Cited:

"6th Century Temple to Aphrodite to be buried to make way for Apartment Building" Pagan Newswire Collective.

"Historic Preservation Act of 1966"

Image of Fieldwork at Bronze Age Site of Phylakopi, Melos, Greece courtesy of