USACE Archaeological Program
, Little Rock District
When you think “archaeology,” do you think U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE)?
Probably not. Archaeology brings up images of Indiana Jones, dusty tombs, and getting chased out of caverns by giant rolling boulders. Yet, despite this, USACE curates the second-largest collection of cultural resources in the United States, second only to the Smithsonian Institution.
We even own a full Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton.
Sure – we’ve loaned it out to the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum of Natural History for half a century, but facts are facts: That big mean fossil is ours.
The Oklahoma Row Site at the former Monte Ne Resort, a three-story concrete tower, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
PHOTO BY JAY TOWNSEND
So how did USACE become this powerhouse of archaeology and natural history? According to Little Rock District archaeologist Allen Wilson it didn’t start in a tomb, or being chased by boulders while dodging arrow traps.
“Although archaeology is an exciting field, it’s not like what you see in the movies. In fact, Indiana Jones is a terrible archaeologist,” said Wilson.
In truth, USACE’s relationship with cultural artifacts and archaeology stem from the work they do in support of Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act. Section 106 states that the federal government must consider historic properties during any undertaking that takes place on federal lands, uses federal funds, or requires federal permissions.
Additionally, being a land management agency, USACE is subject to environmental laws such as the National Environment Policy Act and the National Historic Preservation Act. Upon full implementation of these laws in the early 1970s, USACE had to employ its own environmental staff, including archaeologists, to keep up with the infrastructure needs of the nation. Passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972 expanded the scope of USACE’s duties and authorities under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act.
If a site is located and determined to be eligible, and if that site cannot be avoided by the proposed undertaking, USACE must then enter into an agreement with the state and any cultural or tribal organizations with an interest in the area. The intent is to mitigate any damage to the site while learning as much as possible.
Yet project sites aren’t the only place you’ll find archaeologists like Wilson working.
One of the most common places you’ll find them are at USACE project offices, working alongside rangers and natural resource specialists to preserve artifacts found by campers, hikers, and hunters.
Little Rock District archaeologist Allen Wilson digs holes in a grid pattern during a Phase 1 Survey.
“USACE parks and lakes draw a lot of people, including amateur archaeologists and treasure hunters,” Wilson said. “Yet taking artifacts or starting your own excavation on federal land is very illegal and comes with severe penalties.”
According to Wilson, the Archaeological Resources Protection Act enacted in 1979 protects artifacts found on federal property and can levy heavy fines or even jail time for those that disturb or remove artifacts.
Currently, there are numerous ongoing archaeological sites in the Little Rock District. One that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places is the resort town of Monte Ne located in Rogers, Arkansas. Monte Ne was founded in 1900 and had the world’s largest log hotels, attracting visitors from across the country for more than two decades.
The property became USACE’s after the White River was dammed to create Beaver Lake in the mid-1960s, leaving much of the resort and original town of Monte Ne under water.
It is important that historical sites are preserved, because there are very few protections afforded to these resources outside of those located on federal lands.
USACE balances the needs of our continually growing nation by preserving an area, if possible, and documenting it and studying it extensively – if only to ensure the historical legacy of those who came before us is not lost.