“. . . and also any natural formation of scientific or scenic value. . . .”

Frederic Ward Putnam and George B Gordon

George B Gordon and Frederic Ward Putnam

“. . . and also any natural formation of scientific or scenic value. . . .”

Antiquities Act Bills and Discussion, circa 1899-1900, from Ronald F. Lee

“Sometime late in 1899 the American Association for the Advancement of Science established a committee to promote a bill in Congress for the permanent preservation of aboriginal antiquities situated on federal lands. It was called the “Committee on the Protection and Preservation of Objects of Archaeological Interest.” Dr. Thomas Wilson, lawyer, diplomat, and since 1887 curator of prehistoric archaeology in the U.S. National Museum, was named Chairman and Frederic W. Putnam, N. H. Winchell, G. K. Gilbert, A. W. Butler, and George A. Dorsey members. The same year the Archaeological Institute of America set up a Standing Committee on American Archaeology, with Charles P. Bowditch of Boston as chairman and F. W. Putnam and Franz Boas as members. The two committees agreed to combine their efforts with Dr. Wilson serving as “Chairman of the Committees of the two Societies.”

“[A] draft bill, with an accompanying explanation, was then published for the information of the two societies [American Association for the Advancement of Science, Archaeological Institute of America]. The bill began with a major provision that:”

“The President of the United States may from time to time set apart and reserve for use as public parks or reservations, in the same manner as now provided by law for forestry reservations, any public lands upon which are monuments, cliff-dwellings, cemeteries, graves, mounds, forts, or any other work of prehistoric, primitive, or aboriginal man, and also any natural formation of scientific or scenic value or interest, or natural wonder or curiosity together with such additional area of land surrounding or adjoining the same, as he may deem necessary for the proper preservation and subsequent investigation of said prehistoric work or remains.”

“On February 5, 1900, Representative Jonathan P. Dolliver of Iowa, presumably at the request of Dr. Wilson, introduced a somewhat revised form of this bill in the House as H. R. 8066.”

“Now that the antiquities issue had been raised in Congress, competing viewpoints were quickly made known. On February 6, the day after Representative Dolliver introduced his bill, Representative John F. Shafroth of Colorado, a member of the Public Lands Committee, whose state contained many well-known cliff dwellings, introduced his own bill, H.R. 8195. A westerner, Representative Shafroth was not interested in promoting new Presidential authority to create parks of undetermined extent on the public domain. Instead, his bill simply declared that any unauthorized person who harmed an aboriginal antiquity would be subject to fine, imprisonment, or both. This quick solution to the problem was soon recognized as too simple, however. On March 7, Shafroth introduced a second bill, H.R.9245, which directed the Secretary of the Interior to have the Geological Survey make a survey of public lands in Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico where ruins of temples, houses, and other prehistoric structures were known to exist and recommend which were of sufficient importance for permanent preservation. The Secretary was authorized to set aside lands upon which such important ruins were situated, not to exceed 320 acres for each ruin.”

“All three antiquities bills now before Congress were referred for consideration to the House Committee on the Public Lands, whose Chairman was Representative John F. Lacey of Iowa.”

With one exception, the quoted material above is from Chapter 6 of the 2001 electronic edition of The Antiquities Act of 1906 by Ronald F. Lee (originally published in 1970 by the National Park Service). This chapter title is “The Antiquities Act, 1900-06.” Full text and more can be found here at The Story of the Antiquities Act.

Thanks to the National Park Service Archaeology Program for hosting this collection of Antiquities Act material.

The exception is the quoted paragraph above,  which begins with “The President of the United States may from time to time. . . .” and which is from page 224 of “Part 1: The Antiquities Act of 1906 by Ronald Freeman Lee” (pp. 197- 270). This material can be found in the Journal of the Southwest (Volume 42, Number 2, Summer 2000) “A Special Issue: The Antiquities Act of 1906” “An Old and Reliable Authority: An Act for the Preservation of American Antiquities” by Raymond Harris Thompson and edited by Joseph Carleton Wilder. Full text and more can be found here at An Old and Reliable Authority.

Thanks to the Department of Commerce / National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Coastal Services Center for hosting this publication.

Image credit: “George B. Gordon and F. W. Putnam. Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard”  (Harvard University, Negative No. N28714. Copyright: President and Fellows of Harvard College, Peabody Museum, Harvard University) from the article:

“Who were the Professional North American Archaeologists of 1900? Clues from the Work of Warren K. Moorehead” by Andrew L Christenson



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