Uncategorized

Teaching Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving can be difficult to teach, especially to young ones. Our country’s treatment of Indigenous peoples has been horrific, so it can be tempting to tell the old story of “Pilgrims” and “Natives” breaking bread and living in apparent harmony. However, this erases history and Indigenous peoples’ experience while it fails all children in understanding our culture and the importance of changing our culture for the better. (I write this as I watch my son complete Thanksgiving activities on his virtual kindergarten.)

Below are some Thanksgiving teaching resources for teachers and parents, which tell a more accurate, and in most cases, anti-racist story. Full disclosure, I have not checked each and every link on every page. Also, I found these resources on the excellent Facebook page, Teaching Social Justice Resource Exchange.

Turkeys are native to the Americas, but apparently not favored by Ben Franklin.

From the Franklin Institute website:

DID BENJAMIN FRANKLIN WANT THE NATIONAL BIRD TO BE A TURKEY?

The story about Benjamin Franklin wanting the National Bird to be a turkey is just a myth. This false story began as a result of a letter Franklin wrote to his daughter criticizing the original eagle design for the Great Seal, saying that it looked more like a turkey. In the letter, Franklin wrote that the “Bald Eagle…is a Bird of bad moral Character. He does not get his Living honestly…[he] is too lazy to fish for himself.”

About the turkey, Franklin wrote that in comparison to the bald eagle, the turkey is “a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America…He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage.” So although Benjamin Franklin defended the honor of the turkey against the bald eagle, he did not propose its becoming one of America’s most important symbols.

advocacy

Archaeology Ordinance Update

Less than a year ago (but 3,168 covid years), the City of Savannah passed an archaeological ordinance. The ordinance has many shortcomings, but the idea behind it is to ease into archaeology, starting with a few public property projects as a pilot program. To assess the pilot program, an archaeology committee was formed consisting of representatives from the city, development community members, hobbyists, historic preservationists, and archaeologists. This committee has met twice to give the city feedback on requests for proposals (RFPs) to hire an archaeological firm to carry out the new ordinance. Several individuals (myself included) with experience in cultural resources management (CRM), the broad industry under which archaeology falls, discussed the importance of having two requests for proposals (RFPs). One RFP would be for a company to conduct the actual archaeology and a second RFP would be for an individual archaeologist or firm to act as a city archaeologist. The “city archaeologist” would be the city’s representative to protect the city’s interests. This is how virtually all CRM legislation works- you have a balance of power between the city/employer and company/employed. We were told this was too expensive. Two RFPs were not going to happen.

Here is a theoretical, while unlikely, example of why we need checks and balances. Let’s say the city accepts Company X’s bid, and Company X now holds the archaeological services contract. Their first project is to assess a piece of surplus property assigned for resale. How would the city know what is an appropriate amount of research and fieldwork? How and who is assessing that Company X is following best practices and not just digging everything in sight while causing the citizens an enormous bill?

The next phase in this pilot program was launched yesterday when the city released an RFP for “Annual Contract for Archaelogical Services” [sic]. Yes, “Archaeological” was spelled wrong.

Once CRM firm(s) are hired, I look forward to seeing how the process works and using these experiences to work out the kinks. Eventually, we need to expand the program to private property and hire a city archaeologist. Without both of these elements, the ordinance is mostly worthless. Despite this slow process (partly due to covid) and the caveats I’ve listed, I am hopeful because we are continuing the process of implementing the Archaeology Resource Protection Ordinance (its official title).

Archaeology sites, once destroyed, are gone forever and so is the history they hold.
advocacy

House Bill 906: Conveyance of Heritage Preserve Properties

Keeping up with pending legislation is never fun (for me) and can be tedious. However, it is very, very important. The latest round of “what could they possibly be thinking?” comes from the Georgia House of Representatives and is a direct threat to many state-owned historic properties in Georgia.

The Need to Know:

This bill, which has passed the Georgia House, allows the Department of Natural Resources to much more easily sell state-owned, Heritage Preserve-designated properties in portions “up to and including 15 acres”. The bill will allow the sale of land to a “private entity”, instead of just local governments, which is currently allowed. In addition, the bill will remove the Georgia General Assembly and the State Properties Commission from the process, preventing the checks and balances of power.

The Immediate Threat:

The real reason for this bill is to sell a portion of Butler Island Plantation and the Lampham-Patterson House to private individuals. These developers plan to tear down the dairy barn and create a beer brewery. Over 900 enslaved Africans lived on this rice plantation owned by two brothers, Pierce and John Butler. Eventually, many of these people were sold in Savannah during The Weeping Time, the largest slave sale in America held on March 2-3, 1859. The Weeping Time is considered by many a national disgrace. Scholar Hermina Glass-Hill has called Butler Island Plantation, “America’s Auschwitz.”

The Larger Implications:

This bill also leaves the other Heritage Preserve properties open to destruction, for example, Ossabaw Island. You can download a list of the properties threatened below. This list is from the Ossabaw Island Foundation, who gave the following details and caveats. The list is sorted by Senate District. Please note that this was created prior to the death of Jack Hill in April 2020, so he is still listed here. The Foundation has a high confidence in the data on this list. The property list originated from DNR, but they were told that prior to this year DNR did not have the list readily on hand. It was compiled earlier this year when the bill first surfaced.  The Ossabaw Island Foundation researched and added the senate information based on what we could find online regarding addresses, senate district information, county information, etc.

What You Can Do

  1. Sign this petition: Help Us Get a ‘No Vote’ on GA State House Bill 906 – ‘The Weeping Time’ Plantation Sale
  2. Call or email your state senators and tell them Georgians deserve to keep their heritage, no matter how difficult it is. Once public land is sold to private developers, it is lost forever. Find you state senator’s contact information via the state’s My Voter page or Openstates website.
  3. Share the petition and tell your friends about the situation.

Learn More:

Here is the Georgia Conservancy‘s explanation of the bill and the reasons behind it:

“House Bill 906, introduced by Rep. Darlene Taylor (R-173), seeks to amend methods of the conveyance of state heritage preserve properties. (Code Section 12-3-76). The Georgia Heritage Trust Program, established by the Heritage Trust Act of 1975, identified, acquired and protected “heritage areas” in Georgia that exhibited “unique natural characteristics, special historical significance, or particular recreational values.” Examples of heritage sites, areas, and preserves are Ossabaw Island State Heritage Area, Lewis Island Natural Area on the Altamaha, Lapham-Patterson House State Historic Site in Thomasville, Little Tybee Island, Pigeon Mountain WMA, and Wormsloe Historic Site, among others.

The changes sought would allow for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR), upon approval of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Board, to remove (per property) a maximum of 15 acres from a state heritage preserve and convey fee simple title to “a willing county or local government or private entity”, with restrictions applicable to the property, including a perpetual conservation easement. State law currently defines the only allowed recipients of such fee simple titles as a willing county or local government.

The proposed amendment seeks to add “private entity” to this list, with “private entity” being defined as “any natural person, corporation, general partnership, limited liability company, limited partnership, joint venture, business trust, public benefit corporation, nonprofit entity, or other business entity.”

Additionally, the bill seeks to remove the Georgia General Assembly and the State Properties Commission from the conveyance approval process of properties “up to and including 15 acres”.

HB 906 has passed the full House and will now move to the Senate for consideration.

We understand the intent of HB 906 is to better ensure that DNR can properly and efficiently maintain structures on certain state properties.In reviewing this legislation, we have questions related to the definition of private entity and the terms of perpetual conservation easements in this context. We are assessing this bill and its provisions to ensure that the long-term conservation viability of state heritage areas is maintained.

You can also read the bill itself. And there is more information on the previously linked Change.org petition.

Over 336,000 acres of state-owned land are designated as Heritage Preserves. This represents 122 separate properties. The Heritage Preserve designation is the most stringent protection for state-owned land in Georgia. Coastal area Heritage Preserves include Ossabaw Island, Butler Island Plantation, Little Tybee Island, Wormsloe State Historic Site, Skidaway Island State Park, Altamaha Wildlife Management Area, Hofwyl-Broadfield Historic Site, Sapelo Island Wildlife Management Area, and St. Catherine’s Island Bar Natural Area.*

The Ossabaw Island Foundation, Georgia Conservancy, Patt Gunn with the Savannah Gallery on Slavery and Healing, and Hermina Glass-Hill with the Susie King Taylor Institute in Midway are all coordinating efforts to stop this bill. Donations and other support are welcome.

Butler Island Plantation specifics*:

It has been confirmed that the catalyst for HB 906 is a proposal by a private developer to purchase a portion of Butler Island Plantation in McIntosh County for redevelopment as a brewery/distillery. The Butler Island property is sacred to hundreds of people in coastal Georgia and across the state; especially to Gullah Geechee people and other African-American people who feel personal connectivity to the place as a homeplace.  It has been a gathering place in recent years for reunions for people who have traced their ancestry back to  African American people enslaved on this plantation. According to a petition on Change.org, archaeological radar has indicated that the site is filled with artifacts that will reveal untold information about the people who lived there, including possible human remains. A coalition has formed, GA Coalition to Save the Butler Island Plantation House, that is comprised of activists and historians and “Keepers of the Culture” in the Gullah-Geechee and statewide African-American communities.  They have a change.org petition online that has gained over 4,000 signatures in less than one week.

A house on the property was built in 1910 and is dilapidated. The house is intended to be restored for the distillery, and a barn on the property from the early 20th century is proposed for demolition.  The goal of the sale is to save the house; some are seeing the sale and redevelopment as an economic boon for McIntosh County. 

There are two issues here:

 Issue 1) Passage of HB 906. The bill in its current form threatens all of the Heritage Preserve lands in Georgia. If the HP designation is breached in any way, that is the beginning of the end of protection for 122 critical sites.

Issue 2)  Withdraw HB 906 and remove HP designation from Butler Island, then proceed with the sale. Even if HB 906 dies in its current form, it is still possible for the state to remove the HP designation for Butler Island, which would clear the way for this sale to continue.  This is an option that we have been told is being considered. 

Credits*:

Portions of this (particularly those with *) were taken directly from Ossabaw Island Foundation’s advocacy materials for this issue. Thanks to Robin Gunn for getting the word out to our regional museum community.

Kiah House

Kiah House Historical Marker

Virginia Kiah was a nationally recognized artist, teacher, museum curator, and civil rights leader. Her museum was on the second floor on her home in Savannah’s predominantly African American Cuyler-Brownsville neighborhood. Started in November 1959, Mrs. Kiah named it the Museum for the Masses, because everyone was welcome. During a time of heightened racial aggression in the Deep South, Kiah successfully opened a place where African American youth felt welcomed and comfortable. She wanted to show visitors, and most importantly children, that they were in a public space where they were no longer second-class citizens and not categorized by their race. 

Kiah Kindness Rock, May 27, 2020

Dr. Deborah Johnson-Simon has spent years recording oral histories and writing ethnographies on Mrs. Kiah and her husband, educator Calvin Kiah. We also completed a small archaeology project on the Kiah House in the Spring of 2018. Dr. Johnson-Simon continues to maintain their gravesites and hold events to memorialize these remarkable people. She is also leading the cause to install a Georgia Historical Marker at their house. Please consider giving a donation towards this goal. You can donate on the Go Fund Me website and read more about the project there.

The Kiah’s gravesite filled with Kindness Rocks, made for Virginia Kiah’s 108th birthday in June 2019.
Uncategorized

Stop Moving Historic Structures

A fantastic new website, Savannah Agenda, is helping citizens understand our local government, businesses, and most importantly, the relationship between the two. Several recent posts have Savannahians pretty ticked. First, there is City Council’s vote to move the Waving Girl Statue down River Street to a new hotel development. (More on the Waving Girl here and the council vote here.) Second is a proposal to move a historic building two blocks so yet another new hotel can be built. The 119-year-old building, located at the corner of Lincoln and East Bryan streets, houses local favorite Abe’s on Lincoln. It’s a bar. Don’t judge, it’s important to us.

This proposal, combined with several other social media posts I’ve seen recently has inspired this rant: STOP moving old structures. There are good reasons that relocated structures are rarely eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.

  1. Most importantly, when you move a historic structure you divorce the structure from its archaeological site.
  2. Relocation is almost always done so a property can be freed up for development, and the archaeological site is destroyed.
  3. Poorly done relocation destroys the larger landscape and viewshed.
  4. Finally, the idea that history should just shove over for new development is deeply arrogant and myopic. Only saving a historic structure while sacrificing an archaeological site is poor preservation at best and short-sighted arrogance at worst.

There are extremely rare circumstances when moving a historic structure is warranted. For example, Cape Hatteras Lighthouse was moved 2,900 feet away from the coast in 1999. Climate change and erosion had undermined the lighthouse to the point it was in danger of toppling. Clearly, a case where moving a structure was necessary for both preservation and safety reasons.

The relocation option needs to be taken off the table except in extreme circumstances. Planning commissions need to stop allowing it, and historic preservationists need to stop condoning it.

“sometimes ownership isn’t just a matter of who holds a mortgage with a bank, or whose name is on a property deed. A community can feel a sense of ownership for a historic site or a natural wonder in its midst.”

SOURCE: Altamont Enterprise Opinion page
public archaeology

Draft Archaeology Ordinance

The draft archaeological ordinance was released at close of business Friday, November 8. You can read the four-page document as well as view the powerpoints from the public meetings on Speak Up Savannah, the city’s “new social media space” for feedback and discussion. From this site, you can ask questions and get news updates on the ordinance.

Actual feedback on the draft ordinance should be sent to planning@savannahga.gov. From Bridget Lidy’s notification email: “Comments will be accepted through November 20.  Prior to posting the final version of the ordinance, we will review and evaluate all comments received. A final version of the ordinance will be posted by November 25 in preparation for City Council consideration in December.”

The draft ordinance is exactly as advertised. Archaeology will be required on city construction projects over 1,500 sq. ft. only, using the “traditional” three-staged process of survey, evaluation, and mitigation. The ordinance can be interpreted as only applying to buildings, but not infrastructure such as utilities, which also disturb the ground. It will be illegal to dig or remove artifacts on city property (it already is illegal to dig on city property, but not for archaeological reasons). Also no metal detector use on city property.

Other than the obvious problem that this ordinance will not cover 95% of the development in the city, I will be submitting a few other comments. First, the ordinance defines an archaeological site as artifacts and remains in a location that are at least 75 years old. Fifty years is the federal guideline, and 75 is too long. Once an archaeology site is gone, it’s gone forever. You don’t get the chance to get back a 1950s civil rights site that’s “not old enough”. 

Another big problem: there is no mention of public outreach and education. One of the biggest benefits of requiring archaeology is sharing the findings with the public. It’s also one of the concerns voiced at the second public meeting. I won’t go deeply into all of the public benefits of archaeology (cultural, economic, educational), as there have been entire books written on the subject. But to not require public outreach is a huge “missed opportunity“.

Savannah Under Fire Project in Madison Square, Savannah
public archaeology

The Ordinance: Where We Stand

The Need to Know

The city is putting forth a very weak archaeology ordinance. City Council will vote on it in late December. Then a committee will be formed to explore an ordinance that might actually be useful and lots of different groups will have input.

The Details

At the October 24 meeting, city officials presented the feedback received about the possible archaeology ordinance. I was hoping to have a copy of the presentation to share, but I’m afraid you’ll have to do with my notes and crappy pictures taken during the meeting.

Quick summary of survey findings:

  • 567 people took the survey
  • 85% believe we need an archaeology ordinance
  • 70.5% believe it should apply to the whole city (as opposed to just the downtown historic district or just historic districts)
  • 84% believe the ordinance should apply to both public (city) and private projects

Acting Zoning Administrator Bridget Lidy, who led the meeting, also stated there was a very vocal minority who were strongly against the ordinance.

The bottom line– Lidy is writing an ordinance that will only apply to city projects, meaning the city will have to do archaeology in some form before doing development projects. Artifacts found during this process will be placed in an archaeological repository. The ordinance will require any city property sold to have an archaeological survey. It will prohibit metal detecting and other archaeological-type activities on city property. Note digging on city property without a permit is already illegal in general (not for archaeological reasons). Here is the timeline.

This is a very tight timeline. Early next year, the city will form a committee charged with:

  • studying the impacts of the initial ordinance and
  • determining the components of a (potential) more robust ordinance

The committee members will include archaeologists, developers, hobbyists, historic preservationists, the Metropolitan Planning Commission employees, and representatives from the Gullah Geechee and Native American communities.

At the meeting, community members expressed two general concerns. One is that residents will have to do archaeology every time they plant an azalea or do other minor changes to their homes. This is not how archaeology ordinances work. Most archaeology ordinances do not even apply to individual homes, and if they do, it’s only for new construction or major renovations that would significantly destroy an archaeology site in the process. Whether residences should be included or not would be up for discussion during Round 2.

The second concern was that the ordinance would prohibit hobbyists and metal detectorists. This concern was couched in terms of private property rights. The hobbyists criticized archaeologists for not finding anything, never sharing their finds, never publishing, and generally being stingy. The hobbyists did not seem to be able to distinguish between the process of professional archaeology and what hobbyists do. It is true, archaeologists do not always find sites. But sometimes we do. When we do, we share those reports whenever possible. See my technical reports here and here, and LAMAR Institute’s 200+ reports here for example. Sometimes CRM (cultural resource management) companies cannot share their archaeology reports because of contractual obligations, or the reports are shared on a very limited basis because they don’t have the budgets for large scale publications.

More importantly, everyone needs to understand the difference between hobbyists and professional archaeology. Both hobbyists and professional archaeologists destroy archaeology sites. Much as the Mythbusters always said, “the difference between screwing around and science is writing it down.” Professional archaeologists record archaeology sites through maps, photographs, and (yes) paperwork. They also take soil samples to extract tiny artifacts, pollen, and phytoliths, which can tell us about people’s diet, climate, and environment. Soil samples taken from privies (outdoor toilets) can contain parasites that let us know whether people are healthy (or not!). This recording process is critical because each archaeological site is unique and irreplaceable. Once excavated, it is gone forever, along with all of the (pre)history contained in it. Archaeologists use these records and paperwork along with their lab analyses of artifacts, soil samples, and soil stratigraphy (layers) to understand the history contained in the site. This is a relatively slow process. It’s not just about fieldwork. The real understanding comes in the lab using the scientific research process.

After analysis, artifacts go to an archaeological repository so they are accessible for other researchers. They write technical reports that go the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) and usually local libraries or archives. Since the 1990s, public outreach and education has been an increasingly important (and often unpaid) part of the job too– including social media, lectures, visiting classrooms, site tours, kids books, popular publications, and the ArchaeoBus, just to name a few.

Hobbyists pull artifacts from the ground. They may even research those artifacts. But their understanding of those artifacts and the larger history of the site are minuscule compared to professional archaeologists because they don’t have the context, or all of the information surrounding an artifact (remember that annoying paperwork?). Hobbyists also often rely on metal detectors, so they only look at metal artifacts. Imagine someone trying to understand your life by only looking a very small portion of the evidence. Their conclusions would be seriously skewed.

I look forward to the continuing dialogue about how Savannah should treat its archaeology sites. I’m happy to answer questions about how archaeology really works. (The guy in the fedora isn’t really an archaeologist).

Quick edit- there are many, many excellent programs that include volunteers working with professional archaeologists. These types of partnerships are incredibly valuable, and I would love to see more of them everywhere, especially Savannah. The hobbyists I refer to above are folks working independently.

public archaeology

How does an Archaeology Ordinance work?

Local and state archaeological ordinances often mirror the federal preservation legislation, primarily the National Historic Act of 1966, but there are differences in the level of detail. How do they work? What are these Phases? What does mitigation mean? In order to have an informed opinion when you take the Savannah Archaeological Ordinance Survey, read on.

In general, when a new development (hotel, arena, etc…) is proposed it goes through a permitting process. One of those permits can be for archaeology. An initial check is done to learn the property’s history including known archaeology sites, what has been built, and how previous development may have affected archaeology sites. If there is potential for archaeology sites, then a Phase 1 survey is done. Typically, in the Southeast, this means hiring an archaeologist to do shovel test pits (roughly one-foot diameter holes dug in a grid pattern).

Digging shovel test pits in Emmet Park during the Savannah Under Fire project.

If artifacts are found indicating a site(s) is present, then it’s on to Phase II. Phase II involves more extensive excavations to see if the site(s) is intact and is likely to yield good data. For projects under the federal legislation, the main question asked is, “Is this site eligible for the National Register of Historic Places?”. There are four National Register criteria under which properties can be nominated:

  • Criterion A: “associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of our history.”
  • Criterion B: “associated with the lives of persons significant in our past.”
  • Criterion C: “embody the distinctive characteristics of a type, period, or method of construction, or that represent the work of a master, or that possess high artistic values, or that represent a significant and distinguishable entity whose components may lack individual distinction.” (aka important architecture)
  • Criterion D: “have yielded, or may be likely to yield, information important in prehistory or history.” (aka archaeological sites)
Students and volunteers excavating at the Kiah House, 2018. These are test pits, typical of Phase II excavations.

If the site is eligible for the National Register, then you go to Phase III, or mitigation. For archaeology sites, mitigation usually means large scale excavation to get the data from the site before it is destroyed. On extraordinarily rare occasions, mitigation involves preserving in place (or in situ).

At each stage in the process, there should be consultation with any interested groups. For example, if you are excavating a Benedictine monastery and Freedmen school, you would consult with the current Benedictine community at Benedictine Military School and the Savannah diocese. Also, the archaeologists would try to find the students’ direct descendants, as well as reaching out to the larger African American community.

Ordinances have the three phase structure to avoid wasting lots of time and money on unnecessary excavation. The process only proceeds to the next phase if it is warranted. By integrating the archaeology into the permitting process, you get everything done before the construction. It is also important to note, a small percentage of proposed development projects ever get to a Phase I, and very few ever get to Phase III.

Who manages this process? The optimal answer is a city or county archaeologist. They review permit applications and guide the process. The developer (or other permit applicant) hires archaeologists on a project-by-project basis to research, excavate, analyze, and write technical reports for each phase.

Who does the ordinance apply to? This varies widely. Some ordinances only apply to public (governmental) projects. Others legislate public and private developments. Private development usually applies to businesses, not private homes. I’m not aware of any archaeological ordinances that apply to homeowners.

How much development is enough for the ordinance to apply? In other words, we don’t want the ordinance to apply every time someone replaces a fence post. But how much is enough trigger the ordinance? This is another decision to be made as the ordinance is written.

Where does the ordinance apply? Ideally, the ordinance would cover the entire county, but since this is a city initiative, that’s all we have to work with. I cannot stress this enough- there are archaeology sites everywhere, not just in the downtown historic district, or just in the historic districts.

Frequently, incentives are offered to offset the “inconvenience” of doing archaeology. Incentives can include an expedited permit review process and/or reduced development or permit fees. Often, these incentives are used as a carrot to encourage archaeology, rather than requiring archaeology and giving incentives as a benefit. Making archaeology optional and only offering incentives will make a very weak ordinance and will result in very little archaeology completed.

How much is this going to cost me? As a resident, a properly written ordinance should not cost you. For federal legislation, the cost of archaeology is typically 1% or less of the total project cost. The city’s cost could be covered by an archaeological fee assessed on development or as a percentage of the development’s total cost. My opinion is that whoever is destroying the site, needs to pay for its mitigation.

I urge you to look over the gold-standard, Alexandria Archaeology. From their downtown museum, they run student programs, walking tours, kid and adult hands-on programs, field schools, lectures, site tours, summer camps, and many volunteer opportunities.

public archaeology

Archaeology Ordinance Public Meeting: The Take-aways

I wanted to share a few take-aways from last night’s public meeting about our potential archaeology ordinance. First, most importantly, if you want to comment on this subject, please take their survey and/or send general comments to planning@savannahga.gov. The survey will close on October 15, so that’s not a lot of time to get feedback. I’d be happy to answer any technical questions, such as what is this Phase 1, 2, 3, thing? Post them to the Facebook page and I’ll answer them so everyone can learn. It is also important to make your support known directly to your alderman and the mayor. Click here for their contact information. Except, use chbell210@aol.com for Carol Bell, because she admitted to us at a neighborhood association meeting that she rarely checks her city email address. Any one in opposition to the ordinance will absolutely be contacting their city officials and likely meeting behind the scenes, rather than attending these public meetings. I suggest anyone that can, do the same.

The meeting had a good turnout, around 55 people. Acting Zoning Administrator Bridget Lidy and Municipal Archives Director Luciana Spracher spent most of the discussing the city’s history with doing archaeology and were very honest about the many missed opportunities. It seemed like most (all?) present were in favor of an archaeology ordinance, and several people spoke out with excellent ideas. For example, someone commented that in St. Augustine, every development project has an associated fee that go towards funding their archaeology program.

The crowd last night.

The next public meeting will be October 24, 6pm, again at the Coastal Georgia Center. The city staff will report what they have learned from our feedback, but probably not have a draft ordinance yet. Their goal is to have an archaeology ordinance to present to City Council for a vote by January 1, 2020.

Some general observations and strictly my opinion: Any ordinance that does not include a city archaeologist will not be worth much. Any ordinance that only applies to public, but not private, projects will not be worth much. There are serious considerations on how to fund an archaeology program. There are lots of models out there, Alexandria Archaeology being the gold standard. Boston has another great program. Archaeology sites are generally stable until they are disturbed by digging through them. Personally, I believe the person or company who wants to disturb the archaeology site should be the one to pay for the professional excavation.

The devil is in the details. It sounds likely that an archaeology ordinance in some form will be presented to City Council early next year. The question is what form it will take and whether it will be actually effective in preserving the data and history from archaeology sites.

Finally, as a former teacher, I feel the need to remind people about citations. Pro Tip: When you steal internet images for your powerpoints, it’s polite to acknowledge the source. Especially when your audience is full of the people whose images you stole.

public archaeology

An Archaeology Ordinance for Savannah

Why do we need an archaeological ordinance? How would Savannah benefit? Why should you bother to attend a public meeting on the potential ordinance? I’m going to answer the last question first- The City of Savannah has previously balked at creating an archaeological ordinance, citing pressure from looters. Without a big turnout, I fear they will drop the issue, and we won’t get another chance. Join us tonight, September 26, 6pm at the Coastal Georgia Center (305 Fahm St, Savannah, GA) and speak out about the importance of archaeology.

How Savannah Benefits from Archaeology

1. Reduces expenses to city departments currently required to deal with unexpected crises such as adverse impacts to archaeological sites from hurricanes, discovery of buried explosive ordnance, and other issues.

2. An awareness of heritage decreases blight by providing a sense of place, pride, and connection for residents of all parts of the city. “Heritage anchors people to their roots, builds self-esteem, and restores dignity.” Cities such as Phoenix, AZ include archaeology in blight-reduction plans.

3. Eliminates “surprises” to developers and the city, such as the discovery of unknown graves, unexploded ordnance, and other PR issues that would slow or stop development. Who remembers the family cemetery found on White Bluff Road that delayed the auto parts store?

4. Provides developers with unique content, artifacts, and information that can be used in exhibits and marketing within their development.

5. Diversifies tourism and provides authenticity and accurate information for tourism content. This makes Savannah more than just another ghost tour town. “A city’s conserved historic core can differentiate that city from competing locations – branding it nationally and internationally…”

6. Provides outreach opportunities for disenfranchised youth, K-12 STEM educators, and all residents.

7. Documents and preserves local cultures before they are destroyed (ex. Gullah-Geechee village). 

 Savannah is Georgia’s oldest city and holds national and international significance. Its history drives a massive economic engine. This history, most abundant in its archaeological sites, is being destroyed daily. Savannah can stop this destruction without slowing or stopping development. Savannah lags behind more than 269 cities, including ones in Mississippi and Alabama, in protecting its priceless archaeological sites. During the past 30 years, Savannah has revisited an archaeology ordinance but taken no action. In that time, hundreds of archaeological sites have been decimated. The irreplaceable information they contain is now lost forever, but it is not too late to save what remains. 

Number of people who signed the 2016 petition for an Archaeology Ordinance in Savannah: 1,245 

Myth 1: Archaeology will slow or stop development. Wrong. An archaeology ordinance will enable developers to know exactly what they need to do far in advance, allowing archaeology to be completed prior to construction start dates.

Myth 2: Archaeology is cost-prohibitive. Incorrect. An archaeology ordinance will allow developers to plan accordingly and include the low cost of doing archaeology along with other routine costs of developing a property. Archaeology costs are negligible on most projects and especially on many of the current projects such as the $270 million dollar development along River Street.

Myth 3: Developers will not develop if they are required to have archaeology done on their property. Not true. Other cities with archaeological ordinances have shown no decrease in the level of development as a result of archaeology ordinances.

Myth 4: A City Archaeologist position is an unnecessary expense. False. A dedicated position will save the city money by helping insure front-end planning for developers, on-call expertise available for all city departments, lower cost and quicker “in-house” archaeological investigations, and the competent creation and execution of MOAs, PAs, Scopes of Work, RFPs, and RFQs. In 2011, San Antonio, TX saved “several hundred thousand dollars” by having a City Archaeologist.

Myth 5: Few in Savannah really care about its archaeological sites. Untrue. Residents, businessmen and women, and tourists care. The reason policy makers haven’t heard this concern is that the public thinks the city is already protecting its non-renewable archaeological sites. In fact, many city leaders incorrectly think the same thing. The public is appalled when they learn otherwise. 

Heritage tourists spend more per day (27%) and stay longer (1-3 more days) than other travelers. Archaeology feeds heritage tourism.

Credits: Rita Elliott wrote most of this in a two-page brief for distribution to the public and city officials. It was written explicitly for R&D (rip-off and duplicate) and was designed to be shared. Please do!