Skip navigation
Share this page

Home | Exhibits | Publications | Web Resources | Contact Us

2.0 Historic Preservation Compliance

Although created by Congress as an independent establishment of the United States, the Smithsonian Institution is committed, as a matter of policy, to cooperating with national and local efforts to encourage historic preservation consistent with Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 (as amended in 1992), and its implementing regulations (36 CFR 800). Under that act, project sponsors are required to consider the effects of their projects on significant historic properties in project planning and implementation. Together, the NHPA and its regulations establish a requirement and a process for ensuring that historic properties are considered in the planning and implementation of undertakings such as the proposed Smithsonian project. Section 106 regulations specify the following steps:

  • consulting with the appropriate State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO);

  • defining the project's Area of Potential Effect;

  • identifying historic properties in the area of the project's effect (including architectural resources as well as prehistoric and historic archeological sites);

  • evaluating the significance of identified properties;

  • assessing the potential of the project to adversely affect their significance;

  • providing opportunity for public comment;

  • developing mitigation measures to reduce or eliminate adverse effect.

The Council's regulations name the SHPO as a primary participant in the process. In the Commonwealth of Virginia, the Department of Historic Resources (VDHR) is the SHPO. As is the case in most states, the SHPO in Virginia has developed a step-wise process for meeting compliance responsibilities (VDHR 1987). Although the various compliance phases are not defined in law or regulation, they have been accepted and used to facilitate project review.

The process begins with consultation with the VDHR to learn what surveys have already been undertaken in the project area, to identify known resources, and to seek recommendations regarding the required level of inventory and evaluation, based on known and expected resource density and distribution.

The objective of Phase I site identification, also frequently called an inventory, is to locate all potentially significant sites or structures within a project's Area of Potential Effect. Phase I includes two components, background research and field survey. The purpose of the background library and archival research is to establish the archeological and historic context for the general vicinity of the project area and to identify the types of resources that one may expect to discover in the project area itself. The field survey is aimed at discovering architectural and archeological resources. The intensity and area of consideration for field survey depends, to a large extent, on the results of the background research and initial field reconnaissance. The field reconnaissance involves thorough inspection of the Area of Potential Effect to locate visible archeological features, artifacts, and standing structures, and to identify areas that are severely disturbed, and areas with a high probability of containing significant resources. Where initial field reconnaissance indicates the need, Phase I fieldwork includes excavation of shovel test pits at defined intervals to recover subsurface artifacts and identify stratigraphy that indicates the potential for preserved subsurface cultural remains.

As the result of information gathered during Phase I, the project sponsor should have a good idea about whether cultural resource sites are located in a project area, their tentative location, dimensions, age, and cultural affiliation. When sites are found, it should be possible to eliminate some as lacking in integrity or otherwise not likely to meet the criteria of significance, and to preliminarily identify those sites that may be significant.

The initial archeological study of the proposed Smithsonian site was a Phase I survey; it included background research and field reconnaissance with shovel testing. One potentially significant historic archeological site identified through the Phase I survey required a Phase II evaluation to determine whether it was eligible for listing in the National Register. Significance is evaluated according to the National Register Criteria (36 CFR 60):

The quality of significance in American history, architecture, archeology, and culture is present in districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects of State and local importance that possess integrity of location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feelings and associations, and

(a) That 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 characteristics of a type, period, or method of construction, or that represent the work of a master, or that possess high         artistic values, or that represent a significant and distinguishable entity whose components may lack individual distinction; or
(d) That have yielded, or may be likely to yield, information important in prehistory or history.

In theory, all of the above criteria could be applicable to historic architecture and archeological sites. In practice, however, it is most likely that an archeological site would be significant under criterion d, because of the historical or scientific importance of the data it contains.

In the event that Phase II investigations find that a site meets the evaluation criteria of the National Register, then the study must also recommend measures to mitigate a project's impact on that resource. Lacking significant properties in the Area of Potential Effect or concern by interested parties, the SHPO remains the sole review and compliance agency for a project.

If National Register-eligible properties are located within the project area, various options exist for mitigating a project's adverse effects to such cultural resources. Under most circumstances, the preferred approach is to redesign the project so that the site can be preserved in situ. Alternatively, if project plans cannot be changed, the selected mitigation option may be to undertake Phase III data recovery and documentation of the site. Phase III investigation involves an intensive data recovery program at significant historic and prehistoric archeological sites and structures that may be adversely and unavoidably impacted by project activities. Under this alternative, for a site that is considered to be significant because of the information it contains, excavation permits the site significance to be preserved and allows the construction to go ahead as planned. Phase III investigation is typically used only when it is not possible to modify the undertaking to avoid adverse impact to significant sites.

Introduction Chap. 2: Historic Preservation Compliance
Chap. 3: Project Area Description Chap. 4: Background Research
Chap. 5: Field Investigations Chap. 6: Laboratory Investigations
Chap. 7: Archeological Findings of Phase I Survey Chap. 8: Archeological Findings of Phase II Survey
Chap. 9: Summary and Recommendations Chap. 10: Bibliography
Related Archaeology Websites