Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Are archaeological and cultural services the only services AAC provides?

No! In addition to cultural fields, we serve a variety of industries such as environmental, real estate, oil and gas, forestry, land management, aviation, government, and many more. If one of our technical services suits your needs, please feel free to contact us!   

What is Archaeology? 

The Society for American Archaeology (SAA) explains it well: Archaeology is the study of the ancient and recent human past through material remains. It is a subfield of anthropology, the study of all human culture in all times and places. From million-year-old fossilized remains of our earliest human ancestors in Africa, to 20th century buildings in present-day New York City, archaeology analyzes the physical remains of the past in pursuit of a broad and comprehensive understanding of human culture. 

What is Cultural Resource Management? 

Cultural Resource Management (CRM) is archaeology that is usually done on a contract basis in order to comply with federal laws that protect cultural resources. CRM is important because cultural resources are, with few exceptions, nonrenewable. Once the objects in an archaeological site are disturbed, that information cannot be recovered and those stories are lost; once the historic fabric of a monument is gone, nothing can bring back its authenticity. The primary concern of cultural resource management is to minimize the loss or degradation of culturally significant material in order to allow for responsible land development.

How are sites found? 

The first step in the investigation of a project area is to research state site files to see if any previous surveys have been done in the area, and if so, what was found. If no previous sites have been recorded, the archaeologist will conduct a Phase I archaeological survey to locate any potential sites. The methods used to find sites will depend upon the kind of research questions that the archaeologist is trying to answer. Usually, to save time and money, only a sample of the project area is tested. 

Archaeologists use a predictive model as a tool to help determine where sites are. The predictive model weighs factors like distance from water, ground steepness, soil type, and other factors that influence where people settle or perform certain tasks. Then shovel tests, or small test pits, will be dug systematically (usually in a grid) across the project area to locate any cultural remains (“positive” shovel tests). The amount and location of positive shovel tests determines whether a site exists or not.


What are the stages of archaeological survey?

In the CRM industry, there are up to three phases of archaeological investigation:

Phase I archaeological survey identifies where sites are located, if any, in the client’s project area. As described above, it involves both background research and survey of the project area. Based on the results of the research and survey, AAC will evaluate the presence of any archaeological site(s). If the results of our investigation suggest that the project area contains culturally significant sites, AAC will recommend 1) avoidance of the site, or 2) further testing.

Phase II archaeological investigation provides this further testing. During this more intensive phase, test units are excavated to determine the presence and extent of intact subsurface features. (Features are typically soil anomalies that can either be cultural— such as a post hole or fire pit— or noncultural— like a tree root or rodent burrow.) AAC will analyze the information recovered from these excavations and based upon those results, will recommend 1) avoidance of the site, 2) further recovery of cultural remains, or 3) no further testing necessary.

Phase III is the most intensive stage of cultural resource recovery. It is recommended only when Phase I and Phase II investigations yielded significant cultural resources. Phase III data recovery is like a more intensive version of Phase II, involving large excavation units and recording of features. This final stage of mitigation will allow the client to proceed with their plans while preserving the cultural resources to the extent that the law requires.

While these procedures are our commonly used investigative techniques, our methodology is tailored to each project. If, for example, a client has a large area to be developed, but only a portion of the project area is found to contain cultural material, it may be advisable to avoid that particular site, and continue with plans elsewhere in the project area.


What is Section 106 compliance?

Local, state, and federal laws have been established to mitigate the loss of cultural resources on private and public lands. Section 106 is a crucial component of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 (NHPA), which was established as a comprehensive program to preserve the historical and cultural foundations of the nation as a living part of community. Section 106 requires federal agencies to consider the effects of projects they carry out, approve, or fund on historic properties, which applies to NRHP eligible buildings as well as archaeological sites.

Many private sector projects require federal involvement in some way, whether that means obtaining a license, permit, right-of-way, or funding. Examples of common projects include building an apartment complex or other structure, demolishing a structure, expanding or moving a road, extending a river walkway, installing pipeline, building a communications tower, etc.

Advisory Council on Historic Preservation: Protecting Historic Properties: A Citizen's Guide to Section 106 Review


What federal laws apply to cultural resources and historic preservation?

There are federal, state, and local laws which are applicable. The following is a list of the most broad and commonly applicable federal laws:

  • National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) of 1966, amended in 1980 and 1992

  • Department of Transportation Act of 1966

  • National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA)

  • Archaeology and Historic Preservation Act of 1974

  • Archaeological Resource Protection Act of 1979

  • Abandoned Shipwreck Act of 1987

  • Native American Grave and Repatriation Act of 1990 (NAGPRA)


For more about your state’s regulations, consult the following source to find your state’s historic preservation office (SHPO).

Human remains….

In most states, it is a felony to knowingly disturb a human burial. Prehistoric burials are protected by the federal government under the Native American Graves and Repatriation Act.

Tennessee Cemetery and Burial Site Laws


Georgia Council on American Indian Concerns: Laws and Policies About American Indian Sites and Objects in Georgia

Alabama Cemetery Preservation Alliance: Existing Alabama Cemeteries Laws

Helpful Links and Further Reading: 

Society for American Archaeology: What Is Archaeology?


Society for American Archaeology: Methods of Gathering Data

National Park Service: Discover History

© 2016 by Alexander Archaeological Consultants, Inc.