FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY "CULTURAL RESOURCES?"
With the exception of environmental professionals, when people think of "culture," they often think of the arts, such as theater and music. "Cultural resources," however, refers specifically to history and events that occurred before the written word, or "prehistory." These resources vary in size and significance, from evidence of an Indian village to a building more than 45 years old. In prehistory, we study Indian or Native American cultural remains, such as rock art, tools, and the soil upon which they lived. These sites also include burial grounds and other sacred landscapes that contain a high cultural value.
Historical sites range from early European dwellings to important 20th Century architecture. Historical remains include, for example, items from early trash dumps (found often in wells and privies), building foundations, and transportation, agriculture, and mining remains (such as bridges, irrigation canals, and shafts). Protected for their religious and economic importance to native peoples, Traditional Cultural Areas are locations used for ceremony and resource gathering.
WHY ARE CULTURAL RESOURCES IMPORTANT?
By providing insight to our identity and to the complex relationship between people and our environment, cultural resources are valuable, limited, and non-renewable. These resources are protected by a number of laws that acknowledge their importance on local, state, and national levels.
WHICH LAWS PROTECT CULTURAL RESOURCES?
On a federal level, Section 106 (CFR 800) of the National Historic Preservation Act, signed in 1966, contains regulations that govern the treatment of cultural resources. In the federal process, sites are evaluated for their cultural significance, and a determination is made regarding their eligibility for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. These requirements are mandated when a project requires a federal permit, uses federal funds, involves the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, or when projects are partially funded by the Office of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
For city and county permits, the California Environmental Quality Act or CEQA (Appendix K) guides treatment of cultural resources. Similar to federal guidelines, CEQA mandates that potential effects to cultural resources be studied and, if the resources are considered adequately important, mitigated. Environmental Impacts studies and reports (EISs/EIRs) are prepared for both federal and state projects. In addition, ordinances have been passed by some counties and cities to protect specific, important sites that are not necessarily protected by larger governing bodies.
WHY ACT NOW?
With the assistance of environmental specialists, advance planning almost always benefits the project applicant. Costly delays can be avoided by taking into consideration the impacts to existing resources during project design. If applicants fail to comply with environmental requirements by neglecting to consult with a cultural resources specialist, they may even suffer legal penalties. When dealing with permit requirements, the applicant (or developer) should inquire at the planning department about cultural resources requirements.
Petroglyph boulder at Lake Oroville.
Bedrock mortars at Lake Oroville.
HOW DO I CONSULT WITH A CULTURAL RESOURCES SPECIALIST?
If the local planning department does not carry a list of qualified archaeologists, one can be obtained from the appropriate California Historical Resources Information System.
HOW LONG WILL IT TAKE?
Ranging in complexity, archaeological research projects usually result in written reports and consist of the following efforts:
- Archival Research (or "Records Search"):
1 to 2 weeks after Notice to Proceed;
- Foot Reconnaissance/Field Survey (Phase I):
1 to 2 weeks after Notice to Proceed;
- Test Excavations/Field Sampling (Phase II):
1 to 6 weeks after Notice to Proceed;
- Excavation/Data Recovery (Phase III mitigation efforts):
approximately 2 weeks to 1 year after Notice to Proceed.
Photo by David Moore.