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).