Establishing Regional Curation Centers for Archaeological Collections
and Brittany Crissman, Baltimore District
Baltimore District is participating in a nationwide effort to properly care for U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ (USACE) archaeological collections through the establishment of regional curation centers.
Over the past several years, Eva Falls, Baltimore District archaeologist, and other archaeologists from across USACE’s North Atlantic Division, have been working diligently to compile all known data on USACE artifact collections from Virginia to Maine.
All current collections – totaling nearly 50,000 cubic feet – will coalesce into regional centers, reducing repositories from more than 150 to under 25 nationwide, or approximately three to four regional repositories per USACE division. The number of regional repositories established will be based on several factors, including geography, cultural areas, and volume of collections.
Ignacio Reyes, archaeological laboratory technician, works on photographing artifacts at the Veterans Curation Program’s open house in Alexandria, Virginia, Jan. 12, 2016.
U.S. ARMY PHOTO BY SARAH LAZO
For Baltimore District, this program will improve transparency and accessibility of archaeological collections throughout the mid-Atlantic region.
“By ensuring all our collections are in federally compliant facilities, we can be better stewards of our nation’s heritage,” said Falls.
This enterprise effort is being led through the USACE Mandatory Center of Expertise for the Curation and Management of Archaeological Collections (MCX CMAC) located within the St. Louis District.
“The issue we’re facing right now is most USACE collections cannot be easily accessed by researchers since the collections are scattered throughout a variety of facilities,” Falls explained. “Through Baltimore District’s regionalization efforts, we hope to safely relocate collections to fewer facilities within our area to make it easier for tribal representatives, specifically, to visit collections.”
Another mission of the regionalization effort is to increase digitalization of collections to enhance accessibility through technology. To accomplish this, USACE uses the Digital Archaeological Record (tDAR), an international digital repository for records of archaeological investigations worldwide.
NATIVE AMERICAN GRAVES AND REPATRIATION ACT
Some of these archaeological collections include human skeletal remains and cultural items that are subject to the identification and repatriation requirements contained in the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA).
The MCX CMAC delivers centralized management, administration, and policy development for USACE-wide compliance with archaeological collections management and regulatory requirements associated with NAGPRA.
Baltimore District archaeologists Eva Falls and Ethan Bean examine soil collected by the district’s drilling team as part of a geo-archaeological site investigation for an improvement project for the Washington Aqueduct at Fort Reno Park, Washington, Aug. 12, 2019.
U.S. ARMY PHOTO BY SARAH LAZO
Movement of NAGPRA collections from current repositories to regional centers will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis. Baltimore District hopes the regionalization process will lead to the repatriation of its current NAGPRA inventory.
“This process can be very emotional and challenging for tribal nations,” said Falls.
“Just over 30 years ago, in 1990, federally recognized tribes were finally given rights to the remains of their ancestors and sacred artifacts, which is also why this program is so important.”
VETERANS CURATION PROGRAM
USACE established the Veterans Curation Program (VCP) in 2009. It employs and provides training to veterans and members of the Armed Forces to assist in the curation of USACE-owned collections.
There are currently five VCP locations that support 12 USACE districts. More than 400 veterans have participated in the program, with 90% of graduates finding permanent employment and/or continued education.
Through VCP, archaeological digital content is generated and made available on tDAR to be accessed and used by tribal members, educators, researchers and the public. More than 44,000 photographs and scans have been created through this program to provide greater access to collections.
Once regional curation centers are established, additional VCP laboratories may be stood up nearby based on the need for collections rehabilitation and an available veteran population in the area.
Baltimore District currently has collections being processed at the VCP in Alexandria, Virginia, and will be moving another collection to the VCP in San Mateo, California, in fiscal year 2023.
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
An important component of this regionalization effort is meaningful consultation about the disposition of these collections with tribal nations who have ancestral ties to them.
“We are committed to this regionalization process, so we can better support tribal nations access to archaeological collections, and, most importantly, reconnect them with their heritage,” said Falls.
As this process moves forward, Baltimore District will continue to make every effort to address tribal concerns and be better partners.