Cultural resources are the collective evidence of the past activities and accomplishments of people. These include prehistoric and historic archaeological sites, structures with scientific, historic, and cultural value, bridges, cemeteries, and monuments, buildings, objects, features, and locations. Cultural resources are finite and non-renewable resources that once destroyed cannot be returned to their original state. Impacts to resources eligible for the National Register of Historic Places must be mitigated through excavation, avoidance, or preservation. All Federal and most State agencies are required to identify and protect cultural resources on the lands they manage. Industries whose projects are licensed by federal and/or state agencies, must identify and mitigate impacts to cultural resources in project areas prior to construction activities.
Cultural resources are identified in many different ways depending upon the nature of the project, state and federal laws, and the resources being located. Most archaeological cultural resources are identified through a combination of walkover surveys, excavations, and/or historic documents. Ground penetrating radar and aerial surveys can also be used in some settings to locate archaeological sites. Small shovel test pits, large excavation units, and trenches are used to define the horizontal and vertical boundaries of archaeological resources, locate foundations and larger structural elements, and look for deeply stratified sites.
Cultural resource management (CRM) refers to the processes and procedures used to manage, preserve, protect, and conserve cultural resources in compliance with state and federal regulations. Each year a wealth of archaeological data are generated through CRM in efforts to prevent the loss of information from an untold number of archaeological sites, architecture, landscapes, and other cultural resources. A number of state and federal laws mandate CRM projects. These laws require identification and recording of cultural resources that are potentially eligible for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places, before impact by construction projects funded or licensed by federal and/or state agencies.
There are many and varied laws at both state and federal levels that address historic preservation and cultural resources under various circumstances. The following are merely the most broadly or commonly applicable:
U.S. Federal Laws
- National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) of 1966, amended in 1980 and 1992
- Department of Transportation Act of 1966
- National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969
- Archaeology and Historic Preservation Act of 1974
- Archaeological Resource Protection Act of 1979
- Abandoned Shipwreck Act of 1987
- Native American Grave and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) of 1990
New York State Laws
- State Historic Preservation Act – Article 14 of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation Law
- NYS Standards for Cultural Resource Investigations
- NYS Historic Preservation Office Guidelines for Wind Farm Development
- State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQR)
- Article 8 of Environmental Conservation Law
- NYCRR Part 617 State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR)
- The SEQR Handbook (1992 edition)
For more information pertaining to cultural resources visit the following websites: