Archeology

Highway Cultural Resources Program/CRM

What We Do

The State Archeology Office provides cultural resource management services to state and federally-funded agencies on a contract basis. Staff archeologists and architectural historians conduct documentary research and fieldwork to identify and evaluate the significance of sites, bridges, and historic buildings. This work typically begins before construction and development as mandated under state and federal law.

Important historic properties cannot be replaced if they are destroyed. The SAO helps agencies identify significant resources that may be impacted during the course of their activities and either work to avoid those properties or investigate and record them before they are disturbed. In doing so, we are able to protect and preserve much of Nebraska’s past and increase our knowledge and understanding of the state’s previous inhabitants.

Highway Cultural Resources Program

The State Archeology Office’s primary contract is with the Nebraska Department of Transportation. Since the 1950s, History Nebraska archeologists have been providing cultural resource assessments on transportation projects statewide. The program works with the NDOT early in the planning process to coordinate archeological and historic architectural surveys ahead of project design and construction. These surveys are done alongside other environmental surveys, including paleontology, endangered plants and animals, and wetlands.

Over nearly six decades, archeologists and architectural historians have identified hundreds of sites as a result of the Highway Cultural Resources Program. If an important historic property is identified in the path of road construction, the SAO works with the NDOT in avoiding the property or minimizing impacts. If avoidance is not possible, then additional work will be completed, including detailed documentation of structures and excavation at archeological sites. These major field investigations and research projects have greatly contributed to our understanding of all aspects of Nebraska’s past, from early Native American hunter-gatherers and farmers to post-contact tribes, to Euroamerican explorers and settlers.

For more information on the cooperative program between the Nebraska State Archeology Office and the Nebraska Department of Transportation, visit https://dot.nebraska.gov/projects/environment/archaeology/.

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 Testing the highway right-of-way for archeological materials in advance of a NDOT project near Genoa

Testing the highway right-of-way for archeological materials in advance of a NDOT project near Genoa

 

Contract Cultural Resource Services

Beyond the cooperative agreement with the Nebraska Department of Transportation, the State Archeology Office offers a wide range of research and cultural resource management services to other state- and federally-funded agencies and projects. As with the NDOT, this work is typically initiated prior to land management or development activities, such as trail construction or prescribed burns conducted by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

Even when not mandated by law, cultural resource surveys are beneficial to contracting agencies. Reviews and surveys provide an inventory of historic sites and structures in a given area, allowing agencies to plan for the future in ways that ensure important properties are not damaged unnecessarily. Land-managing agencies, such as the NGPC, can also use survey findings to present a more complete interpretation of Nebraska history within park boundaries for use in their public outreach and education efforts.

Similarly, archeologists also benefit from access to parts of the state that have not been previously surveyed. Some activities, like prescribed burns, provide unique opportunities to archeologists by eliminating the plants and grasses that would otherwise make finding sites difficult. As additional land is surveyed and more sites are identified, our understanding of past occupations in the state increases as a whole.

 

Collecting Elevation Data at the Cowles Mill Site near Nebraska City

Collecting Elevation Data at the Cowles Mill Site near Nebraska City

Excavated Fireplace at Engineer Cantonment

Excavated Fireplace at Engineer Cantonment

Rock Creek Prescribed Burn Survey

Rock Creek Prescribed Burn Survey

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History Nebraska was founded in 1878 as the Nebraska State Historical Society by citizens who recognized Nebraska was going through great changes and they sought to record the stories of both indigenous and immigrant peoples. It was designated a state institution and began receiving funds from the legislature in 1883. Legislation in 1994 changed History Nebraska from a state institution to a state agency. The division is headed by Interim Director and CEO Jill Dolberg. They are assisted by an administrative staff responsible for financial and personnel functions, museum store services, security, and facilities maintenance for History Nebraska.
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