July 21, 2011
by Dr. W. Frederick Limp, President of the Society of American Archaeology (SAA)
Around the U.S., many states are facing budget woes and belt tightening is underway. In two states, however, the process has already disproportionately targeted archaeology. We thank Dr. W. Frederick Limp, President of the Society of American Archaeology, for this important update:
In Utah, the positions of State Archaeologist, Assistant State Archaeologist and State Physical Anthropologist were abruptly eliminated. In New York, the State Archaeologist/Director of Cultural Resource Survey, the Curator of Archaeology, and the Curator of Historical Archaeology were fired.
In Utah the positions were in the Antiquities Section of the Utah Department of Community and Culture that has the “authority of the state for the protection and orderly development of archaeological and anthropological resources.” In New York, the positions provide vital services to educators and the general public, and meet the requirements under state law that the State Museum keep its collection of historic artifacts usable and available in order to benefit the people of New York. The three positions eliminated in New York are just the most recent losses—over the past twelve months, the State Museum has received a disproportionate share of staff firings, and has lost more than one-third of its research and collections staff with a particular focus on the elimination of senior archaeological staff.
While we can all understand the budget challenges that face the states, the decisions made in Utah and New York show a true lack of understanding by state decisions-makers about the role and value of archaeology, and they are also being penny-wise but pound-foolish. In the Utah case, these professionals provided essential guidance to state and federal agencies, and preserved irreplaceable archaeological sites. Among them, the three had decades of experience and knowledge about the state’s resources—the State Archeologist alone had held his position for 20 years. In the New York case, in just the last four years, the museum’s research staff had received more than $12 million dollars in external research grants and $57 million in interagency agreements for archaeological studies prior to construction and other economic development activities. In the New York case no one at the Museum, including the Director, was aware of the decision until the day the individuals received their pink slips!
Many archaeological organizations have written the Utah and New York authorities.
Copies of the Society for American Archaeology’s (SAA) letters can be found at http://www.saa.org/Portals/0/SAA/GovernmentAffairs/UTAH.ANTIQUITIES.OFFICE.pdf and http://www.saa.org/Portals/0/SAA/GovernmentAffairs/NEW.YORK.pdf
Anyone who is interested in the protection of our nation’s irreplaceable archaeological resources should do everything they can to insure that their own state legislators and state government officials realize the critical role that experienced archaeological professionals play in protecting these resources, interpreting them to the public, and facilitating responsible economic development.
To comment on the cuts in New York State, send your letters to:
Chancellor Merryl H. Tisch
89 Washington Avenue
Albany, NY 12234
To comment on the cuts in Utah, send your letters to:
The Honorable Gary R. Herbert
Utah State Capitol Complex
350 North State Street, Suite 200
Salt Lake City, UT 84114-2220