A Voice for Archeology I: Stewards of the Past (1970)
One especially heady aspect of the Arkansas General Assembly’s creation of the Arkansas Archeological Survey (ARAS) in 1967 was the fact that the accompanying appropriation bill to fund the fledgling organization was also passed and fully funded at the recommended $125,000. That was, indeed, big money for a state archeological program at the time.
It perhaps goes without saying that establishing the ARAS Coordinating Office on the University of Arkansas campus along with research stations at three other campuses used up most of those funds. But not quite all. What to do with the rest?
As Bob McGimsey wrote in the History of the Arkansas Archeological Survey, printed by ARAS in 1992 to celebrate our 25th anniversary, he thought it might be useful to bring together a group of colleagues to review the status of Lower Mississippi Valley archeology a quarter-century after the landmark study conducted by Phillips, Ford, and Griffin. Neither Ford nor Phillips were able to participate, but James B. Griffin (University of Michigan) expressed interest and as a result the Mississippi Alluvial Valley Archeological Project (MAVAP) was created and with modest ARAS support a series of meetings and field trips drew the participation of many archeologists working in the region.
At one meeting in St. Louis, plans to support an initiative for federal legislation to protect archeological sites, leading eventually to passage of the Moss-Bennett Act, catalyzed a more immediate product: Stewards of the Past, a small booklet written by McGimsey, Hester Davis, and Carl Chapman (University of Missouri). Printed by ARAS in 1970, it was distributed at cost ($10 for 50 copies for the first run) by the Arkansas Archeological Society. Over the next few years 60,000 copies were distributed. Long out of print, in honor of ARAS’s 50th anniversary we are making availablea PDF copy that our readers can download here.
Aimed at landowners, from individuals to small businesses and larger corporations, the booklet encouraged them to play their part in preserving archeological evidence of the past. Importantly, the booklet provided a series of principles and phrases that are as valuable today as they were back then. We provide below a selection of our favorites (italics in the original).
Why preserve the past?
“If we do not preserve this information, all future generations will have lost forever the ability to experience and profit fully from the past. We must exercise a stewardship over these resources with vigor and with a sense of urgency. … We cannot wait until it is more convenient or until there might be more funds from which to make appropriations, for there is no more time.
The past belongs to everyone.
“Knowledge of the past is a part of everyone’s basic heritage. Such knowledge is essential to understanding the present and preparing for the future. Availability of this knowledge can be viewed as one of the basic rights of each of us. Because this knowledge does belong to all, it should not be within the power of any individual or any organization to deprive everyone else of essential elements of that knowledge …”
Archeological sites are non-renewable resources.
“The principal source of information about prehistoric and most early historic settlement in this country is in the ground. Whenever there are no written sources, or when these sources are inadequate, we must rely on the objects which remain in the ground… Through careful and scientific excavation it is possible to learn of the achievements, the failures, and the knowledge of those who lived in this land before us … the past can be brought to life again and can become a part of the education of our children. Whenever the ground is disturbed, information about the past may be destroyed forever. It is not possible to grow a new Indian site!”
Preservation of our nation’s archeological heritage requires everyone’s support.
“The one way in which every individual may serve as a Steward of the Past is by actively supporting local, state, and Federal programs which accomplish this purpose… We who are alive today possess the last opportunity to save, preserve, or somehow record a meaningful portion of the long record of man’s experience and achievements. Our children cannot preserve the past for their children unless we help preserve it for them. By tomorrow, yesterday will be gone.”
McGimsey, Charles R., Hester A. Davis, and Carl Chapman
1970 These are the Stewards of the Past. Mississippi Alluvial Valley Archeological Project.
The Arkansas Archeological Survey celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2017. Our mission to study and conserve the state's archeological heritage and to communicate our knowledge to the public was established by the Arkansas legislature with passage of Act 39 in 1967. In honor of that occasion, we are posting weekly “Historic Moments” to share memories of some of our most interesting accomplishments and experiences.