In Dirt and Secret

I tend to pick up most of the articles I post on here via Archaeologica.net, since they post a few of the most interesting archaeology/anthropology related links each day, and this article about “Hush-hush Archaeology” is another winner. I’m sure most people can recall the hullabaloo over the new fence at the Mexican-American border, and perhaps even the monumental distaste for the RealID Act (everyone would be required to have a federal-issue ID, very different from something like a passport, in lieu of or in addition to a state ID). I do not personally recall that part of the RealID Act allowed the Homeland Security Secretary (at the time, Michael Chertoff) to waive both federal and state laws dealing with environmental and archaeological protections – even to waive mere surveys, much less excavations – in order to put the new border fence in place. While the article tends to focus more on the coming together of archaeologists, Native American tribes in that area, as well as some government agencies in order to not prevent the building of the fence but prevent the decimation of prehistory, the ability to waive all of these hard-fought protection laws is incredibly important and terrifying to boot. These groups worked together in order to survey, assess, excavate, and document as much of the area (which is right outside of San Diego, CA) that was scheduled to be built upon as possible.

Another important point that the article brings up was the uncertainty of legal action that the archaeologists of the Native American tribes (or even the state of California) could take against the federal government to stop the total destruction of these sites in order to expedite the building of the fence. Would they be able to sue? Even though Chertoff had expressed “keeping with the spirit” of the laws and protections that he’d been given the ability to waive, “keeping with the spirit” is undefined and not nearly good enough when the knowledge of our human history is about to be obliterated. The disrespect and outright flouting of incredibly significant laws that protect not only our environment but our material history is disgusting and also unnecessary.

The article talks a little about how the groups worked under a “gag order” of sorts in order to keep media attention and subsequent protest or potpickers (thieves) away from the site. This was not only to preserve to efforts of the excavation but also so that the government could retain its ability to sell the border fence as a sterling measure of Homeland Security – there was enough bad press as it was. In spite of it all, it is truly inspiring that these archaeologists and Native American groups came together with the (at first, reluctant) help of the Army Corps of Engineers in order to excavate, document, and save as much of the archaeological information that this area of land held.

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