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Home > Archaeology > For Professional Archaeologists > Contexts and NR Eligibility Standards

Contexts and NR Eligibility Standards

Prehistoric Archaeology and the National Register

National Register of Historic Places eligibility (or "significance") is used to decide which sites require protection and/or excavation and which do not. Prehistoric archaeological sites are nominated to the National Register under Criterion D, "potential to provide important information about prehistory or history." We have subdivided prehistoric or Native American archaeology into eleven time periods and named cultural units. Seven of these eleven contexts have written summaries and explicit National Register eligibility criteria. The remaining four use eligibility criteria for similar contexts. The heart of each context is a discussion of existing archaeological knowledge about the time period or cultural group, organized around twelve research significance themes. These twelve research significance themes allow organized discussion of on-going research trends and make clear which areas have been under-researched or have little applicable data. Furthermore, they help to clarify the site preservation attributes which can be used to judge what sites might "provide important information about prehistory or history" and, therefore, separate eligible from non-eligible sites or components. It is a policy of the Commission that any site which contains an eligible component is eligible in its entirety with the exception that some physical portion of that site (e.g., plowzone, or a heavily disturbed portion) might be specifically excluded as non-contributing in the National Register nomination document. Many well preserved, multi-component sites have more than one prehistoric component which meets the eligibility criteria of one or more research significance themes.

Table 3. Comprehensive Planning Archaeological Contexts
Time Period Study Unit
11,500 - 10,000 B.P. Fluted Point Paleoindian
10,00 - 8,000 B.P. Late Paleoindian
10,500 - 6,000 B.P. Early and Middle Archaic
6,000 - 4,200 B.P. Late Archaic: Laurentian Tradition
6,000 - 4,200 B.P. Late Archaic: Small-stemmed Point
4,200 - 3,800 B.P. Late Archaic: Moorehead Phase
3,800 - 3,000 B.P. Late Archaic: Susquehanna Tradition
3,000 B.P. - A.D. 1500 Ceramic Period
1500 - AD 1675 Early Contact
1675 - A.D. 1760 Later Contact and Colonization
1760 - A.D. 1940 Integration with Euro-American Life

Note: B.P. equals years Before Present; A.D. equals calendar years. All dates are estimates.
Source: Spiess (1990:104).

Table 4. Archaeological Research Significance Themes
Research Significance Theme Description
1. Cultural History Elucidating archaeological cultural chronologies and tracing ethnohistory and ancestry of Native American groups
2. Settlement Patterns Studying distribution of sites across state, in relation to specific land forms, and with respect to intrasite patterning
3. Subsistence Patterns Studying faunal and floral remains for interpreting intrasite and intersite variation in food acquisition and use
4. Mortuary Practices Studying burial remains including single graves and cemeteries to develop interpretations of various aspects of social organization and religious beliefs
5. Transportation, Travel, Trade, and Commerce Investigating quarrying activities and movement of lithic materials and other goods across the landscape. It also includes studying the scale of regional cultural contacts that occurred among people and the identification of reasons for such contacts
6. Social and Political Organization Examining sites or groups of sites to investigate sociopolitical organization, especially of groups organized into units larger than the band
7. Laboratory and Field Techniques Investigating sites where the situation allows for the application of field and laboratory techniques not currently used or the testing of new techniques
8. Anthropological Archaeology Investigating anthropological issues that are associated with the study of "New Archaeology"
9. Human Biology Studying human skeletal remains for the purpose of learning about demographics, general health, disease, and diet of prehistoric peoples
10. Environmental Studies Covering topics directly related to understanding the paleoenvironmental contexts of sites that have significance in relation to other themes
11. Non-Mortuary Practices Including the study of special purpose sites such as petroglyphs that can contribute to understanding non -material aspects of past cultures
12. Cultural Boundaries Studying sites that contribute information on location and changes in location of cultural boundaries through time and across state

Table 5. Summary of National Register Eligibility Criteria

Note 1: This is a summary table only. The language contained in the text version of the eligibility criteria is controlling.

Note 2: A site that can make an extraordinary contribution to any Research Significance Theme for any of the following Contexts is eligible for listing in the National Register.

CONTEXT (Cultural period) National Register Eligibility Criteria
Fluted Point Paleoindian Tradition
  1. At least one diagnostic Paleoindian artifact or a suite of diagnostic lithic materials must be present (i.e., an assemblage of high quality lithic materials utilized by later inhabitants; AND there must be evidence that the site was utilized either for habitation or one or more "specialized" activities (i.e., not just a "find spot").
  2. The site need not display primary context, BUT if artifacts from more recent contexts or cultures are present, they must be easily segregated from the Paleoindian component.
  3. The presence of features, caches, post molds, floral and/or faunal remains, charcoal, and spatial separation of artifacts meaningful to the reconstruction of behavioral patterns are not necessary, but will enhance site eligibility
Late Paleoindian Period Same criteria as the Fluted Point Tradition context, except for the presence of diagnostic lithic materials (there are none).
Early and Middle Archaic Period
  1. A site must contain at least one component containing stone tools, debitage, features, floral subsistence, and/or faunal remains that can be confidently identified as Early and/or Middle Archaic. Because the Gulf of Maine Archaic minimized use of stone bifaces, component identification may also be based upon other diagnostic material culture (which include ground stone or quartz uniface tool types and/or a suite of lithic raw material as evidenced by debitage) AND a chronological date based upon association with a radiocarbon dated feature or a relative date on a stratum in a sealed alluvial context.
  2. The component must be separable from other components on the basis of horizontal patterning or vertical stratigraphy.
Cultural Study Unit National Register Eligibility Criteria
Laurentian Tradition
  1. The site must have a separable component (vertical and/or horizontally) from material of other cultures; AND
  2. diagnostic artifacts must be associated with one or more of the following: a) features, b) calcined or non-calcined faunal remains, c) charred plants remains, and/or d) human remains.
Small Stemmed Point Same criteria as the Laurentian Tradition.
Moorehead Phase Same criteria as the Laurentian Tradition.
Susquehanna Tradition Same criteria as the Laurentian Tradition.
Ceramic Period
  1. A site must contain at least one Ceramic period component that must be separable by horizontal distribution or vertical stratigraphy, or some combination of the above and typological or raw material analysis; AND
  2. the component must contain ceramics, lithic and /or bone artifacts that are diagnostic to some subdivision of the Ceramic Period (either one or several CP1-7 units or Early/Middle/Late division as commonly understood); AND
  3. the component must at least in part remain in intact context or site matrix, mostly undisturbed by manmade or natural forces such that there is a close association between diagnostic elements of material culture and one of the following: a) one or more features, such as a hearth or a living floor, b) a fossil soil surface, and/or 3) a refuse deposit; AND
  4. the component must also contain one or more in addition to stone tools: radiocarbon dateable charcoal, charred plant remains and faunal remains, human remains, and/or mortuary goods or personal adornment.
Early Contact Period
  1. A site must contain a datable component that can be demonstrated by the presence of certain European manufactured goods and/or Native American "remanufactured" items from European materials; AND
  2. some or the entire component must be separable (horizontally or vertically) from preceding or later admixture.
  3. Note: The presence of features house or village plans, floral and/or faunal materials, and ability to associate site with an ethnohistoric text are not necessary, but will enhance site eligibility.

National Register Eligibility Criteria

Explicit National Register eligibility criteria are available for the following seven Contexts: Paleindian, Late Paleoindian, Early and Middle Archaic, Late Archaic: Laurentian Tradition, Susquehanna Tradition, Ceramic Period, and Early Contact. The three other Late Archaic cultures use the same eligibility criteria as the Late Archaic: Laurentian Tradition. Eligibility criteria for sites of the last two contexts (Later Contact and Colonization; Integration with Euroamerican Life) have not been developed.