Protecting Archaeology

PAF Home
Back to Sites and Artifacts

Protecting Archaeology in the City of Philadelphia and its Environscommon lands (not private land) or (2) come into affect when various actions undertaken by municipal, state, and or federal entities use public monies. In the case of Philadelphia and its environs, various protections for archaeological resources exist in city, state, and federal level laws and there are agencies at each level of government –in the City of Philadelphia, the Commonwealth, and or the U.S. government– that are charged with enforcing these laws.

At the federal (national) level, several broad laws apply protection to the archaeological resources in the Philadelphia area. These include, among others, the Antiquities Act of 1906, the National Historic Preservation Act, the Archeological and Historic Preservation Act (NHPA),the Archaeological Resources Protection Act (ARPA), the Abandoned Shipwreck Act (ASA), the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), and the Curation of Federally Owned and Administered Archeological Collections Act (36 CFR 79). The National Park Service Archeology Program web page on laws provides a comprehensive introduction to these and other key laws and regulations. Most commonly, the federal agencies involved with archaeological resources in the general Philadelphia area are the U.S. Department of the Interior National Park Service (NSP), Bureau of Indian Affairs, and Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the US Army Corp of Engineers, and the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highways Administration.

The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, or PHMC, is charged with responsibility for this federal legislation compliance within the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. PHMC — which is the Commonwealth’s official history agency — is designated as the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO, Pennsylvania SHPO or PSHPO). The Commission’s Bureau for Historic Preservation (BHP) administers official state historic preservation programs and activities including maintaining the Commonwealth’s cultural resource inventory, preparing a state preservation plan, nominating properties to the National Register of Historic Places, reviewing state and federal undertakings for effects on cultural resources, assisting in certifying historic building rehabilitation projects seeking federal tax incentives, conducting archaeological investigations, overseeing the designation of historic districts under municipal ordinances, advising local governments on preservation issues, providing grants to restore historic buildings, conducting cultural resource surveys, and assisting Certified Local Governments with local historic preservation programs. This agency is empowered by the National Historic Preservation Act and by the Pennsylvania History Code (PDF, 104 KB)

Federal legislation for archaeological resource protections are also enforced locally through various options available to municipalities in Pennsylvania. This includes historic district designations made under local ordinance as authorized by the 1961 Historic District Act (Act 167) (PDF, 24.5 KB) as well as through provisions of the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code (Act 67 & 68, Article 6, Section 603-8-7-G-2 and Section 604) that authorize municipalities to use zoning for protection and preservation purposes. (Municipal ordinances adopted under the Historic District Act are certified by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC), by resolution, before the ordinance takes effect.) In addition, municipalities in Pennsylvania with ordinances that protect and regulate historic properties are eligible for federal Certified Local Government (CLG) status, a program authorized under the National Historic Preservation Act. Philadelphia participates in the Certified Local Government (CLG) program and the City’s Historical Preservation Commission is charged with carrying out the City’s preservation mission toward that end.

The Pennsylvania Bureau for Historic Preservation (Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office, PSHPO) advises and assists various state and federal agencies in complying with their responsibilities under various state and federal legislation (i.e., the National Historic Preservation Act and the Pennsylvania History Code) (See paragraphs on PHMC and PSHPO above). Toward this end, the Bureau has established an Environmental Review process, through which projects are reviewed for their potential to affect historic properties. The elements comprising this review process are found in the Archaeological Investigation Guidelines and the Site Identification Criteria:

Bureau of Historic Preservation (Pennsylvania SHPO) Guidelines for Archaeological Investigation (244MB file)
The Bureau’s guidelines for archaeological investigations contain the standards and specifications by which the BHP reviews and evaluates archaeological survey methods and results, reports, and recommendations. As stated by the BHP, these guidelines are intended to insure consistency in BHP evaluations and comparability of data: “The guidelines are intended to insure that archaeological studies reviewed by the BHP conform to standards for archaeological survey, data recording and report production currently accepted in the profession”.

Pennsylvania Archaeological Site Survey (PASS) Site Identification Criteria

These site identification criteria and definitions were developed by the Section of Archaeology at The State Museum of Pennsylvania and the Bureau of Historic Preservation, Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.

The Bureau for Historic Preservation (BHP), a separate bureau within the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC), is responsible for the planning and review of historic and prehistoric archaeological investigations. The State Museum’s Section of Archaeology curates collections resulting from these investigations. The Curation Guidelines (2006) (PDF, 212 KB) set forth standards for the preparation of archaeological collections designated for curation at the Section of Archaeology, The State Museum of Pennsylvania.

The Bureau has also developed a Request to Initiate Consultation in Compliance with the State History Code and Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act submission form to simplify the review process.

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PENNDOT) is another state agency generally most involved in Philadelphia area archaeology. Their stewardship of the state’s archaeological remains is the responsibility of their Cultural Resources Management Program. You can read about their archaeological program here…

Other legislated protections for Pennsylvania archaeological resources come from laws regarding burial practices and cemeteries.

The Philadelphia Historical Commission operates as Philadelphia’s principal public steward of historic resources, including archaeological resources. The Philadelphia Historical Commission is the agency responsible for overseeing the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places and ensuring the preservation of Philadelphia’s historic resources including buildings, structures, sites, objects, interiors, and districts.

Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, as amended, and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation’s regulations, 36 CFR 800, apply to all projects assisted by federal funding, licenses or approvals. The 106 process requires the identification of properties listed on or eligible for the National Register of Historic Places in the project area and an assessment of the undertaking’s effect on them.

As a Certified Local Government under the National Historic Preservation Act, the City has entered memoranda of agreement with the Advisory Council, the State Historic Preservation Office, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and with the Federal Highway Administration to expedite 106 by having the Historical Commission perform the 106 review for many projects by these agencies.

Archaeological resources in the City of Philadelphia are stewarded by the Philadelphia Historical Commission under their charge of maintaining the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places, in particular criterion I of The Commission’s ordinance, Section 14-2007(5) of the Philadelphia Code prescribing the criteria for listing on the Philadelphia Register:

a) Has significant character, interest or value as part of the development, heritage or cultural characteristics of the City, Commonwealth or Nation or is associated with the life of a person significant in the past; or
b) Is associated with an event of importance to the history of the City, Commonwealth or Nation; or
c) Reflects the environment in an era characterized by a distinctive architectural style; or
d) Embodies distinguishing characteristics of an architectural style or engineering specimen; or
e) Is the work of a designer, architect, landscape architect or designer, or engineer whose work has significantly influenced the historical, architectural, economic, social, or cultural development of the City, Commonwealth or Nation; or
f) Contains elements of design, detail, materials or craftsmanship which represent a significant innovation; or
g) Is part of or related to a square, park or other distinctive area which should be preserved according to an historic, cultural or architectural motif; or
h) Owing to its unique location or singular physical characteristic, represents an established and familiar visual feature of the neighborhood, community or City; or
i) Has yielded, or may be likely to yield, information important in pre-history or history; or
J) Exemplifies the cultural, political, economic, social or historical heritage of the community.

Pennsylvania’s past, especially in the Philadelphia region, is of unprecedented importance to the people of the state and to the country as a whole. Philadelphia is the birthplace of American democracy and to the men and women who first lived as American’s whose everyday lives we do not know much about. The city and its nearby environs experienced major Revolutionary War developments. Later, and often not recognized, this region became the 19th century ‘Workplace of the World’, epitomizing the rise of the ‘American Century’. The city’s port was once the largest in North America, and one of the largest in the world, and it went on, over the centuries, to have important roles in global commerce and military history in the 19th and 20th centuries. The city’s neighborhoods and its suburbs have been home to the nation’s Founders, to early free black communities, to immigrant and minority populations, to agrarian farmers, miners, and industrial factory workers. Philadelphia is the home of some of the earliest American houses of worship, it was where municipal services were developed and where labor unions operated for the needs of the American worker. The region is central to 17-21st century transportation corridors–canals, railroads, and highways. Philadelphia is the place of many, many “firsts” that define us as a people and as a nation. Unfortunately, Pennsylvania’s archaeological resource protection laws for researching, recording, and or preserving this rich and diverse history are weaker than those found in most other US states and all other nations. Moreover, once enacted (legislated) protections have eroded over time.

Weakened Protections = Endangered Archaeological Resources
One of the most significant impacts to Philadelphia archaeological resource protections has been Act 70, legislation passed by the Pennsylvania Legislature in 1995 which shifted the burden of archaeological reconnaissance from the private sector to the state government (i.e., from developers and other State-permit applicants to the taxpayer). This amendment, which was backed by developers, changed the Pennsylvania History Code significantly, impacting archaeological preservation in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Under previous law, the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) reviewed projects and evaluates the potential effects to archaeological sites. In the past, the PHMC would recommend archaeological surveys in areas with known sites or with a high probability for containing sites and the permit applicant was required to perform the survey and report the results to the PHMC. After the Act was passed, the Commonwealth Archaeology Program was formed within the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission to investigate significant sites recorded in the Pennsylvania Archaeological Site Survey files. However, due to funding cuts, this program ended. Since this time, the impacts to Pennsylvania’s archaeological resources, have exponentially increased with the rapid evolution of the Natural Gas Boom (fracking) in the Marcellus Shale formation and, in Philadelphia, with the rapid pace of redevelopment. Pennsylvania archaeologists explain the impacts of Pennsylvania’s Act 70 in this 15 minute, video short from the longer film entitled, Just Below Your Feet, created in 2013 by Stephanie Bowen and Sarah Griggs.


+What is Section 106? (Pennsylvania Department of Transportation)

+How to Nominate an Individual Building, Structure, Site or Object to the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places, A Publication of the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia

+Nomination form for adding an individual building/site/structure/object to the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places

+Sense of Place: Design Guidelines for New Construction in Historic Districts (2007)
+How to Navigate the Historical Review Process in Philadelphia, A Guide for Property Owners, A Publication of the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia

+Historic Preservation Resource Guide for Philadelphia Community Organizations, A Publication of the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia

+Philadelphia Historical Commission
+The Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia
+Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission – PHMC
+Preservation Pennsylvania

+Project for Pennsylvania Transport and Heritage