August 16, 2023

Indiana Jones: Archaeologist or Looter?

When someone says, “Indiana,” your first thought is probably the state, but your second thought is undoubtedly Indiana Jones! The world was first introduced to the Marshall University professor of archaeology in Raiders of the Lost Ark in 1981. The fifth film, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, was released in theaters this summer (fifteen years after Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull came out), and many were excited to see what kind of action-packed adventure Indy was going on this time.

Throughout the five films, Indiana Jones is called to stop antagonists from stealing priceless antiquities for their own personal gain. In Raiders of the Lost Ark, it was the Ark of the Covenant; in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, it was the Sankara Stones; in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, it was the Holy Grail; in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, it was, of course, the Crystal Skull; and in the most recent Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, it was Archimedes’ Dial. But many would argue, is Indiana Jones really an archaeologist or is he actually just a professional looter? Our Cultural Resources team is here to set the story straight.

The Lochmueller Group Cultural Resources (CR) team has seen remarkable growth within the past year as they serve our transportation, wastewater, and energy undertakings in Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, and Missouri.

cul•tur•al re•sour•ces (noun) – the physical remains of past human activity, both above and below the ground.

As a society, we have decided that these “things” are important to our history and pre-history because they help us understand our past and how we have interacted with the natural world. Examples of cultural resources include buildings, structures, objects, landscapes, and archaeological sites (and the artifacts within them).

Federal and state laws require that government-funded (or permitted) construction projects take into account their impact on cultural resources. Most of our CR team’s work is performed due to the requirements of Section 106 of the National Historical Preservation Act, a federal law that requires us to identify cultural resources considered “significant” to our past, assess the effects our projects will have on those resources, and avoid, minimize, and mitigate these efforts.

Much of what our archaeologists and historians do is focused on whether or not the cultural resources we identify within or near our projects have reached a level of significance justifying their inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP). If NRHP-eligible resources are in or near the project area (if they are not already listed in the NRHP), they should, ideally, be avoided. If they cannot be avoided, the impact on these resources should be minimized if at all possible. However, sometimes a project requires a major impact (adverse effect) on the resource, which may include the alteration of a portion of the NRHP-eligible or listed resource, or, occasionally, the demolition of the resource entirely.

When an adverse effect is unavoidable, a plan for mitigation of those effects is necessary. Our staff of professionals are experienced in navigating the complexities of cultural resources laws and regulations and have incorporated creative concepts into many projects to preserve our history and bring it to life for public enjoyment and education.

ar•chae•ol•o•gy (noun) – the study of our human past by analyzing the material (things) left behind where human activity took place (known as archaeological “sites”) for their cultural importance.

Most of the time, these things have become buried underground over time; this is why most archeological work requires some kind of excavation (controlled digging). Although, some archaeology work occurs aboveground. The things found during archaeology are usually referred to as artifacts.

ar•ti•facts (noun) – things that are made, altered, or used by humans.

What do our archaeologists do?

Reconnaissance – archaeological fieldwork within the proposed right-of-way of a project area where ground disturbing construction activity may occur; this is a type of ground survey that includes visual observation and/or shovel test probes (STPs), and sometimes mechanical excavation, to determine if an archaeological site is present.

Data Recovery – controlled excavation of an archaeological site to recover the important information it contains before the project proceeds and the site is damaged or destroyed.

Monitoring – watching ground disturbance activities during construction to ensure any archaeological material that is uncovered as an “accidental discovery” during the project is properly protected and recovered.

Reporting – preparing comprehensive reports on all archaeological research activity conducted for review by state and federal agencies as well as Native American Tribes.

Assessments – 1) In cases where our archaeologists do not believe the disturbance of cultural resources is likely, an archaeological assessment is written to justify the decision to not conduct fieldwork. 2) In cases where archaeological resources are identified in a project area, our archaeologists will assess their potential to yield information regarding the human past; our archaeologists will also assess the potential for project-related impacts upon those archaeological resources that have been determined significant.

ar•chi•tec•tur•al his•to•ry (noun) – the aboveground study of our human past through the evaluation of buildings, structures, and objects during the historic period.

This research involves determining date of construction, design style or type, construction materials, and cultural importance.

What do our historians do?

Reconnaissance – architectural history fieldwork within the proposed right-of-way limits of a project and beyond to include an area of potential effects (APE), which is different in each state we work within; this type of architectural survey work includes visual observation and detailed photography.

Research – while our archaeologists dig in soils for data recovery, our historians dig into archives, both online and in physical collections to uncover important information about the buildings, structures, and the communities they stand within.

Reporting – preparing comprehensive reports on all historical research activity conducted, for review by state and federal agencies, Native American Tribes, and non-Tribal consulting parties.

Photographic Documentation – completing present-day digital imagery of buildings/structures that is all-inclusive, meeting the Secretary of the Interior’s standards for use in the Historic American Building Survey/Historic American Engineering Record (HABS/HAER).

• Effects Assessments/Findings – preparing detailed documentation of how our projects will affect historic buildings for review by state and federal agencies, Native American Tribes, and non-Tribal consulting parties.

National Register Nominations – preparing the federal forms and related documentation required to recommend a cultural resource for listing in the NRHP.

Our CR team does much more than the above bulleted lists, but all of these efforts are a part of historic preservation. These preservation efforts include assisting our project designers in the avoidance of significant cultural resources, lessening the impact of our projects on these resources, or, in cases where an important resource must be demolished, providing full documentation of the resource for posterity/future research through data recovery. Additional work includes unique methods to interpret and convey historical information for public awareness to promote cultural tourism.

As archaeologists and historians, our CR team is focused on preserving the history of the communities we serve. As for Indiana Jones, is he an archaeologist or a looter? Well, sometimes he is saving the day to preserve the historical artifacts that belong in museums (usually causing one big adverse effect to a cultural resource in the process) and other times…not so much. However, when dealing with artifacts, it is important to consider where and what cultures they came from and whether those cultures would rather keep them or have the artifacts shared. All this to say, the next time you think about impacting a cultural resource, consult with our Cultural Resources team first!

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