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Background and Obligations

The State Archaeologist maintains the official archaeological site inventory file for state purposes. The Minnesota Historic Preservation Office (MnHPO) maintains an archaeological inventory file for federal purposes.

The First Site Files

The first State Archaeologist, Elden Johnson, started the state archaeological site file at the University of Minnesota's Department of Anthropology in 1957. Johnson began the file "to facilitate future problem-oriented research." The file was kept on 5" x 8" cards organized by county and containing basic locational, descriptive, and reference information. Site numbers were assigned using the Smithsonian Institution's trinomial system with a numerical prefix based on state alphabetical position (Minnesota was 21 in 1957), then a two letter county abbreviation (e.g., AN for Anoka), and finally a one-up unique number for each site in a county.

The initial compilation of sites was based on the field notes of archaeologist Lloyd Wilford and the T.H. Lewis-surveyed mound sites contained in Newton Winchell's The Aborigines of Minnesota (1911). Archaeologists who found previously unrecorded sites were asked to submit information about them to the University of Minnesota's Archaeology Lab. The University's site file became the official state site file with the appointment of Johnson as the first State Archaeologist in 1963.

By the late 1960s, the focus of site file use changed from research to cultural resource management (CRM) mainly due to several new federal laws including the National Historic Preservation Act (1966), the Department of Transportation Act (1966), and the National Environmental Policy Act (1969). Due to management as well as research considerations, the site form gradually expanded from a card format to several pages of data.

Computerized Site Files

The first widely-available computerization of the archaeological site file occurred in 1982 when Scott Anfinson undertook an extensive literature search to compile a list of all known archaeological sites. He did this in order to assist his work on the Minnesota Historical Society (MHS) based Municipal-County Highway Archaeological Survey. This effort resulted in a report that was submitted to the State Archaeologist.

The word processor tables from this report were converted into a database file at the MHS Archaeology Department, combining various tables, adding a few new data fields, and developing codes within the various data fields. For instance, under the Site Number field, unconfirmed sites were assigned "alpha" numbers (e.g., 21ANa). Over the next decade, additional fields (e.g., lithic raw material types) were added to this electronic database mainly to foster Elden Johnson's 1957 site file research goals. When Scott Anfinson became the MnHPO archaeologist in May of 1990, his computerized database became MnHPO's official archaeological site database.

In 1994, the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) provided MnHPO with a grant to refine and augment the computerized site file. Under the direction of Homer Hruby, MnHPO completed the project in 1996. The project not only expanded and made corrections to the electronic site database, but also cleaned-up and added materials to MnHPO's hard-copy site folders, added folders for each "alpha" (officially unnumbered) site, and drew site boundaries on a set of 7.5 foot United States Geological Survey (USGS) maps. Universal Transverse Mercator (UTM) locational fields using approximate site centers were added to the database to facilitate Geographic Information System (GIS) applications like MnDOT's MnModel project, which began in 1995.

A new site file procedure was implemented during Mark Dudzik's tenure as State Archaeologist (1995 to 2005). Archaeologists submitted completed state site forms to the Office of the State Archaeologist (OSA). OSA then carefully reviewed the forms and assigned an official state site number.

Once the number was assigned, copies of the paper forms were sent to MnHPO. MnHPO staff added the information to the master archaeological site database and filed the paper copy in their site file. MnHPO then provided a copy of the electronic database to OSA upon request. The database was also made available to appropriate state and federal agencies (e.g., MnDOT, Natural Resources, Conservation Service).

Updating the Site Database

Because MnHPO staff also maintain extensive historic building records, there was often a significant time delay before OSA obtained a copy of the data following an update to the archaeological site database with assignment of new site numbers. On January 1, 2007, OSA took over updating the master electronic archaeological site database. The database is now immediately updated following OSA review of new site forms and the assignment of new site numbers. OSA now provides copies of the database to MnHPO and other appropriate government agencies upon demand, although these agencies do not ask for updates on a regular basis.

State site forms must be filled out for all sites located during licensed surveys in Minnesota. Even outside of project boundaries, professional archaeologists are ethically obligated to fill out and submit site forms or otherwise report sites based on first-hand knowledge or informant reports. Archaeologists involved with privately sponsored research also should share site information critical to improving locational models, promoting site preservation, and understanding the past.

If a development project is cancelled prior to the completion of an archaeological report, but subsequent to the initiation of archaeological field survey, the Principal Investigator should minimally submit inventory forms to OSA for any located sites and ideally submit some form of report describing the location and methods of the survey. OSA understands that legal contractual requirements occasionally restrict reporting options for a private development on private property. However, if a state archaeological license has been issued, a condition of the license is to submit site forms and a report to the State Archaeologist regardless of the project status.

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