Interpreting the Fifty-Year Rule: How A Simple Phrase Leads to a Complex Problem

Author(s): David Yoder

Year: 2015


For over 40 years some archaeologists have labored under a distorted interpretation of the fifty-year rule in which anything over 50 years of age becomes ‘archaeological’ and therefore must be recorded and evaluated for eligibility to the National Register of Historic Places. A re-examining of federal law shows that this is a mistaken interpretation. Data from the Intermountain Antiquities Computer System indicates that if this practice continues the number of featureless historical sites requiring documentation in the West will greatly increase at a large expense to the public, and that most of these costs will be associated with sites not considered significant in American history, architecture, archaeology, engineering, or culture. Solutions are presented that will give archaeologists greater flexibility in recording material culture over 50 years of age, allowing us to redirect our efforts to resources of greater interest while making the practice of archaeology more defensible to the public. These problems are symptomatic of a larger issue that relates to how cultural remains from the latter part of the 20th century and beyond will be valued. The discipline of archaeology must begin candid conversations about the relative importance of such recent material culture and its management implications.

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Interpreting the Fifty-Year Rule: How A Simple Phrase Leads to a Complex Problem. David Yoder. Presented at The 80th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, San Francisco, California. 2015 ( tDAR id: 397349)

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Spatial Coverage

min long: -122.761; min lat: 29.917 ; max long: -109.27; max lat: 42.553 ;