Defining Sacred

Author(s): Patricia Emerson

Year: 2015


In American archaeology, as practiced in the context of cultural resource management, recognition and protection of sacred places requires application of bureaucratic standards that may not co-exist peacefully with the cultural norms of those most concerned about such protection. Definitions of the sacred exist in an awkward balance between the regulatory need for a precise, legally defensible definition and the reality that sacredness is a culturally-based concept that resists easy understanding. This paper will review the definitions of "sacred" that currently exist in law, regulation, and Executive Order, and will examine the assumptions that seem to underlie those definitions. It will contrast existing regulatory definitions with cultural understandings of sacredness, particularly those of American Indian tribes, communities and individuals. Comparison to the concept of significance as it is used in National Register evaluation of other property types may illuminate how legal protections for sacred places could function. Case studies will provide examples of the problems and potentials that can be found within the current system.

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Cite this Record

Defining Sacred. Patricia Emerson. Presented at The 80th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, San Francisco, California. 2015 ( tDAR id: 395099)


CRM Sacred Sites

Geographic Keywords
North America - Midwest

Spatial Coverage

min long: -104.634; min lat: 36.739 ; max long: -80.64; max lat: 49.153 ;