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Issues in New York City Archaeology Today
Archaeological Protection Legislation
Protection of archaeological sites is undertaken under the provisions of legislation and regulations of federal, state and local governments. In New York City, the Landmarks Preservation Commission has authority over projects that come under the provisions of the City Environmental Quality Review Act (CEQR). Examples of these projects are those where zoning variances are requested. However, current procedures provide only limited protection for archaeological sites and are vulnerable to changes in the political environment. There is currently no legislation which specifically deals with the identification, investigation, excavation, or protection of archaeological sites.
In 1992-93, PANYC drafted legislation intended to ensure that archaeological sites on City-owned properties would not be ignored or destroyed. Despite initial encouragement by City Council members and others, sponsorship was not forthcoming, and the legislation was never fully developed. Without this legislation, many potentially important archaeological sites remain vulnerable. In part, we feel that lack of interest in such legislation is due to a persistent but inaccurate belief that archaeology will prevent development. However, this is rarely the case. Projects such as the African Burial Ground, where the presence of archaeology resulted in partial abandonment of construction plans, are rare. In most cases, where preliminary investigation indicates that significant archaeological remains will be adversely affected by a project, these remains are totally or partially excavated after which development proceeds as planned.
Archaeological data provide a unique view of history and prehistory. When looting occurs, sites are destroyed and this information is lost forever. Looters often pillage archaeological sites in search of valuable artifacts. However, it is unusual for artifacts with any intrinsic value to be found on New York City archaeological sites since most deposits contain refuse with broken bottles, ceramics and other fragmentary artifacts. The information from archaeological sites is invaluable. This information can only be obtained by finding artifacts in their original contexts. The excavation techniques, methods of analysis, and thorough reporting conducted by professional archaeologists are aimed at extracting the maximum possible information from archaeological sites, and, where possible, insuring that deposits will remain for analysis by future generations of archaeologists.