I suggest folks read this article with objectivity because it reads like a one-sided a hit piece. Did the reporter bother to contact the archaeologist(s) responsible for the work? Does anyone have the slightest idea of the circumstances surrounding the work contract? Archaeology of this nature is performed under legal contract. BLM is required to comply with Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, the Native American Graves Repatriation Act, the Antiquities Act, and the Archaeological Resources Protection Act. Southern California Edison (SCE) may be required to comply with State laws relating to their roll as a public utility including but not limited to the Public Resources and Administrative codes. Legally, if the project was entirely on BLM land, SCE is required to follow the stipulations of their BLM permit and applicable State regulations that relate to their roll as a public utility. The consulting archaeologist–presuming there was one–would be contracted to develop a scope of work in concert with BLM and SCE technical staff. If BLM worked with SCE to skirt laws, the consulting archaeologist is left with no pleasant options: S/he can quit the project (possibly their job) and see it go to a competitor with more open-minded sense of ethics or s/he can state in writing their belief that BLM/SCE isn’t complying with law, point out that ultimately SCE may be required to comply retroactively, and then agree to work within parameters defined by the responsible agency(s). In the world of contracting, most contractors would elect the second choice: that is, present due diligence to the client and compliance with the responsible agency-defined scope. This sort of situation occurs almost every day somewhere in the US and it places a burden on the consulting archaeologist that shouldn’t be underestimated. I know dozens of consulting archaeologists and not one wakes up in the morning thinking, ‘Hmmm, I think I’ll skirt the law today so my client can save a few hundred grand.’ They may wake up asking themselves can how the can comply with the law cost effectively and ethically responsible fashion, while limiting their client’s exposure to the sort of fallout described in this letter. I can’t begin to count the number of times that I’ve read/reread applicable laws and associated case law, developed a scope of work that I know fully complies with applicable laws, only to have the rug pulled out from underneath me by a responsible agency that often lacks direct knowledge of on site conditions and who’s sense of compliance is often dictated by the immediate needs of a permit applicants. Having developed thousands of work scopes for every imaginable type of project, I have yet to find a project where scoping doesn’t come down to money, schedule, and sometimes both. How much, how long…the responsible developer then asks 1. What would be a bare minimum scope of work? 2. What would represent a top of the line, money is no object effort? 3. Where is a balance between the two? Developing an archaeological scope of work may not be brain surgery but it should be a thoughtful process that considers the nature of the project and its potential for effect; the potential archaeological sensitivity of an affected location; depending on applicable law(s), American Indian cultural and religious sensibilities; and it must recognize the political realities within the responsible agency(s). Brain surgery? No. Developing a defensible archaeological work scope does however require knowledge of applicable laws, considerable finesse, and a broad understanding of applicable methodologies and methods therein, which only comes after an appropriate education and considerable practical experience.
Some further thoughts: The reporter stated emphatically, “[h]owling winds uncovered a human tooth and a handful of bone fragments the size of quarters on a sand dune in the shadow of new solar power transmission towers. Indians say the discovery is evidence of a Native American cremation site not detected in Southern California Edison’s archaeological survey before the towers were built.” A few questions: 1. What does the archaeological survey report say about this locality? Often, a report will say identify a potential for buried archaeological materials exists in which case an archaeological monitor might be recommended during construction or sometimes the report might state that if anything archaeological is found during construction work should until an archaeological can evaluate the discovery. Does the reporter have the slightest clue what the report recommends or doesn’t that matter? 2. What were the physical conditions on the project site at the time of the archaeological survey? It sounds to me as if what Native Americans found was uncovered by unusually high winds. If these materials were in fact buried, why would anyone expect them to be found during a surface walkover? 3. If nothing was present on the ground surface at the time of the investigation, did the consulting archaeologist consider the potential for buried deposits? If so, were any specific recommendations generated to address these concerns, and, were these recommendations accepted/rejected by the responsible agency(s)? 4. Did the consulting archaeologist consult with relevant tribal organizations and individuals before fieldwork? What information was exchanged (if any)?
Finding archaeological objects the size of quarters when they are all or partly buried in sand and sparsely dispersed over a landscape would be difficult under the best of field conditions. There are methodologies that can assess potential for buried archaeological deposits but unless a responsible agency requires them then they are not typically part of the Phase 1 investigation. If the consulting archaeologists suspect buried deposits, s/he might propose additional investigatory work but it would be up to the responsible agency to require that this work be completed. It’s worthwhile to keep in mind that contemporary American archaeology seeks to avoid digging so we don’t just dig unless there’s a justification for doing so.
I shall conclude with Devil’s advocacy. Americans don’t support nuclear energy development for sound reasons. Americans are increasing amendable to the fact that fossil fuel development promotes global warming. Precisely where do Americans expect their energy to come from? Politicians have be crowing about alternative energy sources for years but these sources have no infrastructure and it was obvious years ago that creation of new infrastructure would create considerable environmental effects. If Americans think solar energy develop creates environmental effects, wait until US energy interests begin developing the nations extensive shale oil resources. Short of nationwide protests on a massive scale, these resources will be developed and if they aren’t then people had better get used to rolling black outs and ever diminishing energy resources. I see no efforts on the part of most world nations to curb population growth and the accepted globalization economic model requires between 2% and 3% annual economic growth to avoid recession. Conservation is an elegant solution but it won’t solve American near term energy needs. I suspect we’d have to slow economic growth considerable but that would mean fewer jobs, which is political untenable. Distributed energy is a wonderful idea but an awful lot of people needing energy don’t live in places conducive to energy generation, which means that for the foreseeable future we need centralized energy development to provide ener4gy for those unable to generate their own—unless of course those who can self generate support letting those who can’t do without (this too is political untenable). When I first heard about solar development in the Mohave several years ago, it was clear that it would conflict with many desert natural and cultural resources. These conflicts can be resolved most of the time but there are times that competing interests simply have to accept compromises unpalatable to all. The only surprise in this article is that it’s taken years for the LA Times to figure out that conflicts exist. Does the LA Times offer any useful solutions? As far as I can see, they’re primarily interested in controversy since that’s what sells newspaper copy.